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Silk Road Introduction
Updated: 2009-March-16

The Silk Road is a great East to West trade route and vehicle for cross-culture exchange started in the second century BC. It was first traveled by the adventure of Zhang Qian started the journey to the far West for the political contact with Yuezhi, a nomadic tribe, in 138 BC. But, it was only in 1870s that the geographer, Ferdinand von Richthofen gave the name by which we now know as the Silk Road.


The general Zhang Qian was sent by Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty (206 BC- AD 220) to recruit the Yuezhi, who were the enemies of the Xiongnu in the second century BC. As Yuezhi tribe, Xiongnu was also a nomadic group who attempted to invade the Kansu province of Han Dynasty. Because the Xiongnu could not be restrained with any lasting effects, Emperor Wu decided to look for an alliance with Yuezhi who had been defeated by their enemies Xiongnu and driven to the Ili valley, the western fringes of the Taklamakan Desert. As a result, general Zhang Qian with a caravan of 100 men set out the first travel from Chang'an, the capital of Han Dynasty, to the far West of the area beyond the Great Wall. 

However, in order to reach Yuezhi, Zhang Qian with his caravan had to went cross the territory of Xiongnu. Unfortunately, soon after he left China, Xiongnu captured his group. Zhang Qian and the rest of reminders were in prison for ten years, during which time he married a nomad wife who had a son with him. Due to the will of complete his original mission, Zhang Qian one day seized the chance and escaped with other reminders. He continued the journey west toward the northern Silk Road to Kashgar and Ferghana. Finally in 128 BC, Zhang Qian had reached the destination, Yuezhi. However, he was surprised by Yuezhi people. Yuezhi was living in peace and well settled in the various oases of Central Asia and no longer interested in taking their revenge on the Xiongnu.


Without the succeeding in interesting the Yuezhi in fighting the Xiongnu, Zhang Qian set off on the return journey via southern Silk Road. He was once captured by Tibetan tribes allied with Xiongnu for a year and escaped in 125 BC in returning his way back to China. Of the original party only he and another company completed the 13 years journey - the first land route between East and West that would eventually link Imperial China with Imperial Rome.
The diplomatic stalemate resulting from Zhang Qian's mission had some important consequences, as much political and military as commercial. Zhang Qian reported on some kingdoms in the West Regions, delighting Emperor Han Wudi with detailed accounts of the previously unknown kingdoms of Ferghana, Smarkand, Bokhara and others in what are now the former Soviet Union, Pakistan and Persia as well as the city of Li Kun, Rome, with their special products. These fascinating prices form the many Kingdoms of West tempted Emperor Wudi to dispatch successive missions to develop a further more political contact led by Zhang Qian in 119 BC. The mission group from China later returned with foreign products, for instances, Ferghana horses, furs and so on. At the same time, the kingdoms in Central Asia sent their own emissaries to Chang'an China. On the other hand, Alexander the Great expansion into Central Asia stopped far short of Xiongnu region resulted in Romans appear to have gained little knowledge of the Seres, Chinese. Little by little, the demands of eastern precious goods from the West were grown rapidly. The ideas of Han Wudi making peace with the West countries had established not only the diplomatic contacts and economic relations but also the exchanges of the various culture and religion between East and West.
The network of the Silk Road was soon flourished during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). However, later in 12th century, the entire communities and active oasis towns along the Silk Road were disappearing in the space, as the glacier-fed streams ran try. As well, of course, the downfall of Tang Dynasty led to political chaos and an unstable economy less able to support foreign imports. Moreover, the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644) shut China off from the outside world, ending the centuries-old exchange of culture and religion in East and West.
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