September 23, 2018 - Sunday

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The Silk Road
The Silk Road is the most well-known trading route of ancient Chinese civilization. Trade in silk grew under the Han Dynasty ( 202 BC - AD 220) in the first and second centuries AD Origins

Originally, the Chinese trade silk internally, within the empire. Caravans from the empire's interior would carry silk to the western edges of the region. Often small Central Asian tribes would attack these caravans hoping to capture the traders' valuable commodities. As a result, the Han Dynasty extended its military defenses further into Central Asia from 135 to 90 BC in order to protect these caravans.

Chan Ch'ien, the first known Chinese traveler to make contact with the Central Asian tribes, later came up with the idea to expand the silk trade to include these lesser tribes and therefore forge alliances with these Central Asian nomads. Because of this idea, the Silk Road was born.

The route grew with the rise of the Roman Empire because the Chinese initially gave silk to the Roman-Asian governments as gifts.

The 7000 mile route spanned China, Central Asia, Northern India, and the Parthian and Roman Empires. It connected the Yellow River Valley to the Mediterranean Sea and passed through places such as Chinese cities Kansu and Sinkiang and present-day countries Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Northwestern Indians who lived near the Ganges River played prominent roles as middlemen in the China-Mediterranean silk trade because as early as the third century AD, they understood that silk was a lucrative product of the Chinese Empire. The trading relationship between the Chinese and the Indians grew stronger with increased Han expansion into Central Asia. The Chinese would trade their silk with the Indians for precious stones and metals such as jade, gold, and silver, and the Indians would trade the silk with the Roman Empire. Silk proved to be an expensive import for the Roman Empire since its trade across Indian and Central Asia was heavily controlled by the Parthian Empire.

The Silk Road, after a long period of hibernation, has been increasing in importance again recently.
The fight of man against the desert, one of the biggest problems for the early travellers, is finally gaining ground. There has been some progress in controlling the progress of the shifting sands, which had previously meant having to resite settlements. The construction of roads around the edges of the Taklimakan has eased access, and the discovery of large oil reserves under the desert has encouraged this development. The area is rapidly being industrialised, and Urumchi, the present capital of Xinjiang, has become a particularly unprepossessing Han Chinese industrial city.

The trade route itself is also being reopened. The sluggish trade between the peoples of Xinjiang and those of the Soviet Union has developed quickly; trade with the C.I.S. is picking up rapidly with a flourishing trade in consumer items as well as heavy industry. The new Central Asian republics had previously contributed much of the heavy industry of the former Soviet Union, with a reliance for consumer goods on Russia. Trade with China is therefore starting to fulfill this demand. This trading has been encouraged by the recent trend towards a `socialist market economy' in China, and the increasing freedom of movement being allowed, particularly for the minorities such as those in Xinjiang. Many of these nationalities are now participating in cross-border trade, regularly making the journey to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

The railway connecting Lanzhou to Urumchi has been extended to the border with Kazakhstan, where on 12th September 1990 it was finally joined to the former Soviet railway system, providing an important route to the new republics and beyond. This Eurasian Continental Bridge, built to rival the Trans-Siberian Railway, has been constructed from LianYunGang city in Jiangsu province (on the East China coast) to Rotterdam; the first phase of this development has already been completed, and the official opening of the railway was held on 1st December 1992. It is already promised to be at least 20% cheaper than the route by sea, and at 11,000 kilometres is significantly shorter. From China the route passes through Kazakhstan, Russia, Byelorussia and Poland, before reaching Germany and the Netherlands. The double-tracking of the railway from Lanzhou to the border of the C.I.S. has now been put high on the Chinese development priority list.

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