The Silk Road

The Silk Road connected many civilisations acr...

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The history of trade is embedded in the history of cloth.  Silks and other textiles have much to do with the way history has unfolded.  Even a slight interest in the topic brings context to the function and value of cloth.

Between Winds and Clouds, by Bin Yang, is a scholarly work on the history of the southwestern silk road.  The book studies the topic from the second century BCE.  Imagine the cloth of two thousand two hundred years ago.

Between Winds and Clouds says, “When Zhang Qian saw cloth and bamboo canes from Sichuan in Bactria of the late second century BCE, he suspected a route between Southwest China and India. So he reported on this possibility to Emperor Wu,51 who then dispatched his envoys to explore the way to India.”

The Silk Road has several “branches”.  The southwestern silk road is actually thought to have existed as early as four hundred BCE.  The book says, “One piece of evidence they cited was what Ji Xianlin, a most famous scholar of Sino-Indian cultural relationships, discussed the word cinapattas in Arthasastra, a Sanskrit work of around the fourth century BCE. Cinapatta was translated by Ji into “bunches of Chinese silk,” implying that Chinese silk was known to Indians at that time.”

The book continues, “The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, written by a Greek of the mid-first century, says, “After the region (Chryse) under the very north, the sea outside ending in a land called This, there is a great inland city called Thinae, from which raw silk and silk yarn and silk cloth are brought on foot through Bactria to Barygaza.”

But as it always happens, life moves on, things change.  Between Winds and Clouds says, “There were not too many sources of the SSR after the fourth century [AD], with the Maritime Silk Road flourishing.”

You can read the entire book and many other books at Gutenberg<e>.



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2 responses to “The Silk Road

  1. Jessica

    Upon reading your link to The World Awareness site,, I learned the ancient silk trade route is now a tourist attraction having much of the ancient towns untouched. Crumbling images of history. There is a movement to preserve them while some other parts have become too dangerous for the tourist kind, and sprouling with change. Why not let them change? Do humans have to leave brick, mortor, and deforested land in every spot of the earth? lol! ok back to subject… The silk road was crucial to the intermingling of early modern cultures. Without the production of silk and the later silk trade what other product would have broken the barrier of societal walls and trading of ideas and ways of life?
    Anyway, present day, the route is full of chances for authentic cultural experiences, have fun. : ]

  2. Jiyoung Lee

    I think silk is a part of Chinese history. Actually I learned at Korea that the ancient Chinese government kept the way to make silk as a secret between BC2000 to AD1000. After silk traded to India by the Silk road, however, it went through Iran, Europe, and all over the world.
    I googled ancient Chinese silk clothing, and I found this webpage ( It contains about a social status depends on silk dress in China, and it is similar to ancient Egypt. It is interesting that people wore new textile, and it influenced to social status.

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