The Silk Road is the most well-known
ancient trading route as well as cultural exchange route between
East and West. It was only in 1870s that the geographer, Ferdinand
von Richthofen gave the name by which we now know as the Silk Road.
The routes of the Silk Road
Silk Road was from Chang’an westwards. It was through Lanzhou, Tianshui,
Zhangye, Jiuquan along the Hexi Corridor. Then it reached the Jiayuguan
Pass, which is an important military pass on the Great Wall. After
reaching at Dunhuang, the first key point on the Silk Road, it split
into three different routes in Xinjiang. The southern route ran
west along the northern foot of Kunlun Mountains, via Ruoqiang,
Hetian, then reached Kashgar, another key point on the Silk Road,
afterwards went over the Pamirs, and reached India or passed through
Afghanistan and Central Asia to reach the coast of the Mediterranean
Sea or Arabia. The central route meandered west along the southern
foot of the Tianshan Mountains then crossed the Pamirs and led to
Mari in Russia. The northern route rambled along the northern foot
of the Tianshan Mountains, starting at Hami wound through Turpan,
Urumqi, westward reached the Ili River Valley, and led to area as
near the Black Sea. The three routes of the Silk Road ran between
mountain ranges and edges of deserts, going through oases inhabited
by ancient tribes. These tribes also opened some branch roads across
mountain passes to join the three routes together.
The Origin of the Silk Road
In 138BC Hanwudi sent Zhang Qian for the political contact with
Yuezhi (a nomadic tribe) in order to ally to attract Huns. Yuezhi
was defeated by their enemy the Huns(an ancient nomadic tribe who
lived in today’s northwest part of China.) and driven to today’s
Northern Afghanistan. Zhang Qian with a delegation of 100 people
set out from Chang'an to travel westward. On the way to the west
regions, he was captured and detained for 10 years by the Huns.
Due to the will of complete his mission, one day he seized a chance
and escaped with other colleges. He continued the journey westwards.
Finally in 128 BC, Zhang Qian reached Yuezhi. However he was disappointed
that Yuezhi was living in peace and well settled in the various
oases of Central Asia and had no longer interested in fighting against
Xiongnu. So Zhang Qian had to return journey. But On his way back
he was captured by Xiongnu again. Finally in 126 BC he was back
to Chang’an . After 13 years’ journey, only one companion and Zhang
Qian successfully came back to Chang’an.
Although Zhang Qian’s political mission was failed. He obtained
very valuable information about the people who lived in western
part of China and central Asia. That laid the foundation for the
opening through the Silk Road in the Han Dynasty. With the economy
developing in the Han Dynasty and the declining of the Huns, China
had the ability to Control the vast area of western regions. Han
Dynasty even extended the Great Wall westwards in the Gobi desert
to protect the ancient trade route. Roman’s fanaticism for silk
made the silk business much profitable thus stimulated the development
of the Silk Road. In 73AD, Ban Chao was sent by Han Emperor to West
Regions on diplomatic mission again. The relationship between the
West Regions and the Han Dynasty was strengthened. The trading on
the Silk Road became prosperous again.
The Peak of the Silk Road
The fall of the Han dynasty in the early 3rd century once caused
Silk Road trade to decline. However, the rise of the Tang dynasty
in the 7th century revived the business on Silk Road. The powerful
military power, stable social life, the thriving economy and favorable
trading policy of the Tang Dynasty made Silk Road reach its peak
on its development by the mid 8th century.
The Decline of the Silk Road
By 760 AD, during the Tang Dynasty, trade along the Silk Road had
declined. It revived tremendously under the Song Dynasty in the
eleventh and twelfth centuries when China became largely dependent
on its silk trade. In addition, trade to Central and Western Asia
as well as Europe recovered for a period of time from 1276-1368
under the Yuan Dynasty when the Mongols controlled China. The Chinese
traded silk for medicines, perfumes, and precious stones. As overland
trade became increasingly dangerous, and overseas trade became more
popular, trade along the Silk Road declined.
The Significance of the Silk Road
The Silk Road really played an important role in Chinese history.
It was not only a trade route but also a cultural exchange route.
It had great influence on civilization of East and West. Buddhism
was introduced in China via the Silk Road in 1st Century AD and
soon it was accepted by Chinese and well spread out. In the Tang
Dynasty, Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism were introduced in
China. Costumes, dance, music instruments, acrobats, and arts from
Central Asia came to China via the Silk Road and they influenced
on Chinese culture. Fruits such as walnut, cucumber, pepper, and
carrot were also introduced from Central Asia. Chinese used silk
to trade perfume, glass ware, amber, ivory, gem, silver, and gold.
The technology of making sugar was introduced from India. Chinese
sericulture, technology of paper-making, printing, compass, and
gunpowder were introduced to Arab countries and Europe through business
people on the Silk Road. That really influenced the world civilization
and history. To some extent, the Silk Road was also an information
Travel along the ancient Silk Road
Xi’an is the starting point of the ancient Silk Road. It is famous
for the Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda,
Huaqing Hot Spring, Xi’an Old City Wall and Tang Emperors’ Tombs.
Lanzhou City is famous for Gansu Provincial Museum,
Bingling Thousand Buddha Caves and Labrang Monastery.
Gansu Provincial Museum houses collections of various color-painted
potteries of Neolithic Age and treasures of ancient grottoes. In
addition, it also displayed precious linen and silk fabrics, books,
wooden and bronze vessels, a great many bamboo slips for writing
from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220), frescos and so many other items.
The world-famous bronze Galloping Horse's Hoof Stepped on a Flying
Swallow, also named as Galloping Horse, is a treasure of Gansu Provincial
Museum. Excavated in 1969 in Wuwei County, Gansu Province, the piece
depicts a vigorous horse with long tail waving and head rising bird.
Three hooves of the galloping horse are in air and the right-back
hoof steps on the back of a small flying bird. The bird turns in
surprise to look at the big creature on its back. At the same moment,
the horse's head also turns slightly in attempt to know what has
happened. The whole statue is honored as the mysterious and rare
treasure in the history of Chinese ancient sculpture art.
Bingling Thousand Buddha Caves were built in the Western Jin Dynasty
(265-316). In the following dynasties, the caves had been excavated
many times. There are 694 stone statues, 82 clay sculptures and
some 900 square meters of murals, which are all well preserved.
Famous for its stone sculptures, Bingling Thousand Temple Caves
stretches about 200 meters (about 600 feet) on the west cliff in
Dasi Gully. Among the caves, the main characters are Sakyamuni,
Kwan-yin, Amitayus Buddha, Maitreya Buddha, and other Buddhas. With
elegant postures, flying robes and ribbons, the statues are life-like.
Galloping Horse's Hoof Stepped on a Flying Swallow
Labrang Monastery is a Tibetan
Buddhist temple. It boasts tens of thousands of statues of Buddha
made of gold, silver, copper, and aluminum. There are statues with
ivory, sandalwood, jade, crystal and clay as the basic materials.
These Buddha statues are all lifelike with kind-looking faces, which
give you a real enjoyment of beauty. In addition, the monastery
possesses many Buddha hats and many Buddhist treasures adorned with
pearls, jadeite, agate and diamonds. The Labrang Monastery holds
seven large-scale summon ceremonies a year, among which the Summons
Ceremony in the first lunar month and the Buddhist Doctrine Explaining
Ritual in the seventh lunar month are the grandest ones.
Jiayuguan Pass is a key point on the Silk Road
and it is also an important military strategic pass on the western
end of China's Great Wall. The buildings we can see today were built
in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644AD). It was called the First Grandest
Pass under the Heaven. The pass is trapezoid-shaped with a perimeter
of 733 meters and with an area of more than 33,500 square meters.
The city wall is 11 meters high. There are two gates-with one located
on each of the east and west sides of the pass. The pass itself
consists of three defense lines -an inner city, an outer city and
a moat. The Great Wall near Jiayuguan pass is very spectacular.
Dunhuang was an important point
on the Silk Road. It has many historic relics. Mogao Caves, Echoing-Sand
Mountain and Crescent Spring are most popular tourist attractions.The
Mogao Grottoes, twenty-five kilometers southeast of Dunhuang City,
contain the largest and richest treasure of stone carvings and mural
paintings in China. Carved out along a 1,500-meter precipice, the
492 grottoes stretch from south to north on the eastern slope of
Echoing-Sand Mountain (Mingshashan) and are divided into five levels.
They contain 45,000 square meters of murals 2,415 painted statues,
and five wooden structures. The statues were all made of clay and
colored with paint. Themes of the murals range fro Buddha portraits
and Buddhist stories to fairy tales and pictures of worshippers.
The Mogao Grottoes were cut during a period of
more than a thousand years from the fourth century century to the
fourteenth century AD. Their discovery at the beginning of the century,
after several hundred years of oblivion, caused a sensation throughout
The colored paintings of the Mogao Grottoes feature hold lines,
bright colors, and superb composition. Those made during the Tang
Dynasty (618-907AD) are particularly brilliant.
In 1900, 50,000 manuscripts written in many languages dating from
the Middle Ages were also discovered in a cave where Buhhdist scriptures
were stored. The study of these valuable materials, along with paintings
and statues, has become a subject of worldwide research.
||New Crescent Spring
The Crescent Spring lies 6 kilometers
south of Dunhuang city, and surrounded by the Echoing-Sand Mountain,
Crescent Spring can be called a natural wonder in the Gobi Desert.
It is 218 meters from west to east, about 54 meters from north to
south and 5 meters deep on an average. It turns along the mountain,
wonderfully existing with the Ming Sha Mountain like twins. "From
the early beginning sands do not fill the spring while the latter
never dries". The dunes "recovers next day after night
wind sweeping", while "the spring mirrors the moon without
dust". Having been lying among these sand dunes for thousands
of years, although given many surprise attacks by sandstorms, Crescent
Spring still gurgles clear, and still remains worthy as the first
spring in the desert.
The Echo-Sand Mountain is five kilometers away
from the city of Dunhuang. Seen from afar, the mountain is just
like a golden dragon winding its way over the horizon. As you approach
you become aware that the sand has many colors ranging from red
to yellow, green, black and white. On days when a strong wind blows,
the fast shifting sand roars; but when the wind is little more than
a light breeze, the sand produces gentle, dulcet sounds akin to
music. It is the same when you are sliding down the mountainside.
At first, the sand under your feet just whispers; but the further
you slide, the louder the sound until it reaches a crescendo like
thunder or a drum beat. Some say that the sand is singing, while
to others it is like an echo and this is how the mountain gets its
Urumqi is the capital City of Xinjinag Uigur Autonomous
Region. It has a lot of attractions such as the Heaven Lake, the
Red Hill, Southern Pasture, the Southern Mosque, and Xinjiang Museum.
Heavenly Lake lies In the middle of Bogda Peak,
110 km east of Urumqi. Covering 4.9 square kilometers, this crescent-shaped
lake deserves its name, Pearl of Heavenly Mountain. With melted
snow as its source, the water is limpid.
Heavenly Lake, a relic of the Quaternary Period Glacier and its
surrounding geological relics, offers science lovers exploring opportunities.
According to the legendary stories Heaven Lake was the place where
Western Queen and King Mu in the Western Zhou Dynasty (110-771BC)
dated and had romantic stories.
Red Hill is a symbol of Urumqi,
owing to its uniqueness. The body of the mountain, made up of aubergine
rock, has a reddish brown color, hence, the name Red Hill. The hill
is 1.5km long and 1km wide from east to west. Now it is a popular
park in Urumqi.
Located at the foot of the Tian Shan mountain range, Southern Pastures
is a famous summer resort for forest of emerald green spruce rounds
it while flowers, flocks and herds strew it. West White Poplar Gully
is the most typical sights in the Southern Pastures.
The Xinjiang Museum was built in 1953 with an area
of 7,800 sqm. The exhibitions in the museum can be divided into
minority cultures objects, cultural relics excavated on the ancient
The Southern Mosque is in the downtown of Urumqi
in Xinjiang. It is an important historic heritage site. This center
of Moslem worship was built in 1919 and subsequently renovated on
three different occasions. Covering an area of about one acre, the
mosque accommodates 1,000 Moslems.The prayer hall is covered with
a variety of glazed tiles and the ceiling is decorated with colorful
patterns of flowers and plants. There are also 22 flying dragons
carved on the ridge that add to the building's magnificence.
Turpan has a lot of attractions such as the Ancient
City of Gaochang, Jiaohe Ancient City Relics, Flaming Mountain,Bizalkik
Thousand Buddha Caves, Karez systems, and the Grape Valley.
City of Gaochang
City of Jiaohe
Thousand Buddha Caves
The Ancient City of Gaochang
is 46 kilometers southeast of Turpan near the 'Flaming Mountains'.
Built in the first century B.C., it used to be a garrison town and
later became a key point along the ancient Silk Road. The practice
of Buddhism led to the establishment of many monasteries and temples.
In the ninth century, the Uigur established the Kharakhoja Kingdom
here. The city was burnt down around the 14th century, during a
period of warfare that lasted 40 years. The ruins originally consisted
of three parts: the inner and outer cities, and a palace complex.
The inner city is a 3-kilometer long rectangle, of which the western
and eastern sections are well preserved. Several earthen platforms
are still visible. There are two temple remains worth a visit.
Jiaohe Ancient City Relics is also worth seeing.
It has 2,300 years history. Once it was the capital city of Cheshi
State. Jiaohe distinguishes itself from other ancient cities owing
to three features. First, it had only two city gates, the South
and East Gates. The main South Gate vanished long ago, leaving a
huge breach. The East Gate cut by the cliff was virtually non-existent.
Second, the city faces cliffs on three sides, so there are no city
walls commonly seen in other ancient cities. Third, all the buildings
were dug from earth and wood was rarely used. It was very prosperous
in the Tang Dynasty but declined later on.
Bizalkik Thousand Buddha Caves stand high on the
cliffs of west Mutou Valley under the Flaming Mountain 45 km (28miles)
east of Turpan. Of the 83 original caves, 57 caves currently remain.
The murals cover an area over 1, 200 square meters in more than
Beginning in the Southern and Northern Dynasties, the construction
experienced Tang, the Five Dynasties, Song and Yuan with great historical
value to study Buddhism in northwest part of China.
Karez systems are the crystallization of ancient
people's diligence and intelligence. At its peak, the karez irrigation
system exceeded 5,000 km and was also referred to as 'the underground
Great Wall'. It is among the three ancient major irrigation projects
with the other two being Ling Canal and Dujiangyan.
Karez systems are the life source of Turpan. In a sense, without
the karez, there would be no Turpan culture. According to records,
the history of the karez in Xinjiang dates back to 103B.C. Karezes
have been found in Iran, the Sahara, etc., but the ones in Turpan
are the most complete. Currently there are still over 400 systems.
Karez systems are very delicate irrigation systems made up of vertical
wells, underground canals, above-ground canals and small reservoirs.
The vertical wells are for ventilation, digging and maintenance
of the karez. The bottoms of all the vertical wells are connected
so that water can pass through. The underground canal is about 2
meters high and covered with earth to resist the heat. The surface
canals, connected to the underground ones, are not more than 1 meter
wide with trees planted on both sides to prevent evaporation. Melting
snow from the Tianshan Mountain is the water source of the karez.
Water is collected by vertical wells and conducted by the underground
canals to the oasis.
The Grape Valley is 13 km away from Turpan. It
extends 8km from north to south and of 0.5km from east to west.
This green paradise of 400 hectares is covered with vineries.
The Grape Valley Was supplied water by Karez System. Every single
grape is crystal and watery-some are as green as emerald; some as
red as agate, some as small as pearls while others are like olives.
Among dozens of kinds of grapes, white seedless grape is reputed
as a green pearl with the sugar content as much as 22%. Every year
over 300 tons of raisins are made here.
Sightseeing in Korla includes Yadan Physiognomy
and Relics of Ancient Loulan.
'Yadan' is a kind of geomorphic feature in arid regions. The formation
of Yadan features is attributed that the strong winds always erode
the loose earth structure in the arid area. Lop Nur Area is a very
tipical Yadan area. The cluster of eroded mounds are scattered mainly
in the north, west and east sides of the Lop Nur Area.Usually a
mound is about 10-20 meters high with an average length of over
200 meters. Most mounds are covered with a thick crust of salt and
in the sunshine these mounds shine like silver. The Yadan area to
the northern side of the Lop Nur Area is named 'Dragon City'. These
mounds vary in height, length, width and shapes. They are in the
shape of houses, pavilions, towers, castles, cars, boats, animals
and human beings, etc. People say that it is one hundred percent
a mound city. More amazingly, one can hear the noise of the 'city'.
There are dogs barking, birds singing, cars hooting, bells ringing,
children playing and crying, and traders and buyers bargaining.
All these effects are the results of the wind roaring against the
One of the great mysteries in Chinese history is the disappearance
of the ancient city of Loulan. The city was located about 300 km
northeast of Ruoqiang County, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
It is on the west bank of Lop Nur Lake.
According to history, Loulan was established as
a kingdom in 176 B.C. and flourished for over 800 years. The city
was like an oasis traversed by a limpid river and situated next
to a bountiful lake. The city had a population of over 14,000 including
an estimated 3,000 soldiers guarding the safety of the kingdom.
Many residents made a living fishing and hunting. As one of the
major stops on the old Silk Road, the city was a center for the
trading of silks, teas, fruit and jewels with the inland. Merchants
also used Loulan as a stopover in their travels. In short, the kingdom
was booming economically while serving as a peaceful and paradisiacal
environment for its citizens and visitors. Roughly around the year
630, Loulan suffered a natural disaster. Due to humans' unceasing
deforestation, raging sandstorms covered the region and made it
transform into a desert.
At the beginning of last century, a Swedish explorer Sven Hedin
accidentally discovered the city buried in desert in his exploration.
Discovery startled the world from then to present.
In recent years some archeological finds from that area can date
back to 5000years ago. They also found manuscripts from the Han
Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) as well as silk, pottery, bronze ware, glassware,
and ancient currency. A woman mummy was also found and it was called
The terrible weather and badly circumstance in Loulan made the exploration
there difficult. However, the mysterious ancient city still attracts
The tour in Kashgar may include
the most thee popular places such as Abakh Khoja Tomb, Id Kah Mosque
and the East Gate Bazaar.
Five kilometers northeast of Kashgar, an ancient Islamic building
nestles among poplar trees. With glazed tiles shining in the sun,
its tower points to the azure sky. It is a masterpiece of Uigur
architecture, Abakh Khoja Tomb. It was a 17th Century family cemetery
of the Kashgar area Islamic leader. Built from 1640, the tomb covers
an area of about five acres. Just inside the gate is a large rectangular
courtyard made up of a gate tower, worship walls, Doctrine-Teaching
Hall, and tomb chamber. Fifty-eight tombs provide resting places
for five generations of 72 people in the Abakh Khoja family. All
coffins are covered with gorgeous silk and satin.
Abakh Khoja Tomb is admired as a well-preserved
Islamic architectural complex not only in Xinjiang, but throughout
'Id Kah' means 'a place of praying and celebrating in festivals.
|Abakh Khoja Tomb
||Id Kah Mosque
The Id Kah Mosque is located
on the central square in Kashgar City. As the biggest mosque in
China, it is a group of old Islamic constructions with strong ethnic
style and religious features. The present Id Kah Mosque was built
in 1442 as a very small structure. Several renovations and enlargements
have created it with today's scale and style. The whole complex
occupies 16,800 square meters and consists of the courtyard, the
Hall of Prayer, and the gate tower and as well as some other attached
structures. Every day thousands of worshippers come here to pray.
Every Friday afternoon around 5000 Muslims gather here to worship.
During religious festivals all the Muslims tens of thousand Muslims
come to this sacred place to celebrate. At prayer time, the mosque,
the square, the streets and the roads all around are full of piously
kneeling Muslims. Afterwards, all the people get together on the
square in front of the Id Kah Mosque and dance to show their happiness.
East Gate Bazaar is the most famous bazaars in
Kashgar due to its biggest scale, rich articles and biggest number
of customers. There are around 4000 stalls there. So many commodities
from Central Asia and China are being sold there. Many business
men from Central Asia are doing business there. It made Kashgar
a prosperous commercial city in Central Asia. Famous local handicrafts
such as knives and hats are very welcome. When visiting the East
Gate Bazaar you can imagine the scene of business of the ancient