The Silk Road has held a fascination for travellers since the early Christian era, and many traders, religious pilgrims and conquerors have passed through the settlements and towns that stretch from Central Asia to the East China Sea. Along the various routes that make up the network of the ‘Silk Road’ – itself a misnomer – flourished an exotic mixture of cultures from Arabic, Turkic, Iranian, Indian, Mongolian, Chinese and Tibetan sources.
Mogao Caves, Dunhuang
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The richness of cultures is evident in spectacular sites ranging from abandoned cities and fortresses, Buddhist cave sites and Islamic mausoleums along the many trade routes that made the Silk Road network. The Taklamakan and Gobi desert regions yielded many artistic treasures to 19th and 20th century European archaeologists who explored – and plundered – many sites for their uniquely preserved artefacts. The research that came from these items revealed much more understanding about the relevance and significance of the Silk Road and its place in the economic history of the region.
The legacy of the Silk Road lives on through the artefacts, writings, maps and contribution of the many travellers throughout the region over many centuries. However, this legacy may soon be found only in museums and collections, as the rapidly changing landscape of modern technology changes the face of this region.
Jiayuguan. Where the Great Wall becomes narrow
The ‘New Silk Road’ is now actively being developed under China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ policy to push its global trade and transform China’s land and sea connections through central Asia to Europe and beyond. This also includes a ‘Polar Silk Road’ to develop shipping lanes through the Arctic to work with Russia and other Arctic countries that will put China at the centre of an ambitious global trading network linking the Eurasian landmass with African and Arctic trade routes.
Korla New Town
Karamay Oil Town Karamay Oil Field
The benefits are considerable for China, but will the environmental and social costs outweigh the grand plan for trade domination?
Suzanne Perrin is an independent researcher and historian specialising in Asian History, Art & Culture. She taught Japanese History & Culture at Richmond American International University in London for over ten years, and now lectures for the Arts of Asia course at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, for the British Museum and the London Institute.
Suzanne Perrin is a visiting lecturer at University of Brighton Art & Design School and University of Cape Town, South Africa.
She teaches on the Asian Arts course at the British Museum and the V&A, founded Japan Interlink in 1995 to promote the understanding of Japan in educational and cultural circles. She studied Nihonga (traditional Japanese painting) at Nagoya University of Arts, Japan, 1986-87 and has conducted guided tours of Japan for students and adult groups and lecture tours on Japanese Art & Culture in Australia in 1987 and 2000 for ADFAS.