History of the Silk Road
The Silk Road was originally opened up by the Han dynasty envoy and great explorer Zhang Qian and it gradually formed in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD).
In the Han Dynasty, the ancient road originated from the historical capital of Chang'an ( now Xi’an) It was a key point of the route, where the trade road divided into three main branches: the southern, the central and the northern.
The Southern Route wandered west along the northern foot of the Kunlun Mountains and reached Kashgar,the last point of the Silk Road in China. Then this route crossed the snow-covered Pamirs, reached Pakistan and India via Kashmir; it could also reach Europe through Islamabad, Kabul, Mashhad, Baghdad and Damascus.
The Central Route ran west along the southern foot of the Tianshan Mountains and finally joined the Southern Route.
The Northern Route went west along the northern foot of Tianshan Mountains, taking merchants westwards to Hami (Kumul), Urumqi and Yining, and then reached the areas near the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
According to some experts, the total length of the historically important trade route is about 10,000 kilometers (6,214 miles), among which approximately 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) of the route are inside China's territory.
In addition to the Silk Road were the two main maritime silk routes favoured by trade ships: The East China Sea route and The South China Sea route
It was during the Zhou Dynasty that Ji Zi, a court official, was sent on a maritime journey east, setting off from Shangdong Peninsula's Bohai Gulf and navigating his way across the Yellow Sea, which led to the introduction of sericiculture (silkworm farming), filature and silk spinning into Korea.
When Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BC) united China, many Chinese fled to Korea and took with them silkworms and breeding technology. This sped up the development of silk spinning in Korea. These new skills and the technologies were subsequently introduced into Japan during the Han Dynasty.
Guangzhou represented the starting-point of the South China Sea Route, which extended across the Indian Ocean and then on to various countries situated around the Persian Gulf. The types goods dispatched for trade consisted mainly of silk, china and tea, while imported merchandise included a variety of spices, flowers and grasses – hence it being commonly referred to as the sea's 'China Road' and the sea's 'Flavor Road' .
Up until the Tang Dynasty Anshi Rebellions (755–762), this route was viewed as a secondary alternative to the Silk Road, However in the latter half of the eighth century, owing to the scourge of wars in the vast Western Regions, trade volumes along the Maritime Silk Road boomed as those on its overland counterpart steadily declined.
Technologic advances in shipbuilding and navigation led to the opening of new sea-lanes to the Southeast Asia, Malacca, areas in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Guangzhou became the first great harbor in China around the time of the Tang and Song Dynasties, although it was later substituted by Quanzhou in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) as the most important trade port.
The Naval Expedition to the West by Zheng He in the early part of the Ming Dynasty demonstrated the great importance of the Silk Road and was to represent the peak of its popularity. The governments of the Ming and Qing Dynasties issued a ban on maritime trade, contributing to massive decline in its use. As the Opium War broke out in 1840, the Silk Road on the Sea totally disappeared.
The ancient Silk Road contributed greatly to the cultural exchange between The East and the West. From the second century BC to the fifteenth century AD, artefacts and cultural goods from China, India, Greece, Persia and Rome were exchanged along this famous trade route, making the route a great "Cultural Bridge" between Asia and Europe