Official Blog Entry #1: The Great Asian Highway: An Introduction

camels_desertThe following is a personal reflection on the first three chapters of The Silk Road:  Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia by Frances Wood.

Seidenstrasse or Silk Road was the great Asian highway of its time which encompassed diverse regions and was traversed by people of all backgrounds.  The British consul-general in Chinese Turkestan, C. P. Skrine, who maintained the role from 1922 to 1924, described the various peoples he saw on the streets of Yarkand.  Peoples who range from Badakhshis, to Chitralis, Kashmiris, Hindu and Mussulman (Muslim) Punjabis, and the Turkis (Uighurs), just to name a few, demonstrate the complex diversity of the people who dealt trade in the region.  Merchants from present-day Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran, the disputed Kashmir, olden Turkestan and of course, China, conducted trade on these routes, and brought back treasures from one corner of Asia to another.

Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, one person’s trash can be another’s treasure.  One person’s usual day-to-day item can be a novelty to another in a completely different region.  It is interesting to note that rhubarb was mentioned alongside with rubies, pearls, and diamonds.  It must have been very dear and held in high regard for Marco Polo who thought to mention rhubarb in his will.  Rhubarb was exported from China to western regions, and it was just one of the many commodities that passed through the Silk Road.

The Silk Road wasn’t just one single road, neither was it an easy feat to cross.  Marco Polo, on his journey to the Tarim Basin, mentioned the full forty days they had to travel without an animal or bird in sight, carrying their own stock of provisions.  It is hard to imagine in today’s times crossing on animal back a desert with no life in sight for a full forty days.  But such journeys were undertaken by man to explore the earth’s lands and to uncover the treasures which to him was shielded by mountains, rivers, or barren lands.  Marco Polo, one of the most famous European to leave an account of the Silk Road, was one such a man, who though being a mere man, left such a great influence that the Asiatic wild sheep, Ovis Poli, were named after him.

Of course, one of the main items that traversed the silk road was silk itself, along with jade, rubies, diamonds, and gold.  Wood gives the account of Chiang Yee, who spent his boyhood days in the Yangtze town of Juijiang and his fascination with silk worms.  Learning how to handle silk worms was a way to hold on to the country ways, and thus to gain skilful hands and careful minds for dealing with bigger things.  That is intriguing in so many ways, mainly because the notion to pay attention to the small things in one’s life is re-inforced at such a young age.  In today’s societies, we seem to have forgotten about the small things around us.  Perhaps it is time that we kept some silkworms too to re-ignite our hearts into caring for those big and small.  To me, it proves that we can always learn from the past, from small actions that were conducted, to large scale operations that took place.

Other than that, I believe it is worth mentioning that the names of places show the complex diversity of the regions.  These names derive from Chinese, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, and other Turkic languages.  I found it surprising that Wood referred to Tarim and Khotan Darya Rivers, while the word ‘darya’ means ‘river’ in present-day Urdu and Persian (Farsi).

I would assume it is now best to say that the journey to fully understand the silk road has started.  These initial chapters of Wood’s book has opened my mind to the vastness of the Silk Road, and also made me understand that there is so much more to this great Asian highway, so much more that it would take a lot more than three chapters, or even a whole book, to make the reader fully comprehend the immensity of the Silk Road.


Religions of the Silk Road

RLG245:  Religions of the Silk Road – a course at the University of Toronto aiming to entice the average student into re-discovering the world’s past, the people who walked on it and what of them they left behind.

During a time where high end automobiles, trains and planes were not available to connect the world into one massive global village, the Silk Road existed as a way to connect the regions of Asia of the time.  A series of interconnected trade routes that blossomed with people of every race, religion, and colour, the Silk Road allowed those in Europe and the middle east, to taste the wonders of South and East Asia, and vice versa.

This blog exists to add to the ever-growing research on the people of the silk road, the religions they adhered to, and their actions.