The Silk Road in World History

The Silk Road in World History

The Silk Road in World History

The Silk Road in World History

Synopsis

The ancient trade routes that made up the Silk Road were some of the great conduits of cultural and material exchange in world history. In this intriguing book, Xinru Liu reveals both why and how this long-distance trade in luxury goods emerged in the late third century BCE, following its story through to the Mongol conquest. Liu starts with China's desperate need for what the Chinese called "the heavenly horses" of Central Asia, and describes how the traders who brought these horses also brought other exotic products, some all the way from the Mediterranean. Likewise, the Roman Empire, as a result of its imperial ambition as well as the desire of its citizens for Chinese silk, responded with easterly explorations for trade. The book shows how the middle men, the Kushan Empire, spread Buddhism to China. Missionaries and pilgrims facilitated cave temples along the mountainous routes and monasteries in various oases and urban centers, forming the backbone of the Silk Road. Theauthor also explains how Islamic and Mongol conquerors in turn controlled the various routes until the rise of sea travel diminished their importance.

Excerpt

This book is part of the New Oxford World History, an innovative series that offers readers an informed, lively, and up-to-date history of the world and its people that represents a significant change from the “old” world history. Only a few years ago, world history generally amounted to a history of the West—Europe and the United States—with small amounts of information from the rest of the world. Some versions of the “old” world history drew attention to every part of the world except Europe and the United States. Readers of that kind of world history could get the impression that somehow the rest of the world was made up of exotic people who had strange customs and spoke difficult languages. Still another kind of “old” world history presented the story of areas or peoples of the world by focusing primarily on the achievements of great civilizations. One learned of great buildings, influential world religions, and mighty rulers but little of ordinary people or more general economic and social patterns. Interactions among the world’s peoples were often told from only one perspective.

This series tells world history differently. First, it is comprehensive, covering all countries and regions of the world and investigating the total human experience—even those of so-called peoples without histories living far from the great civilizations. “New” world historians thus share in common an interest in all of human history, even going back millions of years before there were written human records. A few “new” world histories even extend their focus to the entire universe, a “big history” perspective that dramatically shifts the beginning of the story back to the big bang. Some see the “new” global framework of world history today as viewing the world from the vantage point of the Moon, as one scholar put it. We agree. But we also want to take a close-up view, analyzing and reconstructing the significant experiences of all of humanity.

This is not to say that everything that has happened everywhere and in all time periods can be recovered or is worth knowing, but that there is much to be gained by considering both the separate and interrelated stories of different societies and cultures. Making these connections is still another crucial ingredient of the “new” world history. It emphasizes . . .

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