Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

The Cultural Exchange between Sino-Western: Silk Trade in Han Dynasty

Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

The Cultural Exchange between Sino-Western: Silk Trade in Han Dynasty

Article excerpt


As we all know, the Silk Road, as a famous ancient transportation route, was a trade line cross-Eurasian continent in history. Its name was from the delivery of silk. However, no Chinese ancient documents mentioned the name of "Silk Road". German F. V. Richthofen (1933-1905) firstly used the term "Silk Road" in his book China, published in 1877. Afterwards, the name of "Silk Road" has been accepted universally and used by the world widely. The Silk Road was an ancient business channel, acrossing the middle of China and countries in Central Asia, gradually forming after Qian Zhang visited Western Regions twice, two thousand and one hundred years ago. The north-west land Silk Road started from Chinese ancient Capital Chang'an (now Xi'an), acrossing Central Asia, and reaching ancient Rome in Europe. It was a bridge for communication of politics, economy, and culture between ancient China and the Western. Before 11 Century, the Sino-Western silk trade mainly depended on the land transportation. During Han Dynasty, it was a competition between the Huns and the Hans for occupy the Silk road. The silk as a kind of material culture was a sort of intermediary for making people to know how to get along together.This article attempts to describe the Sino-Western silk trade conditions before and after the two missions of Qian Zhang to Western Regions (Xiyu), including archaeological evidences, kinds of silk and trade scale, transportation routes, trade participants, and so on.

Keywords: Han Dynasty, Silk, China, Rome, Trade

1. China's Silk production and the Western demand for Chinese Silk

China is the first country starting sericulture and silk weaving in the world. It was said that as early as the time of Fu Xi, Chinese knew sericulture. No later than the time of Emperor Yellow, people began to make closes by silk. Archaeologists unearthed more than 6900 years old textile tools and silkworm pictures of the Neolithic Age in Yuyao, Zhejiang province, and more than 4700 years old plain silk sheets of the Neolithic Age in Qianshanyang, Wuxing County, Zhejiang province, which proved that Chinese ancestors had woven silk at the Neolithic Age. At the Warring States Period (475 BC-221 BC), the silk products in China were various, covering Juan, Wan, Luo, Gao, Sha, Tao, Qi, Jin, and other more than ten types, even including ambroidered silk with delicate patterns. For example, the woven Jin unearthed from a tomb of Country Chu at the Warring States Period and the Jin from a tomb of the same Time was woven by two kinds of silk with three colors. The patterns were smooth, various, and colorful. Not only the silk-weaving technology tended to be mature, but also was the scale of production beyong the former age. For instance, the exchange of silk between princes at the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-475 BC) as a predent was about 30 Pi (an ancient unit of measure, about 13.33 meters) once, but at the Warring States Period, the amount was beyond one thousand Pi. At that time, both the government and the private workshops and families could produce silk. The government appointed special agent to run the production of silk, which was mainly for the upper class, instead of exchange. The private workshops produced silk for circulation in market, not only in China but also in the West.

Chinese silk exported to the West. It was a solid fact with archaeological proofs. Amounts of Chinese silk has been found in clusters of tombs in Cartoon River (the area of Katanjin), Bolaili River (the area of Bolaili), Wuer Suer River (the area of Xibin, Basha Daer, etc.), Wulagan River (the area of Baze Leike) of Altai Region of Gorno in the former Soviet Union. These silk was produced in the 6th century B.C. to the 5th century B.C. In Village Stuttgart, Hawk Davidoff, Germany, archaeologist unearthed Chinese silk woven in 5th century B.C. From the clay spots with red flowers patterns, which were manufactured in Athens in 5th century B. …

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