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  Culture Journals - Journal for Cultural Promotion
  Issue No. 1 : President - Mr. Peter M. K. Wong
 

Preface to the First Issue

One must eat to live, not live to eat; there must be profit for business, yet profit is not the sole aim of business.
 
Business investment, where the benefits to the society are considered, is a meaningful investment. The business of deriving economic value while promoting culture is one that I have great enthusiasm for. The Silk Road development, with its commercial and cultural values, is truly a project worth devoting my energy and years' of experience to.
 
Hong Kong is a vibrant and dynamic international city. Relationships among people, business enterprises and political interests are subject to fast and frequent changes. These changes lead to stress - one of the greatest and most inevitable miseries of urban living. However, by taking a leisurely journey through the historical space and time, you will realize that everyday change is nothing more than a flash of lightning across the sky. Whether you succeed or fail, it matters not so much - as long as whatever you do is meaningful to your community and your nation, you will find fulfillment and satisfaction.
 
Silk and the History of the Silk Road
 
Legend has it that the process of producing silk and its many uses was discovered by Leizu, wife of Huangdi, and references to sericulture have been made from the very beginning of China's written history. Archeologists have discovered relics from the Neolithic era showing that silkworms, mulberry trees and woven silk cloth existed in the Yellow River Valley at that time. The Shijing (The Book of Songs) records numerous poems detailing the activities of silk production.
 
From this time the gradual progress of the silk trade westwards can be seen through the history of other countries. In the work Arthasastra, a high-ranking official-cum-merchant of India described the transportation of silk to India from a place called "Cina" four hundred years before the birth of Christ. The word "Cina" is almost certainly derived from Qin, the ruling family of the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC). The Roman scholar Gaius Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) stated in his book National History that silk was produced in "Seres" (China), where the word "Seres" was derived from the Greek "Sere" which referred to silk. After the silk was woven into beautifully designed and embroidered fabrics in China, it was then transported to Rome and sold to be made into exquisite gowns for Roman noblewomen.
 
The westward transport of silk led to the gradual joining together of the routes from East to West into what we think of as the Silk Road. A large influence on the development of the Silk Road was the sending of General Zhang Qian in 138 BC on a diplomatic mission to Xizu (The Western Territories) by Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty in an attempt to unite those countries into a military alliance against the aggressive Huns. This event led to greater mutual understanding and friendship between the Emperor and the countries of the Western Territories. Trading along the Silk Road reached its height during the Sui and Tang dynasties (581-907 AD). As a result, relations between China and the West took a great leap forward and the Silk Road became an important channel for the cultural and commercial flow between China and the West. Many legends and stories have passed down to us from this time, weaving a colourful picture of the Silk Road culture.
 
Although the Silk Road got its name from its importance in transporting silk to the West, there were countless other goods transported back and forth along the Silk Road, including tea-leaves, porcelain wares and iron utensil from China, while spice, precious stones, leather, glass and agricultural products from the West. Apart from the physical exchange of goods, there was the exchange of culture and technology. The four great inventions of China - paper, gunpowder, printing and the compass, were carried westward along the Silk Road, while the three great religions of the world, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity traveled eastward to China. The Silk Road thus contributed greatly to the development of human civilization as we know it today.
 
However, the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) saw the development of profitable marine routes for trade in addition to the Silk Road. The sea routes from the southern coastal city of Canton (Guangzhou) to the Middle East were well developed. Even greater expansion was achieved in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, (1279-1644 AD), an especially noteworthy feat being seven expeditions made to the India Ocean and the Eastern Coast of Africa by the famous Chinese eunuch, Zheng He during 1405-1422 AD. Advances in navigation and resulting economic benefits led to great improvements in the efficiency of marine transportation, and trade via the sea routes rose to such an extent that it eventually replaced the Silk Road. 
 
Today, the Silk Road is no longer important the way it was in the sense of facilitating trade and cultural exchange, yet it remains an important and fascinating cultural resource.
 
The Three Sections of the Silk Road
 
The Silk Road is not a single straight thoroughfare. It is actually a group of routes linking China and the West. Within China, it goes through the province of Shaanxi, Ningxia, Gansu and Xinjiang; outside China, it traverses Middle Asia, including Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
 
First, The Western Section stretches from Middle Asia to India and Pakistan, then to westward to West Asia and Europe.
 
Second, The Middle Section refers to the section west of Dunhuang to the border of Middle Asia. This section is divided into three routes in order to bypass the mountains and deserts: the north, middle and south routes. They pass through such cities as Urumqi, Turpan, Kuqa, Kashi and Hotan.
 
Third, The Eastern Section starts from Xi'an and goes westward through the Hexi Corridor through cities such as Lanzhou, Wuwei, Zhangye, Jiuquan and ends at Dunhuang Oasis by the Gobi Desert.
 
The Story of Zhang Qian
 
Zhang Qian was a General of the Han Dynasty. He was an influential character in the history of the Silk Road, and his legendary life story is still told today.
 
The Han Dynasty had long been threatened by the Huns. The Emperor Han Wudi therefore began seeking alliances with other kingdoms in the Western Territory in order that together they might defeat the powerful enemy. In 138 BC, Han Wudi sent Zhang to visit the Yueh-chih people to discuss such an alliance. However, on the way Zhang was captured by the Huns, who recognized his ability, and insisted him to marry a woman chosen from their tribe. His new wife had even born him a son. Yet he never forgot his mission. After eleven years among the Huns, he escaped and reached "Yueh-chih", but was later recaptured. He eventually returned home after a total of thirteen years.
 
Emperor Wudi had not lost faith in his General and in 119 BC Zhang was again sent to develop political contacts, this time with the Wusun people. Zhang also sent representatives to other Central Asian countries as far away as Anxi (todays' Iran).
 
Although Zhang never did achieve his original mission of securing allies for his Emperor against the Huns, he effectively opened up the gateway for cultural and economic exchange between the East and West. Zhang's journeys were recorded in two works titled Shiji (Historical Records of China) and Hanshu (Book of the Han) which together greatly enhanced the knowledge and understanding of the Han (Chinese people) about the western kingdoms. Zhang is now known as the "Great Traveller" in the history of China.

Published in April 1998 

 

 
 
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