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The Silk Road

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 03 December 2009

Melvyn Bragg and guests Tim Barrett, Naomi Standen and Frances Wood discuss the Silk Road, the trade routes which spanned Asia for over a thousand years, carrying Buddhism to China and paper-making and gunpowder westwards.

In 1900, a Taoist monk came upon a cave near the Chinese town of Dunhuang. Inside, he found thousands of ancient manuscripts. They revealed a vast amount of evidence about the so-called Silk Road: the great trade routes which had stretched from Central Asia, through desert oases, to China, throughout the first millennium.

Besides silk, the Silk Road helped the dispersion of writing and paper-making, coinage and gunpowder, and it was along these trade routes that Buddhism reached China from India.

The history of these transcontinental links reveals a dazzlingly complex meeting and mingling of civilisations, which lasted for well over a thousand years.

With:

Tim Barrett is Professor of East Asian History at the School of Oriental and African Studies; Naomi Standen is Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at Newcastle University; Frances Wood is Head of the Chinese Section at the British Library.

  • FURTHER READING

    Wood, Frances, The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia (The British Library, 2003)

    Barrett, T. H., The Woman Who Discovered Printing (Yale University Press, 2008)

    Standen, Naomi, Unbounded Loyalty: Frontier Crossings in Liao China (University of Hawaii Press, 2007)

    Hulsewe, A. F. P., China in Central Asia: the early stage (Brill, 1979)

    Holt, Frank L., Alexander the Great and Bactria: the formation of Central Asian Empire (Leiden, Brill, 1988)

    Foltz, Richard, C., Religions of the Silk Road (Macmillan, 1999)

    Zürcher, Eric, The Buddhist Conquest of China: the spread and adaptation of Buddhism in early medieval China (Leiden, Brill, 1958)

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