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The Decline of the Silk Road

During the Northern Song Dynasty(960-1127), the relatively weak Han regime ruling the Central Plains controlled only a limited area. Its trade with the Western Regions and foreign counties also suffered impediment. The Silk Road was not open. By the time of the Southern Song Dynasty, as a result of the vigorous support from the imperial court, coupled with advance in the shipbuilding technology, sea route became the major channel for china’s external communication and trade. Land route Silk Road was almost abandoned.
In the 13th century, the Mongol Empire in the northern grassland rose. Led by Genghis khan the Mongolian cavalry took three expeditions to the Western Regions and conquered vast areas of North Asia, Central Asia and West Asia. Having conquered kingdoms of West Xia, Jin and Southern Song, the Yuan rulers unified China and set up a well-developed post house system, which enable the Silk Road to flourish again. Emissaries, missionaries and merchants from European countries came to China by way of the silk road.
In the 24th year of the Hongwu period of emperor Taizu(1391), the Ming army captured Hami. In 1406, emperor Chengzu established an office in Hami to serve as base for implementing its economic policies in the Western Regions. The Ming government also established tributary relations with countries in the Western Regions. In 1472, the Mongolian Chagatai Khan led his army to attack and captured Hami. The Ming army was forced to retreat to Jiayuguan Pass, leaving the regions beyond the Jiayuguan Pass falling apart. Although local trade among civil society still went on along the Silk Road, the booming prosperity no longer existed. In the 15th century, with the Ottoman Empire’s occupation of Constantinople, capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire, land transportation in Europe and China become all the more difficult. Europeans had to explore new trading routes. With the advancement of shipbuilding and marine technology, more and more Europeans attempted to travel to the East by the sea. In 1498, a Portuguese navigator D.Gama discovered the Indian Ocean route, thus opened up a new route on the sea. Westerners coming to China via the sea route increased gradually. Since the 15th century, Silk Road gradually became a relic of China’s history of exchanges with foreign counties.

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