Chinese silk was introduced to the outside world as early as during the 5th -6th century B.C. Archaeologists found scraps of Chinese silk in an old tomb dated 500B.C. At Stuttgart,Germany. By 400B.C.,Europeans began to learn about China through Chinese silk. In his historical work book on History and Geography,the Great historian Keta Pinchas referred to China as “Seres”,Meaning “a country of silk”. During a long period of time,due the long distance and inconvenience of communication,only a few silk products could be shipped to the West,making them extremely precious and valuable.
According to records,once the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar(102B.C.-44B.C.) wore a silk gown when he was watching an opera in the theater. When kings and ministers saw the dazzling silk gown,they couldn’t stop admiring it. The rarity of silk was only changed gradually after the opening of the world-renowned Silk Road.
During the late Warring States Period and the ensuing Qin and the Han dynasties,the northern frontier of the Central Plains Kingdoms were often subject to harassment by the northern nomadic Huns. Emperor Liu Bang,founder of the Ha Dynasty,was once besieged by the Hun cavalry at Mount Baideng where he almost lost his life. Since then,in order to seek peace of Central Plains,the Han rulers adopted a policy of pacification through marriage toward the Huns. They also sent all kind of precious presents such as silk and cotton to the Huns. In 140B.C., Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty ascended the throne. After a period of recovery, national strength was greatly enhanced with social stability and economic prosperity prevailing in the country. The Han Dynasty ruler began to pursue a proactive foreign policy and set the goal to defeat the Huns in order to maintain peace and stability in the southern frontier. Having learned that Huns had killed the head of the Dayuezhi Kingdom in the Western Regions and forces its people to leave their land,Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty planned to from an alliance with Dayuezhi to make pincer attach against the Huns.
In order to implement this plan,Emperor Wu dispatched Zhang Qian as his special envoy to the Western Regions in the 3rd year of the Jianyuan period(138B.C.) leading a contingent of more than one hundred men, Zhang Qian set of from Longxi(present-day southern of Lintao of Gansu) for Dayuezhi. He was unexpectedly detained by Huns on the way. Head of the Huns put Zhang Qian on exile the grassland of Mobei where he spent more than a decade. Alrough Zhang Qian eventually married A Huns girl and had children with her,he never forgot his errand. Finally he found an opportunity to escape from the Huns and continued his journey to the West. He passed the Dayuan and Kangqu kingdoms and finally arrived at Dayuezhi which had already settled down in the Amu River basin area. A s the Dayuezhi people were already leading a stable and peaceful life on this lush land,they didn’t want to launch wars against the Huns.
Having failed to lobby Dayuezhi into an alliance with Tang,Zhang Qian embarked on his return journey to his home country after one year. Unfortunately he was again detained by the Huns. A year later,civil unrest broke out in the Huns,Zhang Qian took the opportunity and escaped. In 126B.C., Zhang Qian returned to Chang’an,capital city of the Western Han Dynasty,thirteen years since he got on the mission. Of the more than one hundred men he led on the mission, only one returned with him. Zhang Qian reported to Emperor Wu the mission and that he saw ad heard in the western countries. The Emperor was immensely impressed by the rate and precious products of western countries that he decided to establish friendly ties with them.
In 119B.C. Zhang Qian was dispatched to the western regions on a second mission. Leading a contingent of more than three hundred men and bringing with them a large quantity gold,silk,cattle,and sheep,Zhang Qian first arrived in Wusu(present-day southeast of Lake Balkhash),an important hub in the Western Regions. Zhang Qian then sent his deputies to countries such as Dayuan,Kangqu(present-day southeast Kazakhstan),Daxia, Anxi(present-day northeast Iran), Shendu(ancient India) where they were warmly received. and they conducted large scale exchange of goods. In 115B.C. Zhang Qian returned to Chang’an. Dayuan,Anxi and some other western region countries sent envoys to travel together with the Han envoys.
Zhang Qian’s two missions to the Western Regions opened the East-West trans-Asia inland transportation routes. Between 104B.C. And 101B.C. Western Han set up four countries(juns)in the Western Regions:Jiuquan,Zhangye,Wuwei,and Dunhuang and formally incorporated the Western Regions into Western Han’s territory. This had also provided a safe and reliable channel for East-West cultural exchange. Since then, Han Dynasty envoys and merchants constantly to the Western Regions to carry out political and commercial activities. Similarly caravans from Western Regions traveled long distance to the Central Plains. A phenomenon featuring unprecedented East-West interaction and prosperity emerged. Large quantities of Chinese silk were shipped to Central Asia,West Asia and Europe through this transportation artery. In archaeological findings unearthed in recent years.large quantities of ancient Chinese Silk were found in the vast area between Chang’an in the East and the Mediterranean in the West,reflecting the prosperity of East-West trade in the ancient times.