Silk Road Trade & Travel Encyclopedia

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Wall (see Great Wall of China)

King Mu of Zhou (Mu Wang)
the West Chou king, is the earliest reputed Silk Road traveler (the dates of his reign are c. 976-922 BCE). His travels provide insight on China’s relationship with Inner Asia before the famous 138 BCE journey of Zhang Qian, who was seeking an alliance with the Yüeh-chih against the Xiongnu (Hsiung-nu) during the Western Han period.

His travel account Mu tianzi zhuan, was written sometime in the 5th - 4th century BC, and is the first known travel book on the Silk Road. It tells of his journey to the Tarim Basin, the Pamir mountains, and further into Iran, where the legendary meeting with Xiwangmu took place. The biography of King Mu was discovered during the third century CE in a tomb from the Warring States period. Modern scholars have attempted to reconstruct the routes of his travels and identify locations, but there is a great deal of debate.  Wang returned via the southern route. The travel book no longer exists but is referenced in Shan Hai Zin, Leizi: Mu Wang Zhuan, and Shiji. Ancient Chinese chronicles recount the lives and exploits of a succession of dynastic rulers that extends back to the twenty-fourth century BC. However, the only surviving scrolls date from more than 2,000 years later. (See Wu / Qian) More...

Western world ("the Occident") The term "Western world" refers very broadly to the various cultures, social structures and philosophical systems of "the West," namely the nations of the Americas, the European Union, and other nation-states such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Israel, South Africa, or those countries which have political or economic characteristics of Western nations (the criteria is defined by Western institutions). In contrast to the term "the Orient," the term "West" or "Occident" can have multiple meanings depending on its context (e.g., the time period, the region or social situation). Accordingly, the basic definition of what constitutes "the West" varies, expanding and contracting over time, in relation to various historical circumstances. More...

The term "Western culture" is used very broadly but often may imply a Biblical-Christian tradition, Judeo-Christian tradition, European or Graeco-Roman Classical influences, or colonial and imperialist practices. According to the Palestinian-American literary critic Prof. Edward Said, the West created a romanticized vision of the East in order to justify colonial and imperialist intentions. It is evident that the historical relationship between the "Orient" and "Occident" should be better examined in the post-September 11 world so as to promote greater understanding of civilizations and cultures. More...

Westerner on a camel, Tang Dynasty, Shanghai Museum.

Western Xia (See Tangut Empire)

William of Rubruck (See Rubruck)

Wind has played a crucial role in the trade of silk, spices and incense, helping sea trade to connect the ancient world. As a complex network of sailing ships (dependent on seasonal monsoon winds) developed, geographers, astronomers, navigators, and merchant sailors charted new understandings of our world. Many factors, such as military conquests, geography,  or ship design, influenced the development of  trading networks. For more than three thousand years, the ancient world was linked by elaborate trading routes that connected the Mediterranean World with the far off lands of Asia. As caravans carried exotic goods on the Silk Road to burgeoning markets in the Roman Empire, a parallel maritime trade linked the markets of Eurasia. It was with these networks that cargo was carried  from India and Southeast Asia to ports throughout the ancient world. This early trade was conducted by intermediaries such as Phonetician, Arab, Indian, Chinese, and Malay seafarers.

"Age of Discovery" & "Trade Winds"
The term trade winds originally derives from the early fourteenth century late Middle English word 'trade' meaning "path" or "track." The Portuguese recognized the importance of the trade winds in navigation in the Atlantic ocean as early as the 15th century. The full wind circulation, which included both the trade wind easterlies and higher-latitude Westerlies, was not known across the Pacific ocean until Andres de Urdaneta's voyage in 1565. The captain of a ship seeks a course along which the winds can be expected to blow in the direction of travel. During the Age of Sail the pattern of prevailing winds made various points of the globe easy or difficult to access, and therefore had a direct impact on European empire-building and thus on modern political geography (i.e. Manila galleons could not sail into the wind). Trade winds, or Monsoon winds, could either assist the journey of merchant ships, or be hazardous. By the 18th century the importance of the trade winds to England's merchant fleet for crossing the Atlantic Ocean had led both the general public and etymologists to identify the name with a later meaning of 'trade,' in other words, "foreign commerce." Information was later collected to create wind and current charts for the world's oceans. More...

Emperor Wu
(or Wu Di, Wudi, Zhu Yuanzhang, Han Dynasty) (Chinese: 漢武帝), Emperor of the Han Dynasty (206 BC- AD 220) is credited with the birth of the Silk Road. He was the seventh emperor of the Han Dynasty of China, ruling from 141 BC to 87 BC. Emperor Wu is well known for the vast territorial expansion that occurred under his reign. The exploration into Xiyu was first started in 139 BC after Emperor Wu appointed General Zhang Qian to undertake a journey to seek out the Kingdom of Yuezhi, which had been expelled by the Xiongnu from the modern Gansu region of China.

Wu sent General Zhang Qian to form an alliance with the Yuezhi people who had been defeated by their enemies the Xiongnu and driven to the Ili valley, the western fringes of the Taklamakan Desert. Wu's desire for making peace with the Western regions, and the two missions of General Qian (the first between 138-125 BCE; and the second 119-115 BCE) are known to have led to the establishment of not only diplomatic contacts and economic relations, but also to cultural exchanges between East and West.

After the reports given to Wu by Gen. Qian, concerning the products and kingdoms in the West (such as the previously unknown kingdoms of Ferghana, Smarkand, and Bokhara), Wu sought to develop further contact. Some items from the West that were brought back to China included Ferghana horses and furs. Later, kingdoms in Central Asia also sent their own emissaries to Chang'an in China.

King Mu of Zhou (Mu Wang), the West Chou king, is the earliest reputed Silk Road traveler (the dates of his reign are c. 976-922). His travels provide insight on China’s relationship with Inner Asia before the famous 138 BCE journey of Zhang Qian. His travel account Mu tianzi zhuan, was written sometime in the 5th - 4th century BC, and is the first known travel book on the Silk Road. (See Wang / Qian) More...

Hung Wu
 (HungWu, Ming Dynasty) (Chinese: 洪武帝) In 1404 Timur, who had conquered Asia from Egypt and Syria to the borders of China, was poised to march his armies on Hung Wu, the Ming Emperor of China. Historians maintain that the reason was a provocative letter that Timur received eight years earlier in 1395, which was carried from China by an official embassy of more than 1,500 men, sent by Hung Wu the first Ming emperor. There had been a number of similar missions in previous years between the Ming court in Khan Baliq (modern Beijing) and the court of Timur, in his new capital at Samarkand. However, in the provocative letter — as was Chinese custom — Timur was addressed as a "vassal," while his “submission” to Hung Wu was graciously accepted, and thus Timur was invited to pay homage to the Dragon Throne and, furthermore, to send tribute. Timur was enraged at the idea that he could be considered anything but sovereign.

His sack of Delhi in 1398 and his capture of the Ottoman Sultan Bayazit at Ankara in 1402, as well as other campaigns, preoccupied him over the following years, though he was not indifferent to China. When a second letter arrived from Hung Wu inquiring why he had not paid tribute for the past seven years, Timur mobilized some quarter of a million men and set out for China.

It is unclear if the Chinese were aware of a serious threat posed by Timur (with their standing army of more than a million men, the Chinese had nonetheless been prepared for trouble on their western border). Then, on February 18, 1405, leading his army toward China, Timur died at Otrar, in today’s Kazakhstan, at the age of 68. In China, too, not long after the second letter was sent, the Dragon Throne stood empty with the death of Hung Wu and the country was embroiled in the turmoil of succession. More...

Wubao Tombs is an ancient tomb complex located in Hami Prefecture in Xinjiang, China.

Wudi (Wu Di) (See Wu)

Wukong (Wu-K'ung) Chinese monk who went as part of a diplomatic delegation from Samarkand. After falling ill he was unable to return to China with his countrymen. On his recovery he became a monk and lived in Gandhara and Kashmir, not returning to China until 790.

Wuwei In ancient times, Wuwei was called Liangzhou (凉州). It is the eastern terminus of the Hexi Corridor. Wuwei was a key link for the Northern Silk Road, where traders to and from the Western Regions would meet. A number of important archaeological finds have been made, including ancient copper carts with stone animals. Wuwei is located in northwest central Gansu in China and is an important stop on the way west from Lanzhou. Xuanzang, the famous 7th century Chinese monk, scholar, and traveler, preached Buddhist doctrines here. More...

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