Silk Road Trade & Travel Encyclopedia
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Xanadu (Shangdu, Kaipingfu) was called the "upper capital" where Kubla Khan had his summer residence c. 1256 (and later the summer capital of Qanate China). The name Xanadu has become famous due to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan, completed in 1797. (See Dadu, Yuandadu) More...


Xi'an (Chang'an) The starting point of the famed Silk Road. Xi'an is the capital city of Shaanxi Province and is one of the four great ancient capitals of China. It is the eastern terminus of the Silk Road and the region showcases spectacular sites from UNESCO's World Heritage List. More than 120,000 relics have been brought to light from 4,000 ancient ruins and tombs. Known as Chang'an during the Silk Road’s heyday, from the second century B.C. through the mid-fifteenth century (serving as the capital of the Han Dynasty 206 B.C.-A.D. 220 and Tang Dynasty A.D. 618-907 courts), the city has a recorded history of 3,000 years. The Shaanxi History Museum features artifacts from the Silk Road era, including an outstanding collection of Tang tricolor figurines. More...

The Great Mosque (also called Huajue Mosque).
Built in 742 AD, the grand palace style architecture combines both Chinese and Islamic decorative art and culture.


Xi'an City Wall was built during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, rebuilt the wall, creating the modern Xi'an City Wall. The wall now stands 12 meters tall, 12-14 meters wide at the top and 15-18 meters thick at the bottom. It covers 13.7 kilometers in length with a deep moat surrounding it. It is the most complete city wall that has survived in China, as well as being one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world.


Xi'anyang north of the present day Xi'an, was the capital of the Qin empire, home of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, and site of the fabled terra cotta warriors. Chang'an (another name for Xi'an) was the home base for the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), a starting point for caravans heading west on the Silk Road, and a center of Chinese art and culture during the Tang dynasty.


Xian
Fa Xian
Chinese high-ranking monk Fa Xian in the Jin Dynasty (265—420) travelled to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other countries, and conducted missionary work along the Silk Road. Fa Xian's "Note on Buddhist Country" are noteworthy documents for research.


Xin
Fei Xin
traveled on ship and wrote about the Chinese expeditions of Admiral Zheng He in about 1436. Accounts contemporary to Zheng He's era indicate he was a Chinese Muslim explorer (accounts include the writings of Ma Huan, Zheng He's chronicler, interpreter, and fellow Muslim, who travelled with him on many of his voyages). The documentation of Ma Huan is considered a first hand account by a classically trained Chinese-Muslim diplomat who traveled with the Ming Treasure Fleet in the early 15th century. More...


Xingjiao Temple located at the start of the Silk Road in Xi'an (Chang'an), was built in the Tang Dynasty and stores the relics of Monk Xuanzang and his two disciples, along with several thousand volumes of Buddhist scriptures. After returning from his travels to the West, Xuanzang devoted 19 years of his life to translating Buddhist scriptures. After his death he was first buried at Bailuyuan, and later removed to Shaolingyuan while the temple was being built. The present buildings in the temple were re-built in 1922 and 1939.


Xingxingxia is the name of a passage in Hami, an important town on the northern route of the ancient Silk Road. Xingxingxia Passage is located at the southeast of Hami City, the border of Gansu and eastern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China.


Xinjiang More than half of the Silk Road (which stretched between Xi'an in China to the Mediterranean Sea and Turkey) was located in China, with a vital section of the route passing through Xinjiang, an area which contained the ancient commercial centers of China. The known history of Xinjiang dates back to the 2nd millennium BC. Throughout history many empires have controlled some or all of this vast area, including the Xiongnu, Han, Göktürks, Tang, Turkic Uyghurs, and Mongols. The region came under the rule of the Manchu Qing Dynasty in 1759, and was subsequently named Xinjiang (meaning "new frontier"). Since 1949 the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has been part of the People's Republic of China. It is the largest province in China, with one sixth of the total area.

In ancient China, the area was simply known as "Xiyu" or "Western Regions," a name that became prevalent in Chinese records after the Han Dynasty. For Turkic groups, the region is known as "Sharqi Turkistan" (literally "Eastern Land of the Turks" in English). The region was referred to as being part of "Turkistan" by the 13th century Venetian traveler Marco Polo. According to ancient Chinese historical records, the political existence of the Turks in this region commenced with the Xiongnu in the 3rd century BC (See Göktürks). Therefore the name Xinjiang is a relatively new name for this ancient region.

The cities of the Xinjiang region can be described as a crossroads where ancient Western and Oriental cultures met, and where many prominent historical figures visited.
Xinjiang is largely inhabited by Uyghurs, Han Chinese, Kazakhs, Hui Turks, Mongolians, Kirgiz, Xibe, Tajik, Uzbek, Manchu, Daur, Tatar, Russian, and other ethnic groups. The Uyghur are a Turkic people who inhabited many of the ancient oasis cities along the Silk Road, and those ringing the Taklamakan, as well as the ancient city of Gaochang. In the 10th century, after the eastward spread of Islam, Islam was established at the Silk Road city of Kashgar under the Uyghur kingdom. For centuries, Uyghur and Muslim merchants were renowned as traders in these Silk Road oasis towns. The strategic importance of these oasis markets enabled many Uyghur traders to become key middlemen on the Silk Road caravan routes between the Orient and Europe. The ancient Silk Road, after entering Xinjiang, split into 3 routes, north, middle and south. Many ruins of ancient cities, watchtowers and numerous historical sites remain along the routes. Among the important cities and towns are Urumqi, Turpan (the ruins of Gaochang city), Kashgar, Kuqa Hotan, and Taxkorgan. (also see Henan Province)

The Chinese Section of the Silk Road began in the city of Xi'an in Shaanxi Province,
passed through the provinces of Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai and continued westward through Xinjiang into Central Asia.
More than half of the Silk Road--which stretched between Xi'an in China to the Mediterranean Sea and Turkey--was located in China.

The Xinjiang region is strategically located at the junction where the most ancient branch of the famous “Silk Route” joining China and the West meets with one of the main routes from ancient India and Tibet, crossing from Central Asia to other areas of China. Xinjiang was the crossroads for not only goods, but also was home to the northern and southern routes which enabled technologies, philosophies, and religions to be transmitted from one culture to another. Xinjiang is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, deserts, and vast grasslands. The attractions of Xinjiang and nearby provinces such as Gansu, include the Mogao Caves, Dunhuang, Mingsha Mountain Echoing Sands, Yadan Landform, and the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves between the cities of Turpan and Shanshan (Loulan) at the north-east of the Taklamakan Desert near the ancient ruins of Gaochang in the Mutou Valley, a gorge in the Flaming Mountains of China. Click for additional map of the Silk Road, Xinjiang Section


Xinjiang Regional Museum Situated in Urumqi City, the Xinjiang Regional Museum is a large integrated museum and centre for the collection and study of cultural relics in Xinjiang. The building is in a Uyghur style, the internal decor having strong ethnic artistic features. The exhibition relating to folk customs includes costumes, tools and every day necessities. The museum illustrates the lifestyle, dress, religion, marriage customs, festivals and other aspects of the colorful life of the ethnic groups that live in Xinjiang. The historical relics include mummies, iron ware, bronze ware, silk brocades, tomb figures, pottery, coins, weapons, inscriptions, and historic documents.


Xiongnu (Xiung-nu, pronounced SHE-UNG-NU) (or Hsiung-nu, See Hsiung-nu Empire) The tribal confederation of Xiongnu was the first nomadic empire in Central Asia. Located near China's northwest border, the Xiongnu often raided and posed a threat to the Chinese frontier.

According to Chinese historical records, the political existence of the Turks in Asia commenced with the Xiongnu (Hsiung-nu) in the 3rd century B.C. The Xiongnu were a confederation of nomadic tribes whose ethnic identity has been a subject of varied hypotheses (often referred to as Turkic-Mongolic, or "the Huns"). The Xiongnu established a great empire under the reign of Mete Khan. Defeating the Mongols and the Yueh-chih, they established control over the western gates of China, as well as the trade routes. Because the Han emperors sought allies who would help them contain the Xiongnu, they desired to build an alliance with a tribe further to the west called the Yueh-chih (Yuezhi). The Han emperor called for volunteers to cross the territory of the Xiongnu in order to establish contact with the Yueh-chih. Zhang Qian of the Han Dynasty (206BC—220AD), an officer of the Han imperial guard, volunteered for the mission. He traveled upon the Silk Routes between 138 BC to 139 BC as an emissary sent on a mission to persuade the Yüeh-chih king to form an alliance against the Xiongnu.

The Chinese historian Sima Qian (145-90 BCE) offers one of the earliest accounts of the lives and culture of the people known to the Han Dynasty as the Xiongnu. In his Shiji (Record of the Historian), he describes them as a pastoral nomadic people in search of grazing lands for their herds of horses, cows and sheep. He also relates that the Xiongnu had no walled cities and did not engage in agriculture, and that the men were formidable warriors, trained from an early age to hunt on horseback with bow and arrow. Historical records also describe the Xiongnu as skilled charioteers, a characterization supported by the discovery of bronze chariot post filials in archeological excavations. (See Hu) More...


Xiyu (The Western Regions) was a historical name specified in the Chinese chronicles between the 3rd century BC to 8th century AD that referred to the regions west of Jade Gate, most often Central Asia or sometimes more specifically the eastern most portion of it (the Tarim Basin). More generally, the Indian subcontinent and Middle East were also considered Western Regions. Because of its strategic location astride the Silk Road, the Western Regions have been historically significant since at least the 3rd century BC. It was the scene of conflict between the Han Dynasty and the Xiongnu until the middle of the 2nd century. The region became significant in later centuries as a cultural conductor between East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Islamic world and Europe. One of the most significant exports of the Western Regions was Buddhism, which was carried by traders and pilgrim monks to China. The Tang Dynasty monk Xuanzang crossed the region on his way to study in India, penning the classic "Great Tang Records of the Western Regions" upon his return to the Tang capital Chang'an. In the 18th century, the Qing Dynasty conquered part of this region and put it under military administration. In 1884, the region was established as a province under the name Xinjiang. (See Turkic and Western Regions) More...

The "Great Tang Records of the Western Regions" is a narrative of Xuanzang's nineteen year journey through Chang'an to India between 626 and 645. It was compiled in 646 by Bianji, a disciple of Xuanzang, who spent more than one year editing the book through Xuanzang's dictation. The book contains about 100,000 words and is divided into twelve volumes, which describe the geography, land and maritime transportation, climate, local products, people, language, history, politics, economic life, religion, culture, and customs in 110 countries, regions and city-states from present-day Xinjiang to Sri Lanka. It contains considerable historical material on India, the condition of Buddhist monasteries at the time, and has a high historical value for its descriptions of Central Asia during the early seventh century. See History of Turkistan


Xuanzang (Hsuan-tsang) Xuanzang was a famous Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler, and translator who described the interaction between China and India in the early Tang period. Born in Henan province of China in 602 or 603, he became famous for his seventeen year overland trip to India and back, which is recorded in detail in his autobiography and a biography, and which provided the inspiration for the epic novel The Journey to the West (Xiyouji). His detailed account of his travels made him famous, and he became the subject of popular folktales. In 645 AD, he returned to Chang'an with more than 600 sutras. (See Xiyu) More...

Xuanzang followed in the footsteps of Faxian, the first Chinese monk who reached India. Xuanzang was also a translator of Buddhist scriptures. In order to bring back more Sanskrit manuscripts to translate into Chinese he left China in 629 to travel to India, without the emperor's permission, which meant that he had to avoid Dunhuang and travel into desert areas. He followed the northern branch of the Silk Road, and arrived in Turfan, where he was welcomed by the king of Goachang. The king provided him with letters of introduction to the other Silk Road oasis states along his route. Xuanzang continued his journey through cities such as Tashkent, Samarkand and Peshawar before arriving in Northern India. In India he studied in the great monastic university Nalanda, and spent several years making pilgrimages to Buddhist holy sites. On his return to China, he travelled along the southern branch of the Silk Road, through Khotan to Dunhuang. His journey had lasted fifteen years. (See Xingjiao Temple) More...


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