Dreaming in that immemorial reminiscence, noon at Quanzhou, I see countless vessels coming from afar the frontier of the western Han Dynasty. Old days’ lover, you reverberated thousands of years. You asked me what your name is. I sincerely tell you that your name is The Maritime Silk Road.
Begun in the western Han Dynasty, which is recorded in the “Geography Section of History in Han Dynasty”, the Maritime Silk Road is a sea route for ancient Chinese to exchange trade and cultures with western countries, started in Quanzhou. It formed in the Qin and Han Dynasties, developed in The Three Kingdoms period and the Sui Dynasty, and boomed in the Tang and Song dynasties, through the development of the Ming Dynasty, the ocean route extended to the west continuously, then arrived in East Africa and the red sea.
Dating back to Tang and Song Dynasties, north China and its coastal zone came forth famous kilns, China’s porcelain industry reached to the peak. In 780 A. D. when Dezong, an emperor of the Tang Dynasty, came into throne, the Imperial court banned trading silk with other countries. Therefore, the Chinese exporting commodities changed gradually from silk to porcelains. At the meantime, the route of trade exchanges between China and western countries also changed from main land to sea. Henceforth, China was titled China, instead of Serice (address of China by ancient westerners).
Since the ancient times, the maritime Silk Road has multiple routes. During the period from Tang dynasty to Yuan dynasty, there are basically three external exchanging routes of sea in China. One is called “the East China Sea route”, a porcelain collection from around the Ming state (today’s Ningbo), to Japan, and the Korean peninsula. Another one is called “the south China sea route”, mainly transported ceramic goods from Quanzhou, Guangzhou, through the south China sea to Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, peninsular Malaysia, then past the strait of Malacca to Myanmar, Bangladesh, India and so on. The third is “North coastal route”, which conveyed porcelain collections from Yangzhou, canaled by Chuzhou, Haizhou (today’s Huaian) by sea, north up through Yantai, Laizhou, sailing along the coast of Bohai Sea gulf to Korea and Japan.
The long maritime Silk Road, to form the foreign trade passageway, involves up to 15 countries and regions, including the Southeast Asian countries, India, some coastal countries of Africa and Europe. Mode of commodities operation is that Chinese government sent out the diplomatic mission to trip, or that foreign government sent ambassadors to pay tributes to Chinese emperor. Of all the commodities, silk and porcelain are the main exports. Importing goods include pearls, ivories and rhino horns, hawksbill, coral, jade, peacock, gold and silver jewelry, rhinoceros, kapok, diamond, and betel nuts etc.
The culture of maritime Silk Road has a long history, experienced a low ebb but still so indomitable. Even though it was corrupted by Qing Empire’s enforcement that closed the door to prosperity, it was still stubbornly carried forward.
History is irreversible, we can’t change, what we only can do now is to make the maritime silk road revival, bring that trade prosperous back to our eyes, back to the era of prosperity.
(By Li Sihui from Guangdong Vocational Institute Of Public Administration)