The Maritime Silk Road, the extension to the trade route of overland Silk Road, derives its name from the profitable Chinese silk trade in ancient times. It starts from Fujian province to the Mediterranean Sea, by the way of the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Red sea. The main traders include the Chinese, Arabs, Indians, Persians, Somalis, Greeks, Syrians, and even Romans. In addition to economic trade, the Maritime Silk Road was a route for cultural communication among the civilizations. Religions, philosophies, as well as technologies spread along the Maritime Silk Routes, contributing to the cultural communication and integration among countries.
The origin of the Maritime Silk Road can date back to Zhou dynasty, 10th century BC, when the emperor of Zhou sent some Chinese people to Korea to teach local people advanced knowledge of agriculture, departing from the port of Bohai Bay, Shandong Province. Thus, the technology of raising silkworms was gradually spread to Korea, which is now acknowledged as the first step of cultural communication.
The fundamental development of the Maritime Silk Road started during Han dynasty, along with the formation of the overland Silk Road. Thanks to the inconvenience of overland traffic, coastal people endeavoured actively to discover another sea route to carry their goods. After countless attempts, merchants eventually found a safe sea route for trade, which is now widely known as the Maritime Silk Road. This route provided Southeast Asia with an opportunity to interact with China, promoting the cultural communication and technologies spread in Asia.
The most flourishing age of the Maritime Silk Road is in Tang and Song dynasty. With continual wars interrupting the overland Silk Road, merchants couldn’t make profits via the inland trade routes in central Asia. Additionally, technological advances in shipbuilding gave rise to the opening of new sea lanes to the Indian Ocean and the continent of Africa, making it possible to extend the maritime Silk Road. Notably, with the rise of the Maritime Silk Road, the communication between China and other countries was very prosperous during Tang and Song dynasty. The technologies of printing and gunpowder, the philosophy of Confucius and knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine were all spread to Europe during that time, mostly by Arab merchants.
However, the prosperity of the Maritime Silk Road eventually came to an end in Qing dynasty. Naturally, the cultural communication among the civilizations declined as well. The status of the Maritime Silk Road was largely diminished by the emperors of Qing, due to the Seclusion policy of closing Chinese border. When western invaders came to China in the late 1800s, China became the market of western countries, which brought about the final disintegration of the Maritime Silk Road.
Significantly, the Maritime Silk Road are confronted with an unprecedented opportunity to rise once again. When Chairman Xi Jinping visited Central Asia and Southeast Asia in 2013, he proposed the initiative of “One Belt, One Road”, underlining the importance of the cultural communication among Asia countries. It attracted great public attention to this famous maritime trade route, for it would be an indispensable part of Chinese dream. With the prosperity of the communication along the Maritime Silk Road, our motherland will take a bigger role in global affairs, to eventually realize the historic revival of Chinese nationality.
(By Zhang Ruiming from Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine)