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Maritime Silk Road: openness and integration

Author  :  LIU SHILIN, JIANG XIAOYUN     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-06-05

China’s Maritime Silk Road

Author: Liu Shilin

Publisher: Orient Publishing Centre

The Maritime Silk Road refers to the sea passage established 2,000 years ago to facilitate economic and cultural exchanges between China and the rest of the world. Records on the route were first seen in the Book of Han. The bulk of the cargo in Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties was silk, therefore the route connecting the East and the West was called the Maritime Silk Road. Since the mid Tang Dynasty, due to warfare and the economic center’s shift to the South, the Maritime Silk Road gradually replaced the Silk Road and became the main passage for foreign trade with China.

In the book China’s Maritime Silk Road, I came up that the core of Chinese oceanic culture represented by the Maritime Silk Road lies in market awareness. The exploration and expansion of the Maritime Silk Road was based on the pursuit of economic benefits, which promoted the formation of markets and port cities along the route. The Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road respectively promoted the rise and prosperity of the cities along the routes. The cities along the Silk Road were often located in crucial places near big mountains and rivers, guarded by great walls and massive forces, thus nurturing advanced political culture. Cities along the Maritime Silk Road were mostly connected by rivers and seas and had significant wealth and flourishing commercial cultures. For example, the “Guangzhou maritime route to the West” in the Tang Dynasty that started from Guangzhou and ran westward to the Indian Ocean and the East Africa Coast, covered 14,000 kilometers and provided enormous vitality for Guangzhou.

Religious belief accounts for a big part of the Chinese oceanic culture. Maritime businesses involve numerous personal and property risks. This means they require not only economic benefit as an external impetus, but also firm faith. The Maritime Silk Road was not only a passage for travelers and commodities, but also gateway for the introduction of Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Faxian, a renowned monk in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420), went to India by the Silk Road in the pursuit of the Buddhist doctrine, and came back to China via the Maritime Silk Road. Mazu beliefs, characterized by worship to the Chinese sea goddess Mazu, originated in Quanzhou city, the starting point of the Maritime Silk Road. This is the most typical folk belief in China that spread far across the ocean.

Chinese oceanic culture also demonstrates rich cultural diversity. Traditional Chinese culture involves profound affection for one’s family, hometown and motherland. With the expansion of the Maritime Silk Road, more Chinese left home and settled in foreign countries in search of better lives and opportunities. This disseminated Chinese culture and broadened Chinese people’s minds. In the meantime, merchants from other countries and regions, such as the Arabic merchants, came to China and settled down. The peaceful exchanges of talents showed a spirit of openness and integration characterized by “harmony in diversity,” which is an outcome of the development of the Maritime Silk Road.

Editor: Yu Hui

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