The Silk Road economic belt history started from the Han Dynasty. In order to revive the ancient Maritime Silk Road, the initiative that China and countries along the ancient Maritime Silk Road would build together a new 21st Century Maritime Silk Road was proposed by China.
– Maritime Silk Road Introduction
The Maritime Silk Road was a conduit for trade and cultural exchange between China’s south-eastern coastal areas and foreign countries. There were two major routes: the East China Sea Silk Route and the South China Sea Silk Route.
Starting from Quanzhou Fujian Province, the Maritime Silk Road was the earliest voyage route that was formed in the Qin and Han dynasties, developed from the Three Kingdoms Period to the Sui Dynasty, flourished in the Tang and Song dynasties, and fell into decline in the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Through the Maritime Silk Road, silks, china, tea, and brass and iron were the four main categories exported to foreign countries; while spices, flowers and plants, and rare treasures for the court were brought to China. Therefore, the Maritime Silk Road was also known as « the Maritime China road » or « the Maritime spices road ».
– Maritime Silk Road History
The Maritime Silk Road, like its overland counterpart, had its origins during the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD). Although vast seas separate the four corners of the Earth, with advances in shipbuilding and navigational technologies, maritime transport came to provide unprecedented access to the most distant destinations.
It is known that the bulk of the raw and processed silk transported along the overland Silk Road during the Han Dynasty was produced primarily along China’s southern coast and in the coastal Wu, Wei, Qi, and Lu regions (present-day Shandong Province). Since ancient times, these areas have been thriving centers of shipbuilding as well as silk production. They were thus able to supply both commodities for export and the means to transport them across the sea. It was this combination that provided the social and material conditions necessary for the development of maritime trade during the Han Dynasty.
– East China Sea Route
Kaiyuan Temple in Quanzhou, the starting place of Maritime Silk Road. The East China Sea Route enjoys a long history of about 3,000 years. It was during the Zhou Dynasty that Ji Zi, a court official, was sent on a journey east, setting off from Shangdong Peninsula’s Bohai Gulf and navigating his way across the Yellow Sea, which led to the introduction of sericiculture (silkworm farming), filature and silk spinning into Korea.
When Emperor Qin Shi Huang united China, many Chinese fled to Korea and took with them silkworms and breeding technology. This sped up the development of silk spinning in Korea. These new skills and the technologies were subsequently introduced into Japan during the Han Dynasty. Since the Tang Dynasty, the silks produced by Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces were directly shipped to Japan. Many Japanese envoys and monks were also able to travel to Chang’an (now Xi’an) along this sea route.
– South China Sea Route
Guangzhou represented the starting-point of the South China Sea Route, which extended across the Indian Ocean and then on to various countries situated around the Persian Gulf. The types goods dispatched for trade consisted mainly of silk, china and tea, while imported merchandise included a variety of spices, flowers and grasses – hence it being commonly referred to as the sea’s ‘China Road’ and the sea’s ‘Flavor Road’ .
The route was first used in the Qin and Han Dynasties, and increased in popularity from the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280) to the Sui Dynasty (581-618). Up until the Tang Dynasty Anshi Rebellions (755-762), this route was viewed as a secondary alternative to the Silk Road, However in the latter half of the eighth century, owing to the scourge of wars in the vast Western Regions, trade volumes along the Maritime Silk Road boomed as those on its overland counterpart steadily declined.
Delicate Silk Technologic advances in shipbuilding and navigation led to the opening of new sea-lanes to the Southeast Asia, Malacca, areas in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Guangzhou became the first great harbor in China around the time of the Tang and Song Dynasties, although it was later substituted by Quanzhou in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) as the most important trade port.
The Naval Expedition to the West by Zheng He in the early part of the Ming Dynasty demonstrated the great importance of the Silk Road and was to represent the peak of its popularity. The governments of the Ming and Qing Dynasties issued a ban on maritime trade, contributing to massive decline in its use. As the Opium War broke out in 1840, the Silk Road on the Sea totally disappeared.
For news about the latest developments about the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, the Xinhua Silk Road website ( en.imsilkroad.com ) can easily be relied on, includes 21st Century Maritime Silk Road background, countries, routes, China’s Arctic Policy, and the integrated information services for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Belt and Road Initiative portal is available in multiple languages, namely English, Thai, Italian and Chinese, for the benefit of a wider audience. It is sponsored by the China Economic Information Service (CEIS).