Silk Road Influences in Venice (04:40)
Dr. Sam Willis discusses Charles Dickens' impressions of the historic trade route city. View decorative detail, statues, and a house on the Palazzo del Cammello reminiscent of Muslim architecture.
Xi'an Marketplace (03:35)
Willis begins his Silk Road journey in China, where a Muslim community grew in the 8th century from Arab traders. Nearby is a mosque "hidden" in an outwardly Chinese building.
Inventing Paper (03:05)
China was a magnet for traders for over 1,000 years. Willis visits a Xi'an museum dedicated to Cai Lun, a court eunuch credited for developing papyrus. Willis lists Chinese inventions that transformed European life and explains how paper reached Europe.
Terracotta Army (03:41)
The Silk Road was not established until China unified under the Qin emperor in the 3rd century B.C. The emperor's 2,000 figure funeral guard features a variety of faces. Hear a contemporary description of his imperial ambition.
Xiongnu Threat (02:10)
Fifty years after the Qin emperor's death, the Han emperor Wudi sent Zhang Qian to recruit help for defending against northern barbarians. Qian returned with larger horses, exchanged for silk—the first Silk Road trade.
Chengdu's Silk Mother (01:53)
Archaeologists date silk manufacturing to 5,000 years ago. Chinese legend says a goddess discovered it in 2,000 B.C.
Silk Production (03:30)
Local farmers harvest silkworm cocoons. Learn the process of turning them into thread. Silk was traded for jewels, weapons, and slaves, and helped spread ideas and innovations to the West.
Journey to Dunhuang (02:43)
Willis follows Zhang Qian's path west to a city where he traded with the Sogdians, an ethnically Persian group. Everything was for sale, including humans.
Mogao Caves (04:01)
Buddhism arrived to China in the 2nd century. Willis visits a UNESCO site outside Dunhuang with giant statues and wall paintings depicting Silk Road bandits. European archaeologists like Aurel Stein plundered ancient manuscripts in the early 20th century.
Dunhuang Correspondence (02:58)
A 4th century post bag containing undelivered letters included Sogdian goodwill phrases and business reports. Willis reads a message from a woman whose husband abandoned her. Traders faced uncertainty along their journey.
Taklamakan Desert (03:07)
Tourists ride Bactrian camels across dunes to a Silk Road oasis. West from Dunhuang, traders turned north or south and paid toll at the Yanguan Pass along the Great Wall of China.
Yanguan Fortress (01:37)
Chinese authorities recreated ancient structures at the edge of the Taklamakan Desert for Silk Road tourists, and reexamine history forbidden under Mao Zedong's regime. Willis finds a Zhang Qian statue.
Turpan, China (02:45)
Willis outlines the history of the Uyghur people, China's Muslim minority. Uyghurs have cultivated wine grapes for centuries.
Astana Cemetery (02:24)
Outside Turpan, Willis visits the 1,000-year-old tombs of mummified Silk Road traders who were buried with contracts. A moneylender had outstanding loans from local farmers.
Seeking Heavenly Horses (02:36)
Willis drives to the Tian Shan Mountains, where he meets a nomad selling ponies for meat.
Khotan, China (04:31)
According to legend, a princess brought silk production to China's distant province. Uyghur locals make brightly colored patterns known as Atlas silk. The Chinese government tries to tame the desert outside the city.
Credits: The Silk Road: Where East Met West: Episode 1 (00:39)
Credits: The Silk Road: Where East Met West: Episode 1
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