The Silk Road, or Silk Route, is a series of trade and cultural transmission routes that were central to economic and cultural interaction throughout regions of the Asian continent. It connected the West and East by linking traders, merchants, pilgrims, monks and soldiers from China to the Mediterranean Sea during various periods of time.
Extending 7,000 km, the Silk Road gets its name from the lucrative trade of Chinese silk which was carried out along its length, and began during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220).
Over 2,100 years ago, Zhang Qian (about 164-114 B.C.), the Han Dynasty envoy, expanded the trade routes to central Asia. Since then, commodities including silk, tea and chinaware have been transported from Chang'an (today's Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi Province) to central Asia, west Asia and even Europe via the trade route and commodities from these destinations also found their way back to China.
Trade on the Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of the civilizations of China, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, Europe and Arabia. It opened long-distance political and economic interactions between the civilizations. Though silk was certainly the major trade item from China, many other goods were traded, and various technologies, religions and philosophies were shared. In addition to economic trade, the Silk Road served as a means of cultural trade between the networking civilizations.
After the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), China's political center was shifted to the northern part and its economic center was shifted to the eastern coast and southern areas. Shipping became the top choice for commodity transport and the Silk Road was later gradually abandoned.