Today, we begin a three-part series on China’s Silk Road.
It’s crucial that you hear this now.
Why? Because Chinese President Xi Jinping is resurrecting the Silk Road as we speak.
He’s called upon this ancient story to set a foundation for a modern one — one that could completely change how the world of money works.
It will transform what you buy, who you buy from and who you sell to.
It will be an economic empire greater than classical Rome…
Greater than the British Colonial Empire…
Greater than 20th century America…
And it’s all going to happen within your lifetime.
In this issue, we’ll start at the beginning of this story — back in around 130 BCE. You’ll hear about Chinese explorers, Arabian markets and Roman scandals.
You’ll discover how the first Silk Road changed the world…and how it set the stage for present-day China to rule the world.
Zhang Qian: The Father of Global Trade
It’s the year 130 BCE in the kingdom of Daxia, what is now northern Afghanistan.
To the west, Roman and Parthian armies lead in conquest…extinguishing the last flames of the Greek Hellenistic period.
To the east, the newly-installed Han dynasty seeks to establish itself.
Caught in the middle, the nomadic peoples of the central steppe find themselves weakened and demoralised.
Affluence and sophistication having been all but stripped away.
Thus, the stage is set for a Chinese ambassador named Zhang Qian.
Zhang Qian was a representative of the Chinese emperor Wu. His mission was to find an alliance with a certain tribe to help fight against the Han enemies — the Xiognu.
What he found was so much greater…
Zhang Qian was part-explorer, part-diplomat and part-businessman. He journeyed through the western Chinese territories to northern India and throughout Afghanistan.
For reference, he made it about as far as modern-day Kabul.
He kept meticulous notes and reported back on everything he discovered. Even though he didn’t secure the alliance, he did find something that would change China’s fortune forever.
The Chinese had horses, but they were small and frail. In fact, they were so feeble that they could not support the weight of a soldier.
When Zhang Qian reached the western-most point in his voyage, he found horses that were tall, strong, and fierce.
It drew Emperor Wu’s attention.
He and Zhang Qian began organising embassies on missions to establish initial contact with the western kingdoms. These convoys consisted of hundreds of people, toting Han valuables as gifts.
It’s from around this time that we start seeing our first ‘anatopisms’ or objects from one area found on the other side of the world.
Roman glassware found in Chinese tombs.
Scraps of Chinese silk discovered as far west as Stuttgart, Germany.
Even Roman pottery unearthed in an archaeological site in South Korea.
All evidence of the first days of the Silk Road.
Consider for a moment the distinction of this juncture in history. Up until this point, trade and communication happened between close neighbours. Distance isolated both goods and ideas.
People had no idea what was happening outside of their space about economics, technology or religion.
These people groups had been evolving in a vacuum.
But now, with Zhang Qian’s contact with the West, everything was about to change. [openx slug=inpost]
The Road’s Launching Point
100 years after Zhang Qian’s first trek, the Roman Empire conquered Egypt.
The logistics of this were significant. The great European merchant societies now had a stepping stone to the Indian Ocean.
And it came at the perfect time — the Romans were revelling in the loot of their conquests. From years of battles and victories, a wealthy upper and middle class formed. This was the onset of the Pax Romana.
These wealthy Romans set their eyes on exotic luxury goods from the Far East: jade, spices and silk.
The Chinese were happy to oblige. They dispatched caravans upon caravans, ships upon ships full of Eastern goods.
In return, they received gold, silver, glassware and horses. They became quite rich…and so did the port cities and oases along the way.
Indian and Arab merchant cities buzzed with markets and travellers.
Wealth poured into these waypoints and injected generational prosperity across the central steppe.
Back in Rome, a craze for silk was developing. The mysterious new cloth was cool and alluring. It was also scandalous. Like with the introduction of the corset or the bikini, silk clothing was first thought to be too decadent.
On several occasions, the Roman Senate even tried to prohibit the wearing of silk.
This, of course, only led to the mania growing like wildfire.
For 600 years, this new trade route blossomed and flourished.
It generated prosperity from Korea to Morocco. It gave rise to the Far Eastern, Middle Eastern, and European economic superpowers we have today.
Part II: Byzantines, Mongols and the Black Plague
Tomorrow, we’ll jump into how the now-established Silk Road led the Byzantines to send monk spies to the east…
How it gave way to Genghis Khan himself…
And how it ushered in one of the most devastating pandemics in human history — The Black Death.
We’ll conclude by outlining how Xi Jinping’s modern iteration of the Silk Road could ignite a global empire like nothing you’ve ever seen.
Editor, Money Morning New Zealand