Silk Road ［シルクロード］ ( Shiruku-rōdo): Also known as the Silk Route. The ancient travel route through Central Asia, linking Lo-yang and Ch’ang-an in China with the regions of ancient Syria and the Roman territory in the west. The Silk Road was a caravan route along which silk and other goods from China were carried to the West for trading, and gold, silver, glass vessels, and other goods from the West to China. In addition to goods, the route also facilitated an exchange of culture and religion, and was a principal route along which Buddhism reached China from India and Central Asia. In China, the route began in Lo-yang and Ch’ang-an, and passed through the Kansu Corridor to Tun-huang. The road then passed through the Tarim Basin, a broad valley lying between the lofty mountain range Tien Shan in the north and the Kunlun Mountains in the south.
The oases around the Tarim Basin were watered by the rivers flowing from these two mountain ranges, and became the centers of a number of oasis city-states throughout history. The Silk Road divided into northern and southern routes along the perimeter of the Tarim Basin. The northern route linked the oasis cities or states that lay on the northern rim of the basin along the foot of the southern slope of the Tien Shan range. The southern route passed through the oasis cities on the southern rim of the basin along the foot of the northern slope of the Kunlun Mountains. The northern route extended to Kashgar on the western end of the Tarim Basin, and then crossed the Pamirs and continued through the Fergana Valley. It then passed through the western regions of Asia, by the Black Sea, and finally to the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, where silk and other trade items were shipped to and from ports on the Mediterranean. The southern route extended to Yarkand at the western end of the Tarim Basin, passed through the southern Pamirs to Bactria, and continued on to northern Iran. This road also had a branch extending southward into northwestern India.
The northern and southern routes through the Tarim Basin flourished in the latter part of the second century b.c.e., during which time the Chinese official Chang Ch’ien was sent westward by Emperor Wu, the ruler of the Former Han dynasty, to form an alliance with a people who lived to the west of the Pamirs and were known to the Chinese as the Yüeh-chih. Buddhism entered China from India and Central Asia along both the northern and southern routes of the Silk Road. Other religions also made their way to China along the same routes, including Nestorian Christianity, Manichaeism, and Islam.
In recent times, several archaeological expeditions into Central Asia have shed light on the importance of these trade routes in fostering contact between Eastern and Western civilizations. Beside the route through the Tarim Basin, two other routes connecting East and West are now known. One ran through the vast steppes or grasslands of central Eurasia, westward through Mongolia, and then through the regions lying north of the Tien Shan range, the Aral Sea, and the Caspian Sea, and toward the Black Sea in southeastern Europe. This route dates to the last centuries b.c.e. The other route was a seaborne route across the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and on to the Persian Gulf or the Red Sea. This route can be traced back to the third century b.c.e. Thus, the passage between East and West known generally as the Silk Road consisted of several main routes and numerous branches.