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The Silk Road in World History (New Oxford World History) [Paperback]

Xinru Liu
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

29 July 2010 New Oxford World History
The Silk Road was the current name for a complex of ancient trade routes linking East Asia with Central Asia, South Asia, and the Mediterranean world. This network of exchange emerged along the borders between agricultural China and the steppe nomads during the Han Dynasty (206BCE-220CE), in consequence of the inter-dependence and the conflicts of these two distinctive societies. In their quest for horses, fragrances, and spices, gems, glassware, and other exotics from the lands to their west, the Han Empire extended its dominion over the oases around the Takla Makan Desert and sent silk all the way to the Mediterranean, either through the land routes leading to the caravan city of Palmyra in Syria desert, or by way of northwest India, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea, landing at Alexandria. The Silk Road survived the turmoil of the demise of the Han and Roman Empires, reached its golden age during the early middle age, when the Byzantine Empire and the Tang Empire became centers of silk culture and established the models for high culture of the Eurasian world. The coming of Islam extended silk culture to an even larger area and paved the way for an expanded market for textiles and other commodities. By the 11th century, however, the Silk Road was in decline because of intense competition from the sea routes of the Indian Ocean.
Using demand and supply as the framework for analyzing the formation and development of the Silk Road, the book examines the dynamics of the interactions of the nomadic pastoralists with sedentary agriculturalists, and the spread of new ideas, religions, and values into the world of commerce, thus illustrating the cultural forces underlying material transactions. This effort at tracing the interconnections of the diverse participants in the transcontinental Silk Road exchange will demonstrate that the world had been linked through economic and ideological forces long before the modern era.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA; 1 edition (29 July 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195338103
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195338102
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 15.7 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 151,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"A welcome addition to the New Oxford World History series...Any general reader interested in silk or textiles will enjoy this book, but so too will one who is captivated by any other aspect of the Silk Road, for it provides a quick but fascinating historical narrative. As a textbook for a world history class, its appeal lies not only in the romance of the Silk Road but also in its use of material culture to write world history by connecting economic and political activities with the religious values of various traditions." --Journal of Asian Studies"A carefully constructed narrative and analysis...This is an excellent text that will be useful for orientating students and introducing them to the sources and interpretive problems of ancient and medieval Central Asian history." --World History Bulletin

About the Author

Liu is a Faculty member in the Department of History at the College of New Jersey; (formerly) and Professor at the Institute of World History, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great summary for non-historians 5 Feb 2014
By Auke
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Having enjoyed my history lessons in primary school, I was scared away from it during high school because it was all about the second world war, and that stuff just bored the s*** out of me. Because of this, I have never really been interested in history for years.

I decided to pick up this book because I'd heard quite often about this mystical "silk road" along which tradesmen used to do their business, and thought it was a nice opportunity to start enjoying history again.

This book is a nice little overview of the evolution of the silk market over thousands of years, giving perspectives on many related issues, such as the Great Wall of China and the role of Mahayana Buddhism - probably rather simplified, but easy to digest and fun to read.

As the preface suggests, this book does not lay down the goings on of one place at one moment, but instead travels back and forth between the most remote countries and times to paint the bigger picture.

I will definitely get started on other books from this series as well.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New Insight of the Silk Road 30 Nov 2010
By Richard Jensen - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For several years I have been interested in the early developement of Mahayana Buddhism and changes of interpretations as the teachings were adapted to Chinese culture. From my understanding the early developement took place in Gandhara and and the surrounding area at the western end of the Silk Road. I have read several books on the Silk Road that have used Prof. Liu's ANCIENT INDIA AND ANCIENT CHINA: TRADE AND RELIGIOUS EXCHANGES AD 1-600, as a primary resource. Although the that book was only published 13 years ago, it is out of print and I am unable/willing to pay the $200+ asking price for the used book. I was very happy to see this current work made available a few weeks ago.I feel that we are fortunate that while Prof Liu was educated in China where she was acknowledged as a gifted scholar, and is able to keep current on all that is being published in this field in China without waiting for selected works to be translated and interpreted by other western scholars; she as since earned her Ph.D at the University of Pennsylvania, and whose current interest is the History of India, which she teaches today.
While her book is half the length of many of the books on this subject, the information is very pertainent.The book is divided into six chapters: China Looks West, Rome Looks East, The Kushan Empire and Buddhism, A Golden Age Emerges, Transforming the Eurasian Silk Market, and The Mongols and the Twilight of the Silk Road. Each of these chapters provide new material for those interested in each of the selected areas. As far as my interest in Buddhism and and related religions;she presented her/ a interpretation on the developement of Mahayana for non-Indians. She also explained the Chinese names given to these western monks, with the family name given as an abriviation of their county of origin, and that the Buddhist monks developed the wineries and became rich prividing for the needs of the merchants along the silk read. She also went on to expalin the two way trade of finished silk goods both east and west and later that while Europe and Islam were in a holy war that Europe continued buying silk goods used as vestments by priest and alter coverings with decorative edging praising Allah. Without a reissue of her original work, I believe that this is the best book in this field of study available today. R. Jensen
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A benchmark 28 Jun 2011
By Sceptique500 - Published on
No better subject could be found for a "new history", which considers "both the separate and interrelated stories of different societies and cultures", than a history of the Silk Road. The "separate" elements refer to sketches of places like Palmyra and Petra, which played a central role at the Western end of the Silk Road. "Interrelated" stories can be found e.g. in the extraordinarily well crafted chapter on the Kushan empire: in a few pages the author succeeds in weaving a tapestry of trade, power, multicultural encounter, and the transformation of Buddhism into a spirituality that easily found a home all the way to Japan.

Books about the Silk Road tend to concentrate on its eastern end: in part it is the romantic story of Stein and Swedin, discovering long forgotten places and preserving thousands of entombed manuscripts from destruction. The Oxus is the Western limit: the Western terminals of the Silk Road get less attention, and the "Indian Spur"'s role is downplayed. Many thanks to Ms Liu for setting the proper accents.

The storyline might go like this. At the outset there was the interface between China and the nomads, and the exchange of horses against silk. The nomads soon disposed of excess yarn and textiles toward the west, attracting other luxuries in return. Over the years trading systems developed toward the Mediterranean, and toward India (and from there again to the West beyond). Which of the two was more important might be gleaned from the fact that trade and Buddhism joined (praying and giving) hands on the long road, creating the necessary infrastructure for safe traders' passage.

Silk making technology leaked west of China, most notably after Chinese defeat at the Talas River in 751. Mass production ensued in the Middle East. New weaving technologies and styles of textiles emerged. Islamic institutions supplanted Buddhism in ensuring Muslim traders' safe passage to the East. Reflecting changed market conditions, tea replaced silk as the main exchange staple. And porcelain left China by boat as the maritime trade around South East Asia strengthened.

The Mongols brought advanced weaving technology back to China, and developed the golden brocade nasij (Tartar cloth) so much in demand in the West. This is what drew the Polos to China. The centre of gravity of trade, meanwhile, had shifted to sea lanes, and the export of porcelain and tea. When the Yuan dynasty collapsed, and the production of nasij withered, the southern Silk Road went the same way.

Short, informative, well structured, and superbly edited - this book is a benchmark. It is still possible, it is clear from what has been done here, to write well and maintain high standards in a publication. I'll hold publishers to this standard and no less.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of poorly written info. 18 April 2013
By Russ Reising - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While very informative about the origins and significance of the Silk Road, this book is VERY poorly written, almost like an undergraduate research paper.

Consider this repetitive and cumbersome passage from page 38: "Since furs were not a Chinese product, and the furs used in Chine generally came from the peoples who lived on the steppe lands north of China,, these furs, incuding sable and other precious kinds, were most likely from the cold areas north of central Asia and China." HOW ABOUT SOME EDITING, PLEASE!!!

Moreover, the book has pretty much worthless maps. The maps it does contain have little to do with the narrative, and much of the book would be greatly enhanced with some well-chosen maps.

Summary: good info but very weakly composed and produced.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Skewed View 16 Dec 2013
By Vimala Nowlis - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book, being part of the New Oxford World History from the Oxford University Press and by a Chinese author, I had high hopes of it being a well written in-depth scholarly book. Unfortunately, it turned out to be of superficial quality for beginners. The long history and the many cultures the route covers could have been a rich exciting read. Unfortunately, it was just a basic introduction of the history of various cultures along the Silk Road.

Even though the traditionally accepted designation of the Silk Road is the northern and southern land routes from China to Central Asia to Mesopotamia to Asia Minor to Europe, and there are plenty to discuss, because the author is an expert in early Indian history, she wanted to bring in India somehow. So she included the sea route that connected Europe to Egypt to Arabia to India, which specialized in spice trades, and took up many pages talking about it. She was so fixated on India, she took every opportunity to talk about Indian culture and expound on its connection to Central Asia. In addition, the “Tea and Horse Road” from Yunnan to Tibet to northern India, to trade tea for horses, was never part of the Silk Road because not every trade route that had anything to do with China was Silk Road.

Some “modern historians” try to bring “new history” to the populace and try to emphasize the experience of the common people and their daily lives. This demagogue approach may seem appropriate for our time of democracy, but it misses the point. History is a summation and review of the past. It must not be swayed by the wind of change and cater to the present. Chinese had learned early on that a true historian never flinches at telling the truth no matter how politically incorrect and never cringes even at the threat of death. That’s how history maintains its integrity.

Ordinary people live ordinary lives. Their concerns are their family and their decisions rarely affect events beyond their immediate circle. They may live in history but they don’t make history. Traditional historians, “old history”, focus on kings and movers and shakers because their concerns and their decisions affect events that shape history. A good plan from the king-maker could bring peace to a warring nation and a bad decision from the king could bring down a dynasty and plunge the country into chaos and ruin. These are the people who make history.

Even though the preface of the book said it tries to bring in new aspects of human history, such as economic and social patterns and interactions among different peoples, it failed to do so. Instead, it followed the traditional path of reciting what the emperors and chiefs and officials and generals did and how their decisions changed the world and created the cultures along the Silk Road. The broad stroke discussions on economic and religion did not go beyond the general concerns of the ruling houses and the effects of their policies.

Furthermore, in this modern era when every tribe demands the right of self-rule, when all rebels are good guys and all governments are bad guys, we forget that a large cohesive empire brings many benefits to humanity that small fragmented states cannot. War and strife always disrupts commerce, peace and prosperity are what ordinary people want. It was when Rome stretched from the Atlantic to the Mesopotamia, when Persia stretched from the Mediterranean to Transoxiana, and when China stretched from Central Asia to the Pacific, and when the Mongol rules ran from Korea to Hungary that international trade flourished and the towns along the Silk Road prospered.

I was shocked to read here that the Buddha was an austere ascetic. Far from it! The Buddha abandoned the ways of austere ascetics to find enlightenment and to advocate the “Middle Way”. He never said to give up everything. His Theravada teachings were aimed at guiding people to live in the world but not attached to the world. As Buddhism travels and grows, it of course was transform and split into different schools, like Christianity and Islam, to suit different cultures and different levels of humanity. Buddhism in America and in Europe has already gone through a great deal of changes and is being transformed into something entirely new. Again, as the author is a professor of early Indian history, and because Buddhism was an Indian export, she spent a lot of time talking about it and gave India full credit for Mahayana Buddhism in Central Asia and China.

During Pax Mongolica, Silk Road flourished and the towns prospered and served as the basis for the official Yam (pony express) system. While traders and diplomats travelled east from Europe to Dadu (Great Capital), compass, gun powder, and printing were among the items that travelled westward from China to Europe and changed the world. While Muslims came east to work with the Mongols, according to Joseph Needhem, girls from northern China also went west to be household servants and revolutionized Italian cooking. Even though the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta did arrive in China by sea during the Mongol era, large scale sea trade to Indonesia and voyages to East Africa did not take place under the Mongols as the author claimed. They were not undertaken until early Ming Dynasty after the Han Chinese abandoned the “Western Region” and lost control of the Silk Road. Chinese had to find an alternate route for Chinese goods and opened up the sea trades.

It was not until the Ottoman Empire demolished the Byzantium Empire and terminated all trades with the West as retaliation for the crusades that Silk Road began to decline. That’s when Europeans began to rely on the sea route to reach China and why Columbus was commissioned to find a direct sea route to India. But the author ended the book with a whimper and not a bang without mentioning any of the spectacular aftermaths of the demise of the Silk Road that transformed the world in which India actually played a role.

I am giving this book 2 stars because, when the author was not obsessed with India and was talking about the Silk Road, she did a fairly decent job, if brief and sketchy in scope. What a shame that she missed a great opportunity to explore in-depth the rich and varied histories and cultures and stories that framed the fabled Silk Road!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to Silk Road and Central Asian history 7 April 2013
By Paul C - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A very readable and concise outline of the role of the Silk Road in the development of international trade. Necessarily broad in scope, this is a great starter book for understanding not only early world trade but also the development of Central Asia.
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