Life Along the Silk Road

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University of California Press, 2001 - History - 242 pages
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In the first 1,000 years after Christ, merchants, missionaries, monks, mendicants, and military men traveled on the vast network of Central Asian tracks that became known as the Silk Road. Linking Europe, India, and the Far East, the route passed through many countries and many settlements, from the splendid city of Samarkand to tiny desert hamlets. Susan Whitfield creates a rich and varied portrait of life along the greatest trade route in history in a vivid, lively, and learned account that spans the eighth through the tenth centuries. Recounting the lives of ten individuals who lived at different times during this period, Whitfield draws on contemporary sources and uses firsthand accounts whenever possible to reconstruct the history of the route through the personal experiences of these characters.

Life along the Silk Road brings alive the now ruined and sand-covered desert towns and their inhabitants. Readers encounter an Ulghur nomad from the Gobi Desert accompanying a herd of steppe ponies for sale to the Chinese state; Ah-long, widow of a prosperous merchant, now reduced to poverty and forced to resort to law and charity to survive; and the Chinese princess sent as part of a diplomatic deal to marry a Turkish kaghan. In the process we learn about women's lives, modes of communication, weapons, types of cosmetics, methods of treating altitude sickness in the Tibetan army, and ways that merchants cheated their customers. Throughout the narrative, Whitfield conveys a strong sense of what life was like for ordinary men and women on the Silk Road--everyone from itinerant Buddhist monks, to Zoroastrians and Nestorian Christians seeking converts among the desert settlers, to storytellers, musicians, courtesans, diviners, peddlers, and miracle-workers who offered their wares in the marketplaces and at temple fairs. A work of great scholarship, Life along the Silk Road is at the same time extremely accessible and entertaining.

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User Review  - herschelian - LibraryThing

This book was published a few years after my first trip to Xinjiang province, Turfan, Urumchi and Dunhuang. I wish it had been the other way round, as I would have really enjoyed thinking about the ... Read full review


The Merchants Tale
The Soldiers Tale
The Horsemans Tale
The Princesss Tale
The Monks Tale
The Courtesans Tale
The Nuns Tale
The Widows Tale
The Officials Tale
The Artists Tale
Further Reading
Table of Rulers 739960

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Page 12 - Such were the three great facts — obscure as yet, but visible — by which the new social order announced itself, at the end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh century.
Page 2 - The geographical limits . . . comprise practically the whole of that vast drainageless belt between the Pamirs in the west and the Pacific watershed in the east, which for close on a thousand years formed the special meeting ground of Chinese civilization, introduced by trade and political penetration, and of Indian culture, propagated by Buddhism.
Page 21 - Seres and that peninsula put together drain our empire of one hundred million of sesterces every year ; that is the price that our luxuries and our women cost us.
Page 16 - ... 183 BCE c. first century CE from the wheel of life. According to tradition, Siddhartha transmitted this message in a sermon to his disciples in a deer park at Sarnath, not far from the modern city of Benares (also known as Varanasi). Like so many messages, it is deceptively simple and is enclosed in four noble truths: life is suffering; suffering is caused by desire; the way to end suffering is to end desire; and the way to end desire is to avoid the extremes of a life of vulgar materialism and...

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About the author (2001)

Susan Whitfield runs the International Dunhuang Project at the British Library, providing Internet access to over 50,000 pre-eleventh century Silk Road manuscripts now in collections worldwide. She has written several books and articles on China, including China: A Literary Companion.

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