- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (August 14, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195159314
- ISBN-13: 978-0195159318
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.1 x 6.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #736,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Silk Road: A New History 1st Edition
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Amazon.com Additional Content: Silk Road Photo Gallery (Click on Images to Enlarge)
Here is a sample of the stunning photographs of documents and art objects that appear in The Silk Road: A New History.
How the Silk Road Got Its Name
The German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen coined the term "Silk Road" with the publication of this map in 1877. Before this date, people referred to the route as the road to Samarkand (or whatever the next major city was).
When this seventh-century Chinese beauty was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the staff nicknamed her "Tang Barbie" because she was the same height as the children's doll and every bit as fashionable. Her arms are made from recycled paper that turned out to be important documents from a pawnshop.
Worn by the centuries, the outer layer of Niya's stupa has been stripped away, revealing the bricks underneath. Wooden documents found at this site are a treasure trove of information about life on the Silk Road in the third and fourth centuries.
Zoroastrian Art from Xi'an
This Sogdian tomb has a typical Chinese stone tomb entranceway with Zoroastrian art above the doorway. Zoroastrian imagery found in tombs like this is much more detailed and much more informative than anything that survives in the Iranian homeland of Zoroastrianism.
When Rivers Flowed Through the Taklamakan Desert
Most riverbeds in the Taklamakan Desert today are bone dry, but in 1899 the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin used this 38-foot boat to explore the waterways of the region.
"[A] considerable addition to the historiography of the Silk Road.... [T]his has become one of the books of Silk Road history that the reviewer most admires, and one of the most satisfying books on any topic that she has read in many months.... [E]ssential reading." --Historian
"Richly illustrated, The Silk Road: A New History is a monumental work of synthesis... It is a celebration of the drudgery of sifting ancient trash, of the painstaking work of recovering multilingual documents found in fragments, clumps, and, at the Mogao Caves, one great bibliographical hoard... Whether in Sogdian, Khotanese, Kuchean, or Uighur -- languages that make the discoveries of early Chinese texts seem almost pedestrian -- it is the decipherment of these lost languages that allows Hansen to bring the Silk Road so fully to life.... Summarizing more than a century of research, it is unlikely to be surpassed till the discoveries of another generation demand incorporation." --Nile Green, Los Angeles Review of Books
"A much-needed critical synthesis of scholarship that will appeal to scholars, students, and general readers. [Hansen's] lively writing brings each town to life. The clear prose, numerous maps and illustrations, and animated tales of the Silk Road's travelers and explorers will make Hansen's book a classroom favorite." --CHOICE
"An impressively well-researched book exploring the documentation of many different cultures and people along the many routes known as the Silk Road. Readers of Asian or world history will learn much from and thoroughly enjoy this book." --Library Journal
"The Silk Road: A New History...is well worth a serious look by historians of other regions and periods for its thoughtful and innovative consideration of the historical craft of turning the raw materials of many media into a compelling historical account." --Carla Nappi, Tang Studies
"This book meets the challenge of being lively, readable, and at the same time extremely learned and up-to-date. In all respects a success." --Etienne de la Vaissière, EHESS, Paris
"Valerie Hansen overturns the traditional view of the 'straight and well-travelled' Silk Road, as well as the notion that silk was of prime significance. Instead she reveals in detail the life, history, and culture of the different oasis centers of Central Asia, making the latest work by Chinese, Russian, Japanese, and other scholars available to us all. It is a triumph." --Frances Wood, Curator of the Chinese Collections, British Library
"Erudite and engaging, this is no romantic tale of the Silk Road. Hansen challenges many of the conventional narratives of the crossroads of Eurasia. In place of large long distance commercial caravans, she finds subsistence living and local barter. Instead of merchants, she finds the Chinese military played the most important role in bringing silk onto the Silk Road. But the region is no less fascinating for all her debunking of old tropes. She skillfully weaves ancient records with modern explorations of the Silk Road to bring that past alive, especially the tolerant religious diversity of the region before Islam came to dominate around the year 1000. A wonderful read that will send you packing your bags!" --Gray Tuttle, Columbia University
"Valerie Hansen's The Silk Road is the most readable and reliable historical account of the fabled trade routes that cut across the center of Eurasia in medieval times. Based upon original sources and the best scholarship, the author's narrative is enriched by first-hand investigations in the field and extensive examination of artifacts in numerous museums. Handsomely illustrated, this volume brings to life as never before the men and animals who travelled from one Central Asian oasis to the next, conveying goods, ideas, art, music, and religions." --Victor H. Mair, University of Pennsylvania
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Top Customer Reviews
One of Hansen's main themes is that the reality of silk road trade is very different from the romantic vision of a mighty Silk Road carrying goods from Xian to Rome. There was no single grand highway but rather a varied collection of relatively local trade routes. The volume of trade was generally fairly low. Some of the goods being traded may occasionally have ended up going long distances through a series of local hops, but there were no merchants consciously trading from China to Rome.
The documentary evidence for the silk road trade is very uneven. Due to the desert climate, occasional caches of documents survived, in a wide range of language and scripts, from Sogdian to Hebrew. Sometimes we are lucky and there are business records for a garrison, or records of traveling envoys, but there are large gaps. Hansen is able to use the available records to assess the likely local scale and impact of the long distance trade. For the most part the records suggest relatively small scale trading, with a mostly local focus. The records show a complex flux of controlling cultures including Sogdians, Chinese (especially under the early Tang) a Uighur khanate, a Tibetan Empire, and Islamic Turks.
Hansen argues that in terms of raw traffic "the Silk Road was one of the least traveled routes in human history" but also argues that we should assess the route by its cultural and technological impact, not by simple raw trade volume. The Taklamakan area was a key conduit for Buddhist travelers between India and China. Paper making and silk production traveled slowly West, glass making East. Zoroastrianism, Manicheanism, Nestorian Christianity and Islam all spread East.
This is generally an interesting and useful account. However, it has some weaknesses. Because Hansen focuses on a careful analysis of the available surviving texts, this leads to rather uneven coverage, as there are so few surviving documents. So in some ways this book functions less as a general overview and more as a series of focused windows on specific areas where textual evidence has survived.
Chang'An (modern Xian) is the eastern terminus, and is within the scope of the book. To the west, coverage ends near Kashgar, rather than extending into the mountain passes that lead toward Samarkand.
Accidental caches of documents have been found in half a dozen widely-separated areas within the Tarim Basin. Scholars have each specialized on particular oases and particular caches. (They also read Chinese historical accounts and archaeological inscriptions, of course.) Each has determined that he or she has not found evidence of any large-scale or systematic "silk route" trade, but only local trade and the passage of emissaries and religious seekers from one city-state to another. They go, "Well, the evidence isn't here, but maybe it's somewhere else."
Dr. Hansen brings this all together: There have been enough document finds, some of them enormous, that if there had been caravan trade, it would have left marks in the documentation, but it has not. For instance, there were strict controls over who traveled where, with "visas" being issued. Many of these visas have been found, and nearly all of them are for local travel, emissaries, and pilgrims. None is for any group that looks like a stereotypical caravan.
Along the way, the book paints a vivid picture of what life was like in this region. For instance, she unravels the various ethnic and religious groups so you can get a real feeling of what it was like. Various languages were used, and over time they sometimes transcribed languages into different scripts in a weird and wonderful way.
The maps are excellent two-page spreads and a large map on the inside covers (front and back.) If there's a gap between pages, look at the maps in the front and back. I wish only that she had mapped the western passes toward Samarkand and toward the sources of horses. The Chinese were very interested in getting horses from the western regions.
There is enough information here to lead me to speculate farther than Dr. Hansen has. For instance, the climate seems to have been wetter, even just 100 years ago, and I think she'd agree with that if asked. Also, it is curious that the Chinese did not mark a route and declare it an "imperial highway," because if they had simply designated a route, it probably would have been gradually improved to make travel easier. As it was, people were just using a network of trails or moving cross-country, so they had no sense that they were using a "road" or permanent route. Hence they had no incentive to build bridges, smooth the rough areas, or dig wells along the way. Even when they got LOST, they would either die or they would shrug and move forward without marking the way for people who came after them.
At this stage of my life, I keep very few books. The University of Illinois Library is right across town. But I am keeping my own copy of Dr. Hansen's book, right here where I can pluck it from the shelf at a moment's notice.
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