Exhibition celebrates people of the Silk Road

Many cities have held exhibitions on the history of the Silk Road and Hangzhou is no exception.

Ever since President Xi Jinping proposed the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, known as Belt and Road Initiative, in 2013, China and countries along the ancient routes have begun cooperative projects.

The initiative aims to revive economic ties and connectivity in Eurasia. Many cities have held exhibitions on the history of the Silk Road, and Hangzhou is no exception.

Exhibition celebrates people of the Silk Road
Wu Huixin / SHINE

The items used by Altai nomads people

Exhibition celebrates people of the Silk Road
Wu Huixin / SHINE

A piece of robe worn by Loulan people


Most Silk Road exhibitions trace its development and cultural exchanges. At the China Silk Museum, the focus switches to people living along the route.

The Silk Road linked civilizations in trade, religion, technology, culture and arts. The remains of temples, pagodas, other buildings and tombs reflect the glory days of the Silk Road. The owners of these structures were envoys, merchants, sailors, herdsmen, soldiers, monks and priests, the real builders of the Silk Road.

The exhibition has 500 items from 13 individuals of different ethnicities, regions and social status to show cooperation along the road.

The first on display are Altai nomads and Pazyryk culture from south Siberia. The Altai Mountains stretch across the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan.

People living in the mountains had exchanges via the earliest section of the Silk Road more than two millennia ago. Silk products were unearthed in Pazyryk tombs from the 3rd century BC, the earliest silk found on the prairie, which proves that Chinese silk was already available in other regions.

Pazyryk culture spread eastwards into the Yinshan and Yanshan mountain ranges, influencing the nomadic people in the northern part of China. Pazyryk costumes share many similarities with ethnic clothes from Xinjiang. The 100-centimeter peaked hat, garments woven in wool and braided with red ribbons in sleeve cuffs and skirts knitted with yellow and red strips were excavated from both Pazyryk graves and Xinjiang’s Zakunluk and Yamblak tombs.

The biggest discovery in Xinjiang was in Loulan, a prosperous hub that later vanished. The exhibition displays delicate silk products from the mysterious city.

The lives of Loulan’s people changed along with the Silk Road. Han Chinese-style silk robes that fastened across the body replaced their traditional loose-fitting tunics. A robe on display features collars crossed to the right, trumpet-shaped half sleeves, a waist sash, a broad low hem and rhombus patterns.

Lacquer ware, chopsticks, ceramics and copper mirrors from central China, and glass beads and tapestries from the West were also found in Loulan tombs.

The Silk Road peaked when long distance trade of high-value products, particularly silk, tea and porcelain, began to expand between Chinese and Western empires. The imperial court set up official departments to take charge of related affairs.

Exhibition celebrates people of the Silk Road
Wu Huixin / SHINE

The figurines excavated from tombs along the Silk Road

Exhibition celebrates people of the Silk Road
Wu Huixin / SHINE

A bronze wagon unearthed from an ancient tomb in Wuwei city, Gansu Province

On display is the sarcophagus of a caravan leader Shi Jun. According to archives, he was a Sogdian from Central Asia. During Southern and Northern Dynasty (AD 486-581), the court put Shi in charge of religion and trade in Liangzhou, what is today’s Wuwei city, Gansu Province.

The sarcophagus is made of 12 stone slabs and shaped like a temple, engraved with Sogdian characters and mythical patterns from Zoroastrianism, the religion that dominated Middle Asia during the period.

Dunhuang in Gansu Province was another transportation hub. It is an oasis and a religious and cultural crossroad. The Mogao Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, containing some of the finest examples of Buddhist art, was a popular destination for devout believers at the time. A mural from the Library Cave is on display. The cave was once a shrine to Hongbian, the religious leader of Hexi region during late Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).

The maritime Silk Road also played a vital role in cultural exchange. Fujian Province, as the starting point of the ocean route, has given a myriad of relics related to silk products.

Dresses from a Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) tomb show the many varieties of textiles and styles worn by women of the time. Robes, skirts, trousers, bras, bibs, sachets, scarfs and belts made of gauze, satin, brocade, damask testify to the prosperity of silk production.

Date: Through September 8, closed on Mondays

Address: 73-1 Yuhuangshan Rd

Admission: Free

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