Silk Road History
The Chinese part of the Silk Road used to run from (at times) Shanghai north west to Xi’an (the chief China Silk Road departure point), Lanzhou, Jaiyuguan, Dunhuang, Urumqi and finally Kashgar before entering foreign territory.
From about 130 BC to 1453 AD market towns sprang up all along this route – such as Samarkand and Bactria in central Asia – and flourished, as did the taxmen, charging duty on those who passed through.
China produced must-haves like silk, paper, bamboo, and gunpowder while the west sent back gold, jade and grapes, carpets, jewels, amber, metals, drugs, and glass.
The Silk Road became not only a profitable trade route but was also a major factor in cultural exchange and development of international relations, though it also created strife as warlords fought to control and tax traders passing through their areas.
The route was dangerous due to frequent attacks but in addition the environment was extremely harsh in places, varying from deserts to snowy mountains, with temperatures ranging from -20C to 50C.
Marco Polo was supposedly the first European to complete this route. Later traders learnt to protect themselves by travelling in convoys of men and beasts, generally camels or donkeys. These were know as caravans.
Turpan’s population of 200, 000 Uyghurs has been diluted with large numbers of Han Chinese over the last dozen years causing political problems and occasional outbreaks of violence as there is little love between the tribal groups that share neither religion nor history nor language. The Han tend to get the best jobs because they’re better educated in Mandarin and modern ways while the Uyghurs – who settled here in 803 by crushing the Tibetans – seethe and pray to Allah.
Turpan is about 150 kms (93 miles) from Urumqi, 2. 5 hours by car.