Review: Stories from the Silk Road

I was surfing the web and came across this very informative article The Silk Road by Oliver Wild.

The historical facts are so important and very interesting to read that I thought I would post the entire article here. I was delighted to find this addition because it reminded me of a paperback book for older children that is in my Barefoot Books library called The Silk Road.

The Silk Road extending from Southern Europe t...Image via Wikipedia

"The region separating China from Europe and Western Asia is not the most hospitable in the world. Much of it is taken up by the Taklimakan desert, one of the most hostile environments on our planet. There is very little vegetation, and almost no rainfall; sandstorms are very common, and have claimed the lives of countless people. The locals have a very great respect for this `Land of Death'; few travellers in the past have had anything good to say about it. It covers a vast area, through which few roads pass; caravans throughout history have skirted its edges, from one isolated oasis to the next. The climate is harsh; in the summer the daytime temperatures are in the 40's, with temperatures greater than 50 degrees Celsius measured not infrequently in the sub-sealevel basin of Turfan. In winter the temperatures dip below minus 20 degrees. Temperatures soar in the sun, but drop very rapidly at dusk. Sand storms here are very common, and particularly dangerous due to the strength of the winds and the nature of the surface. Unlike the Gobi desert, where there there are a relatively large number of oases, and water can be found not too far below the surface, the Taklimakan has much sparser resources.

The land surrounding the Taklimakan is equally hostile. To the northeast lies the Gobi desert, almost as harsh in climate as the Taklimakan itself; on the remaining three sides lie some of the highest mountains in the world. To the South are the Himalaya, Karakorum and Kunlun ranges, which provide an effective barrier separating Central Asia from the Indian sub-continent. Only a few icy passes cross these ranges, and they are some of the most difficult in the world; they are mostly over 5000 metres in altitude, and are dangerously narrow, with precipitous drops into deep ravines. To the north and west lie the Tianshan and Pamir ranges; though greener and less high, the passes crossing these have still provided more than enough problems for the travellers of the past. Approaching the area from the east, the least difficult entry is along the `Gansu Corridor', a relatively fertile strip running along the base of the Qilian mountains, separating the great Mongolian plateau and the Gobi from the Tibetan High Plateau. Coming from the west or south, the only way in is over the passes.

The Early History of The Region
On the eastern and western sides of the continent, the civilisations of China and the West developed. The western end of the trade route appears to have developed earlier than the eastern end, principally because of the development of the the empires in the west, and the easier terrain of Persia and Syria. The Iranian empire of Persia was in control of a large area of the Middle East, extending as far as the Indian Kingdoms to the east. Trade between these two neighbours was already starting to influence the cultures of these regions.

This region was taken over by Alexander the Great of Macedon, who finally conquered the Iranian empire, and colonised the area in about 330 B.C., superimposing the culture of the Greeks. Although he only ruled the area until 325 B.C., the effect of the Greek invasion was quite considerable. The Greek language was brought to the area, and Greek mythology was introduced. The aesthetics of Greek sculpture were merged with the ideas developed from the Indian kingdoms, and a separate local school of art emerged. By the third century B.C., the area had already become a crossroads of Asia, where Persian, Indian and Greek ideas met. It is believed that the residents of the Hunza valley in the Karakorum are the direct descendents of the army of Alexander; this valley is now followed by the Karakorum Highway, on its way from Pakistan over to Kashgar, and indicates how close to the Taklimakan Alexander may have got.

This `crossroads' region, covering the area to the south of the Hindu Kush and Karakorum ranges, now Pakistan and Afghanistan, was overrun by a number of different peoples. After the Greeks, the tribes from Palmyra, in Syria, and then Parthia, to the east of the Mediterranean, took over the region. These peoples were less sophisticated than the Greeks, and adopted the Greek language and coin system in this region, introducing their own influences in the fields of sculpture and art.

Being Greek, I was fascinated to read about the cultural exchanges!

Close on the heels of the Parthians came the Yuezhi people from the Northern borders of the Taklimakan. They had been driven from their traditional homeland by the Xiongnu tribe (who later became the Huns and transfered their attentions towards Europe), and settled in Northern India. Their descendents became the Kushan people, and in the first century A.D. they moved into this crossroads area, bringing their adopted Buddhist religion with them. Like the other tribes before them, they adopted much of the Greek system that existed in the region. The product of this marriage of cultures was the Gandhara culture, based in what is now the Peshawar region of northwest Pakistan. This fused Greek and Buddhist art into a unique form, many of the sculptures of Buddhist deities bearing strong resemblances to the Greek mythological figure Heracles. The Kushan people were the first to show Buddha in human form, as before this time artists had preferred symbols such as the footprint, stupa or tree of enlightenment, either out of a sense of sacrilege or simply to avoid persecution.

The eastern end of the route developed rather more slowly. In China, the Warring States period was brought to an end by the Qin state, which unified China to form the Qin Dynasty, under Qin Shi Huangdi. The harsh reforms introduced to bring the individual states together seem brutal now, but the unification of the language, and standardisation of the system, had long lasting effects. The capital was set up in Changan, which rapidly developed into a large city, now Xian.

The Xiongnu tribe had been periodically invading the northern borders during the Warring States period with increasing frequency. The northern-most states had been trying to counteract this by building defensive walls to hinder the invaders, and warn of their approach. Under the Qin Dynasty, in an attempt to subdue the Xiongnu, a campaign to join these sections of wall was initiated, and the `Great Wall' was born. When the Qin collapsed in 206 B.C., after only 15 years, the unity of China was preserved by the Western Han Dynasty, which continued to construct the Wall.

During one of their campaigns against the Xiongnu, in the reign of Emperor Wudi, the Han learnt from some of their prisoners that the Yuezhi had been driven further to the west. It was decided to try to link up with these peoples in order to form an alliance against the Xiongnu. The first intelligence operation in this direction was in 138 B.C. under the leadership of Zhang Qian, brought back much of interest to the court, with information about hitherto unknown states to the west, and about a new, larger breed of horse that could be used to equip the Han cavalry. The trip was certainly eventful, as the Xiongnu captured them, and kept them hostage for ten years; after escaping and continuing the journey, Zhang Qian eventually found the Yuezhi in Northern India. Unfortunately for the Han, they had lost any interest in forming an alliance against the Xiongnu. On the return journey, Zhang Qian and his delegation were again captured, and it was not until 125 B.C. that they arrived back in Changan. The emperor was much interested by what they found, however, and more expeditions were sent out towards the West over the following years. After a few failures, a large expedition managed to obtain some of the so-called `heavenly horses', which helped transform the Han cavalry. These horses have been immortalised in the art of the period, one of the best examples being the small bronze `flying horse' found at Wuwei in the Gansu Corridor, now used as the emblem of the China International Travel Service. Spurred on by their discoveries, the Han missions pushed further westwards, and may have got as far as Persia. They brought back many objects from these regions, in particular some of the religious artwork from the Gandharan culture, and other objects of beauty for the emperor. By this process, the route to the west was opened up. Zhang Qian is still seen by many to be the father of the Silk Road.

In the west, the Greek empire was taken over by the Roman empire. Even at this stage, before the time of Zhang Qian, small quantities of Chinese goods, including silk, were reaching the west. This is likely to have arrived with individual traders, who may have started to make the journey in search of new markets despite the danger or the political situation of the time.
The Nature of the Route
The description of this route to the west as the `Silk Road' is somewhat misleading. Firstly, no single route was taken; crossing Central Asia several different branches developed, passing through different oasis settlements."

To read the full Silk Road book for free online, visit:

My Review:

The books starts out with a wonderful historical introduction and you will travel with Cherry Gilchrist stepping backward in time along the Silk Road! In the back of the book you will find a beautiful map of the Silk Road to follow along.

In Woven Wind you will be introduced to the goddess of silk. Then you will read an exciting chapter about the monkey and the river dragon. I liked reading about The White Cloud Fairy and then a favorite of mine, The Magic Saddlebag, you must read to learn of the ending... perhaps you have found a garment in your closet made of silk...
For sure, you will enjoy reading of the rich history told in The Silk Road and look upon the elegant and richly detailed pictures with delight. Thank you Barefoot Books for this excellent addition to my library!

Stories from the Silk Road is $12.99 plus tax. You can order it at my market place:

Stories from the Silk Road
Journey along the ancient trade route between East and West. The seven intriguing tales in this collection each feature an important city along the Silk Road, and are filled with adventure and drama, as the merchants, muleteers, spies and shepherds travel this exotic route.

Ages 8 and up

Retold By: Cherry Gilchrist

Cherry Gilchrist is a writer and lecturer, whose themes include mythology, alchemy, life stories, personal relationships, and Russian art and culture. Visit her site:

Illustrated By: Nilesh Mistry

This book is a compilation of old folktales from Asia and the Middle East. The author's retelling is well-written and gives insight into how it really was to travel the Silk Road. The background information before each story introduces different stops along the Silk Road and segues into the following story nicely. This book is perfect for older children who love imaginative and colorful stories.

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