The Silk Road is not an actual road, route or highway, yet has been used for more than 14 centuries by people of various regions, ethnicities and cultures. It has been a major contributor to modern-day’s trade relations between countries, food and cultural affiliations, and the overall exchange that exists between nations.
How Silk Road influenced more than just trade
The ancient road cannot be defined as a mere trade route, as it also contributed to exchange of ideas, cultures and beliefs. The commodities from across India, Persia, China, regions of Africa, Middle-east and the Far East were traded, exchanged and transported to other regions. Some of the most commonly exchanged commodities included silk, tea, precious stones and tea. The route contributed to the economic and cultural development of a vast area spread across Africa, Europe and Asia.
Besides trade and commerce, the silk road also contributed to spreading religions like Christianity, Islam and Buddhism worldwide. It was also a major contributor to the development of new technology such as paper-making. The cultural, social and economic landscape of areas along the silk route underwent a great deal of transformation when people moved freely across the road.
UNESCO’s Silk Roads Programme
UNESCO has been promoting the Silk Roads Programme, since 1988, to better understand the shared legacy, rich history and the ways cultures and traditions moved across the ancient route. Through this programme, UNESCO has been supporting research, organising dialogues among participants from across regions and facilitating the connection of people from different countries.
Peter Frankopan, Professor of Silk Road Studies, King’s College, Cambridge University, in a recent interview with UNESCO, during the 35th anniversary of the Silk Roads Programme, stressed the importance the silk road holds even today. He said, although it is not an actual road or route as people might think, yet has contributed a great deal in not just the trade, but also the exchange of commodities, ideas, thoughts, and genetics in humans and other species. Central Asia has been the connector of the silk road, which had its own history and culture, but also played a vital exchange point for all directions.
The ancient solution to modern problems
Professor Frankopan stressed the need to understand the dialogues that existed among our ancestors in the past and how they are important to influence present-day geo-political scenarios. He said, by understanding the interlinkages of the silk road, we can take a lot of reference about why a particular kingdom or city flourished, while others failed. According to him, we can learn a lot about present-day problems pertaining to global trade and the exchange of goods, by exploring, how people a few centuries ago, using the silk road, solved them, with minimum resources and technology.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development describes China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also called the One Belt One Road, to be inspired by the concept of the Silk Road. Chinese President Xi Jinping kickstarted the initiative in 2013 to expand its economic influence from regions in Asia, Europe and Africa through maritime networks, and through increased trade and commercial exchange. In the past few years, China has been successful in spreading its proximity throughout the areas identified under the BRI.
The Indian subcontinent is divided between countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh Bhutan and Island nations like Sri Lanka and Maldives. Taking a cue from the Silk Roads and the BRI, there is now a greater need for these countries to develop stronger trade and cultural exchanges between them. It is not just for the economic development of the region, but to promote common learning of co-existence.