Chinese armies added outposts in Manchuria, Korea, northern Vietnam, Tibet, and Central Asia. Soldiers, traders, and settlers slowly spread Chinese influence across these regions. To cement alliances with nomads on the western frontier, Wudi and later emperors arranged marriages between nomad chiefs and noble Chinese women.

The Silk Road Links China to the West

The emperor Wudi opened up trade routes, later called the Silk Road, that would link China and the West for centuries. During Han times, new foods such as grapes, figs, cucumbers, and walnuts flowed into China from western Asia. Traders brought horses from Central Asia and muslin cloth from India to China. At the same time, the Chinese sent large quantities of silk westward to fill a growing demand for the prized fabric.

In time, the Silk Road stretched for more than 4,000 miles, and linked China to the Middle East. The Silk Road was not a single route, but a network of intersecting trade routes. Goods were relayed in stages, from one set of traders to another. At the western end, trade was controlled by various peoples, including the Persians. From the Middle East, some trade goods were sent across the Mediterranean to Rome.

Importance of the Silk Road

Growing trade along the Silk Road contributed to the economic prosperity of the Han empire. Important cultural exchanges also took place because ideas as well as goods traveled along the Silk Road. Missionaries and traders carried Buddhism from India into China. Daoism traveled west out of China into Central Asia and beyond. Much later, the religion of Islam was carried eastward from the Middle East.

Cultural influences spread along the trade route. Turkish folk tales inspired Chinese poetry. Central Asian harpists and dancers introduced their art to the Chinese people. Many Chinese inventions, such as the stirrup, traveled westward.

Scholar-Officials Run the Government

Han emperors made Confucianism the official belief system of the state. Confucian scholars ran the many departments in the huge government bureaucracy. A scholar-official was expected to match the Confucian ideal of a gentleman. He would be courteous and dignified and possess a thorough knowledge of history, music, poetry, and Confucian teachings.

A map sows the Silk Road.
Image Long Description

Analyze Maps

The Silk Road stretched from China to the Mediterranean. New ideas, as well as goods, were exchanged along the Silk Road. Describe two possible travel routes for a shipment of silk traveling from Taxila to Babylon.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments