China’s Silk Roads: Ancient and Modern - featuring Craig Benjamin / Grand Valley State University

The Silk Roads were the most important trade network of the pre-modern world, connecting much of Eurasia into a vibrant system of commercial and intellectual exchanges. This lecture explores the origins, operation and impact of the land and maritime routes of the Silk Roads across more than two thousand years of history. The primary function of the Silk Roads was to facilitate trade, but the intellectual, social, artistic and biological exchanges that resulted had an even greater impact on subsequent world history. The Silk Roads also facilitated the establishment of enormous tributary empires by two ancient Chinese dynasties: the Han and Tang. Dynastic rulers used diplomatic, military and financial mechanisms to establish political hegemony over much of Inner and East Asia. In 2013 the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, announced the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI), an ambitious plan to use Chinese investment to stimulate economic development over wide regions of Asia, Africa and even Europe. This lecture also considers the geopolitical impact of the BRI, which has the potential to once again position China as the pre-eminent power of Asia, just like the Han and Tang dynasties of China’s ancient past.