The Oasis Silk Road refers to the portion of the trade routes network in northwest China linking Chinese inland to central Asia. It is the most commonly-known landroute in the entire grand network of the Silk Road.

The desolate grand desert of the Taklimakan made traveling in the region extremely challenging. Yet, fortunately, the Taklimakan is embraced by two snowcapped mountain ranges - Tianshan Mountain Range to the north and Kunlun Mountain Range to the south – from which snow water streams down, forming rivers and alluvial plains and enabling irrigation, agriculture or husbandry, and the formation of human settlements, hence the oasis. Even though oases are merely small patches of land surrounded by the desert, they serve as important staging posts for the passing trade caravans to make up their supplies, making long distance trade possible.

The very basis of Oasis Silk Road was the string of oases in the Taklimakan region. It starts from such ancient cities as Luoyang and Xi’an in central China, and stretches westward along the Hexi Corridor (or Gansu Corridor) till Dunhuang where it splits into two routes along the south and the north of the Taklimakan respectively. The southern route passes a series of oasis cities along the northern foot of the Kunlun Mountain Range, including Charklik, Cherchen, Hotan, and Yarkand, before going over the Pamirs and reaching for the areas of the Amy River valley, Iran, Iraq and the Mediterranean. The northern route goes along the southern foot of the Tianshan Mountain Range, passing the oases of Turpan, Kucha, Aksu, Kashgar, etc., and reaches today’ Kyrgyzstan and other central Asian countries after passing the Pamirs.

The two missions of Zhang Qian, an imperial envoy of the Han Dynasty, to Western Regions (Xiyu 西域, the regions neighbouring the Han Empire to the west, mainly today’s Xinjiang and central Asia areas) in the latter half of the 2nd Century BC marked the official opening of the Oasis Silk Road. Therewith, diplomatic as well as commercial ties were forged between China (then Han Empire) and the number of oasis states of the region. Military victories of the Han Empire against the Huns enabled it to exercise de facto control over this region and to protect the trade routes from being interrupted.

Camal/horse caravans were the main travelers treading the Oasis Silk Road. Silk, lacquer ware, porcelain, ironware, gold & silver ware, and other luxuries were the major exports brought by them to the west. In exchange, a wide range of desirable goods were brought to China from other parts of the world: grape, walnut, carrot, pepper, spinach, cucumber, pomegranate, leatherware, spices, herbs, jwelry, etc.

While trade was the main activity on the Oasis Silk Road, exchange of culture in a broader sense was likewise greatly facilitated between China and the countries in the west. It became fashionable in the West for a man of standing to wear clothes made of Chinese silk and to possess porcelains in his household. Advanced production techniques and craftsmanship such as paper making, sericulture, silk reeling, irrigation, iron making, etc, spread to the West. And in Chang’an, the ancient Chinese capital, goods of exotic origin, ranging from weapons, music intruments, utensils, to food & vegetables, wines, and livestocks, had a considerable role in people’s consumption structure. The aristocracy took pleasure in playing jockey polo (a sport like jockey, played on horseback, imported from Persia), and magic shows from Rome were available on the streets of Chang’an. Missionaries took the Road and brought to China Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity, Islam, as well as religious scripture, painting and sculpture.

The An Lushan-Shi Siming Rebellion in the mid 8th century sent the Tang Empire on the decline, withdrawing its defense forces at the frontiers to inland regions. The Tubo Kingdom took the chance and seized the vast area of the Western Regions. In the meantime, the Arabians in the West strengthened its aggression to central Asia. Economy of north China, the main source of goods on the Oasis Silk Road, was seriously affected by wars and production of silk and porcelain kept falling. The economic gravity of the Empire shifted to south China. All these changes combined to make the Oasis Silk Road much more dangerous. Though the Oasis Silk Road were still trodden by the daring merchants in the following few centuries, China’s reliance on the Southern Silk Road and Maritime Silk Roads gradually surpassed that on the Oasis Silk Road. Despite a revival in the era of Mogolian Empire, which unified almost the whole Asia and eliminated the trade barriers on the Oasis Silk Road, the Road was no longer dominated by merchants, but by travelers of political, cultural exchange, or religious missions. And after the 14th century, the whole Eurasia, including China, stepped into a glacial age, the Western Regions became uninhabitable, the oasis states ceased to exist, and consequently, the eastern sections of the Oasis Silk Road fell into disuse.
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