The Chinese Section of the Silk Roads
The Chinese Section of the Silk Roads is part of the Tentative list of China in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List. This site (or parts of it) has already been inscribed under Silk Roads Chang'an-Tianshan Corridor WHS.
The Chinese Section of the Silk Roads includes the Land Route and Sea Route. The Land Route is the ancient trade route that starts from ancient Chang'an, the present-day Xi'an city and the center of politics, economy, and culture in a long period of ancient China. The Sea Route is the maritime trade route connecting the East and the West, distributed along the coastal lines and particularly represented by the sea port cities like Guangzhou, Quanzhou, Ningbo and Nanjing. The Silk Roads is an excellent example for coexisting, communication and melting of multi-cultures.
Map of The Chinese Section of the Silk RoadsLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
The "Chinese Section of the Silk Road" is a bit of an odd one. Many of the sites are already inscribed as part of the Silk Roads and it totally feels like China is trying to double dip here, even with the Chinese sites taking a slightly different attempt to inscribe - I think in the end the whole symbol of Silk Roads used as a trade route that brought religion, culture and ideas along with it. So rather than focus on what they are trying to inscribe, I'm going to look at the good portions on their list - today: Loulan.
Deep in the Lop Desert you can still find the ruins of this ancient kingdom - and by ruins I mean sand piles. It isn't well known, although Wikipedia states the British Museum has a wooden beam so maybe you have heard of it before after all. A "local" museum to find the remaining artifacts in in a town call Charklik which surely isn't on anyone's itinerary, and if you want to visit the remains you need to driver over the dunes with a 4x4. Afaik that is only done with a tour group with other 4WDs, although that may have changed. Getting into this area as a foreigner will also have plenty of police problems so be careful/aware of it. It's not just a Xinjiang thing but they are a little worried about anyone getting lost/stuck in the desert.
Loulan was more famous in China before, even had a postage stamp (see pic) but nowadays the place is in total ruins and inscription would make it on par of Abu Mena's rubble - and that's a stretch as well. They apparently even sent a team to patch things up once but it's still just a bunch of wooden bars barely holding up the remaining walls, and the tombs/basements were surely looted at some point over the last decades.
So I'll have to give this thumbs down for the bad state of the site AND for double dipping. I think this site along could be considered national importance for other reason but it's clearly not going to survive another 20+ years.
Xi'an is a culturally rich city. Being one of the prime cities of China and a former imperial capital it was part of the great trade network of the Silk Road. Indeed, it already holds four components of the existing Silk Road WHS: the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda and the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, the Daming Palace, and the Weiyang Palace.
The original Silk Road world heritage site ended a little bit east of Xi'an, around another former imperial capital, Luoyang. The two new tentative sites seem to cover two types of sites:
- Sites missing from the original Silk Roads world heritage site.
- Coastal sites in China.
I visited the Xi'an Mosque and I would clearly place it as a site that should have been included in the existing WHS with the other Xi'an locations. In China, it's the third oldest mosque. And it's not that much younger than the oldest mosques in the world. The fact you find a mosque in China dating back back to 742 CE shows the strength of the trade network. The building has both the features of a mosque as well as the layout of a Chinese temple. My photo should give you an impression.
Unfortunately, I missed several components along my visit to China:
- As a day trip I travelled to Luoyang but focussed on the Longmen Grottoes and Dengfeng. I did not have time to visit either the inscribed as well as the potential Silk Road sites apart from Longmen. Luoyang, to me, would fall into the extension category.
- On a previous trip, I visited Guangzhou and missed the sites in town. The oldest mosques in China are both located in Guangzhou and they supposedly date back to 620s CE. I write supposedly, as I recently have read up a bit on the revisionist school of Islamic studies. The sites around Guangzhou as well as Quanzhou and Ningpo would fall into the coastal sites for me.
As stated in my Xi'an Walls review, Xi'an Imperial City should be a world heritage site. The Silk Road nomination feels like an unnecessary consolidation price for what is a great site on its own.
I would also approve of an Early China Mosque sites combining Guangzhou and Xi'an. I am not convinced, though, of creating yet another Silk Road serial site.
This post is posted for two tentative sites. The Chinese have managed to create two distinct Silk Road tentative sites. Both seem to be nominated for 2022, though, so I assume they will be merged eventually. Lucky me, Xi'an Mosque is included in both.
2016 Added to Tentative List
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