by Dr. Bikash Kali Das
India and China, two Asian giants, share a lot of similarities in terms of history and culture. Both countries represent age-old civilizations and unique history. Cultural and economic ties between the two countries date back to about 2000 years ago. The Silk Route, which is an ancient network of trade routes, formally established by the Han Dynasty, served as a connection between the two countries. It was also through this route that Buddhism spread to China and East Asia from India. The routes were more than just trade routes; it was the carrier of ideas, innovations, inventions, discoveries, myths and many more.
The earliest mention of China can be found in the Indian text “Arthashastra” which was written by Kautilya in the fourth century BC. Kautilya made a remark about Cinapattasca Cinabhumjia (Cinapatta is a product of China). Whereas, the earliest mention of India in Chinese records dates between 130 and 125 BC. Zhang Qian, a Chinese envoy to Central Asia, referred to India as Shendu, in his report about India to Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty.
The Silk Road was an ancient trade route that existed between South Western China and India’s North East region via Myanmar. Shiji, which is the first Chinese dynastic history, compiled between 104 and 87 BCE talks about the existence of a trading route between India and South West China. According to Chinese records, Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty, tried to establish a trade route from Changan, the Chinese capital to North East India through Yunnan and adjoining areas. However, the rulers of Yunnan were against the idea of establishing a direct trade between India and China, and Emperor Wu failed to establish the trade route. Even though the trade route failed to take off, the trade in Cinapatta and Chinese square bamboo continued without any hindrance.
The Southern Silk route (SSR), one of the least studied overland routes, is a trade route which is about 2000 km long and linked East and North East India with Yunnan Province of China via Myanmar. This is a relatively unknown, ancient trade route that is considered a part of the larger web of Silk Roads. This route existed before the Central Asian Silk route became popular. This trade route between Eastern India and China came to be known during the early 3rd century BCE, and it became popular by the 2nd century BCE. By the 7th century AD, various other branches of the SSR emerged to create a web of trading routes. Traders carried silk from Yunnan through Myanmar, across India, and joined the main silk route in Afghanistan. In addition, silk was also transported from South West China through the Shan states and North Myanmar into East India and then down to the Coromandel Coast.
The Qing dynasty, which ruled China from 1644-1912, recorded the cross-cultural exchanges that took place across SSR. This route contributed to cultural exchanges between China and the West. It also promoted interactions among different nationalities. Indian sources have failed to provide abundant evidence about the SSR and the interaction that took place across this route, but there is enough evidence that indicates that trade and migration did take place in the Eastern India-Upper Myanmar-Yunnan region. For example, modern scholars believed that the Tai Ahoms were originally from Yunnan, but they migrated to North East India and founded a small kingdom around the 13th century, which grew to become the powerful Ahom Kingdom of Assam.
The areas through which the SSR passed were inhabited by various ethnic groups whose political, social, and economic organizations were primitive and backward. As a result, safety has emerged, making it a hotbed for illegal activities.
Despite its challenges, the Silk Road remains an important historical and cultural link between India and China. It served as a conduit for not only goods, but also ideas, beliefs, and culture. The spread of Buddhism from India to China is just one example of the cultural exchange that occurred along the Silk Road. The trading networks that developed along the route also helped to create a sense of community among the people who lived along it, fostering the development of a shared culture.
Today, India and China remain important economic partners, with trade between the two countries valued at billions of dollars annually. The cultural and economic ties between the two countries continue to evolve, but the legacy of the Silk Road lives on, as a testament to the enduring relationship between India and China.
In conclusion, the story of the Silk Road is one of the great tales of human history. It is a story of trade, of exploration, and of cultural exchange. It is a story that connects India and China, two great civilizations with a shared history and culture. As we look to the future, we can learn much from the past, and the Silk Road is a reminder of the importance of open and honest communication, and of the benefits of cultural exchange and trade. As we continue to build bridges between our nations, we can look to the Silk Road as a source of inspiration and guidance, as we work to create a better future for all.