The so-called Silk Road, which originated around the first century B.C., was a network of trade routes organized around the Chinese silk business, which extended throughout the Asian continent, connecting China with Mongolia, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Europe, and Africa.
This route became, for centuries, the bridge that connected two worlds until then utterly unknown to each other, today known as East and West.
Along the way, merchants, priests, scientists, diplomats, soldiers, and adventurers traveled, carrying, in addition to silk, merchandise such as porcelain, iron, or tea, which reached the West, uniting cultures and initiating a network of trade in innovative merchandise.
But beyond the commercial content, the route represented a path for disseminating ideas and knowledge in the fields of culture and science.
For the first time, the West had access to the millenary wisdom of Chinese culture, which nurtured the development of numerous techniques and knowledge that eventually led to significant advances that changed the course of Europe and, later, the entire world.
Chinese Sericulture: Origin of Silk Production
Silk is a natural fiber produced by various worms that weave cocoons inside which they undergo a metamorphosis and become butterflies.
Its production began in China at least 3 thousand years B.C. According to legend, the wife of the Great Yellow Emperor Shi Huang, Lei Zu, sat under the shade of a mulberry tree enjoying her herbal tea. Suddenly, a silkworm cocoon fell into her drink.
The empress angrily pulled the cocoon out of her bowl and discovered it was beginning to uncoil, and the thread seemed to have no end. Lei Zu immediately thought that the thread could be used to make wonderful fabric. Since then, the empress has been called “the Silk Goddess.” In ancient festivities in her honor, temple altars were often decorated with silkworm cocoons.
In various excavations in different areas of China, silkworm cocoons were found in archaeological remains dating back to the third millennium BC.
The inscriptions discovered on turtle shells and bones contained images and hieroglyphs designating the notions of “silkworm,” “mulberry,” “silk,” and “silk weaving.”
By the fifth century B.C. there was much more widespread silk production in various provinces of China.
Records indicate that, at first, the fabric could only be used by members of the imperial family. Still, due to the development of technologies that facilitated its production, the delicate garments became accessible to the court and, later, ordinary people.
As time went by, the noble material was also used for other items such as bowstrings, musical instrument strings, and paper.
Silk achieved such prominence in ancient Chinese society that it became the universal exchange equivalent, both for the payment of taxes and wages.
Advances in the art of silk production, known as sericulture, were so profound that the quality of the product and its colors attracted the attention of travelers and traders. Finally, in the second century B.C., it crossed the Chinese border for the first time and slowly became known in neighboring countries.
Later, it crossed into Korea and Japan until it finally reached Europe, giving rise to what was called the Silk Road centuries later. Thousands of traders in caravans and ships crossed the Silk Roads mountains and deserts with valuable cargoes.
The silk trade developed extensively in Asia and Europe, but the productive concentration continued in China. It is not that no one tried to copy and develop it, but it simply happened that the Chinese managed to keep their production secret for centuries. Any attempt to smuggle butterflies, caterpillars, or eggs was punishable by death.
Silk Road: Transfer of Culture and Knowledge
Few materials have had such a remarkable economic, technical, functional, cultural, and symbolic impact as silk, from flags to awnings, tapestries, furniture, wedding dresses, traditional costumes, and others.
But it is also a living, multifaceted heritage that involves more than the textile material itself: designers, weavers, painters, merchants, and buyers emerged around it.
In 1877, the concept of the “Silk Road” emerged, a name created by the German geographer Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen in his book China, published in the city of Berlin. He defines a network of roads that served for the export of silks and other products that ran through Eurasia from east to west.
It describes how the historic route served as a bridge of cultures in addition to the silk trade. The exchange of customs and knowledge allowed the enrichment of all peoples who knew to take advantage of this opportunity.
Until then, East and West were a mystery to each other. But a new chapter of world history was opened through these new paths and navigation routes.
It was a quasi-fantasy period in which, from one moment to the next, the doors were opened to a universe not so much distant as unknown. In this age of adventure, thousands of famous travelers, such as Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta, wandered the earth, recording stories of their exploits that are passed down to this day.
Gastronomy and good customs
The “Silk Road” got its name precisely because silk was the most important commodity in the trade and the one that opened the way for so many others. However, the route also allowed the exchange of ideas, religions, cultures, and ways of life that profoundly influenced all the regions it crossed.
Chinese culinary arts were steeped in philosophy and belief in the divine. As a result, cooking, art, crafts, and work were not simple activities; traditional beliefs affirm that everything in human society is an expression of the Tao or the Way.
Lao Zi, the founder of Taoism, wrote: “Man follows the earth. The earth follows the heavens. The heavens follow the Tao. The Tao follows nature.”
Following these guidelines, the ancient Chinese made any culinary task a true art. Any activity performed by a man or woman had to be loaded with sacrifice, good predisposition, and perfectionism for the results.
Cooking was no exception, which is why the food they produced at that time attracted the attention of travelers.
One of Italy’s most recognized traditions, pasta, today also part of the world’s gastronomy, is a consequence of one of the trips of the renowned Italian traveler Marco Polo.
According to legend, Marco Polo returned home from China, described the noodles he had seen in the Orient, and his stories gave rise to one of the country’s most revered culinary traditions.
In 2002, archaeologists working in the Lajia region of China discovered a clay bowl containing 4,000-year-old noodles in perfect condition. Unlike traditional Italian pasta made from wheat, these were made from millet.
The use of rice, so widespread in China and the rest of the Orient, also became popular thanks to travelers who transported it to the Middle East, Europe, and America. Finally, to this day, it is one of the main dishes of Latin American countries.
Today, tea, one of the oldest and most consumed beverages globally, was discovered in China approximately four thousand years ago. It reached different countries that adopted it as their own through the silk route. Such is the case of Great Britain, which then took charge of popularizing its use in its colonies, making it reach the most inhospitable places in the world.
The West begins to produce silk
It was not until the first century B.C. that the first silk imports from the Far East reached the Roman Empire. The Byzantine Empire established the first indigenous industrial production of silk in the 6th century A.D. and dominated silk production in Europe until well into the 12th century.
According to a UNESCO report, despite China’s strict controls, Syrian travelers to North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula took it upon themselves to pass on their acquired knowledge of the precious art of silk production.
Thus Al-Andalus was the first territory on the European continent to identify the intensive rearing of silkworms.
The development of its silk textile industry was linked to a complex organization where production processes were standardized and regularized, generating a product of great prestige in both Western and Eastern markets.
The Christian kings took advantage of the inheritance received from the Muslims regarding silk production techniques and encouraged the development of a prominent local industry based on silk.
For their part, maritime powers such as Venice, Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi played a vital role in transferring technologies to the sector. In addition, they added to their striking decorative designs, thus developing the renowned Italian textile industry, which is thriving to this day.
Everything changed with the arrival of Communism
The West began to produce silk, but that did not mean the breakup of the Silk Road. On the contrary, centuries of commercial development allowed the ties to remain united even though China would no longer be the productive epicenter of the precious raw material used in the thriving textile industry.
Trade relations continued with ups and downs due to war conflicts in Europe and Asia between 1700 and 1900. But everything changed definitively after the Second World War and the arrival of communism to power in China.
Production relations changed utterly in China from that moment on, primarily because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) concentrated on destroying much of the traditional culture, including the knowledge acquired over decades in countless key productive sectors along the Silk Road.
At the same time, the CCP plunged the country into unprecedented deep poverty, and the region became unattractive for business development. Moreover, thanks to its demonic perversity, it transformed a society full of values into a society with high levels of corruption and a lack of common ethics.
Over the years, the CCP managed to modernize its economy at the cost of repressing its population, suppressing freedoms, and exposing its citizens to brutal exploitation.
In the 21st century, the capitalist powers began to be attracted to the possibility of producing in China because of the low labor costs and zero labor regulations. This allowed China’s re-entry into the world market and the possibility of exporting communism, the genuine interest of the CCP.
The CCP devised a plan in 1955, based on a clear objective to be achieved almost 100 years later, in 2049, to become the first world power, displacing European countries and, of course, the United States.
This last stretch of its journey set out to build a highway of growth that would propel it towards its ultimate goal: the new Silk Road.
In 2013, CCP leader Xi Jinping announced the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a project to bring prosperity to both China and all participating nations through multi-million dollar investments in infrastructure, railway construction, ports, cities, power plants, dams, roads, etc.
The new Silk Road, an imperialist rather than a commercial goal
One of the most ambitious proposals for the Chinese economy has been the expansive infrastructure megaproject of the BRI. However, today, the initiative’s progress has ended up being affected by all of the bad measures taken by the Chinese regime and its scandalous repercussions.
Since the launch of the BRI proposal, a project that aims to expand economic relations through new trade corridors linking China with Asia, Africa, America, the Middle East, and Europe, it has been immersed in controversial issues. Not the least of which is the risk of the countries involved becoming over-indebted due to their participation.
In 68 countries where the Chinese regime is investing, 23 have seen their economies seriously affected by the megaproject since 2013, according to a report issued by the Washington D.C.-based Center for Global Development.
Amid the criticism, different countries in the Asian region and others have echoed voices of discontent, announcing serious implications in the countries participating in the project, playing a determining role in slowing down its development progress.
As Forbes magazine columnist Wade Shepard points out, nearly seven years into the megaproject, delays, financial implosions, and outbreaks of major social protests have led to an increasingly uncertain outlook for the project’s outcome.
Critics claim that as Chinese companies penetrate emerging markets, inadequate policies and poor business practices turn the BRI into a global trail of inconvenience, far from fulfilling its objective of generating a new type of prosperous trade that benefits all participating countries.
At the same time, evidence is mounting of the Chinese communist regime’s serious human rights failings. Its persecution of ethnic and religious minorities and political dissidents, forced labor camps, disappearances, and forced organ removal from prisoners of conscience worsens diplomatic relations with the rest of the world’s powers.
What are the critical points of the BRI?
One of the most criticized topics of the way the CCP develops its initiatives within the BRI, according to Western standards, is the lack of transparency in the agreements it signs with those countries with which it intends to do business.
Chinese state-owned enterprises carry out more than 90% of BRI infrastructure projects involving China. The regime reportedly owns seven of the ten largest construction companies globally. Only a few projects are awarded to local companies and always involve Chinese cooperation and/or supervision.
The implication is that China takes its workers worldwide, who, in turn, leak their wages to China without contributing to the local market.
Johanttan Hillman of the Strategic Center for International Studies points out that many of these companies “have been debarred from the World Bank and other multilateral development banks for fraud and corruption, ranging from inflating costs to giving kickbacks.”
Local rulers, generally from emerging countries with high corruption rates, gain popularity for announcing the construction of essential infrastructure projects. However, most of them are never completed, and the whole process is left to the CCP.
Another no less important factor is the issue of loans. The countries that benefit from these funds are generally impoverished nations already indebted to traditional international lending agencies, punished by decades of corrupt governments that use public funds to enrich themselves.
These loans from China often have very high-interest rates and are closed in non-transparent agreements that, in some cases, compromise even the country’s natural resources.
Real motives behind the BRI
Other accusations indicate that there are truly perverse interests behind the BRI, which overshadow the simple bad economic results it generates for the participating countries.
As the Asia Society Policy Institute points out, one of Beijing’s main foci is to build military bases in participating countries that have a parallel commercial use as a mask to not arouse suspicion.
Thus, many of the investments developed around the BRI have features that follow the military intelligence models of the Chinese regime’s People’s Liberation Army.
For example, a simple commercial port built within the BRI can be integrated with industrial parks and support industries such as shipbuilding and replenishment services that enhance the port’s ability to support Chinese naval vessels.
In other words, in the event of military conflicts, the CCP would have the ability to supply its military at any of these points outside its home base.
Another critical point against the BRI agreements indicates that the CCP’s real intention behind its unpayable loans is to seize the natural resources of the host countries.
“To secure energy and natural resources that the country lacks in sufficient quantities at home and maximize returns on investment in surplus dollars and euros, Chinese state creditors have rapidly expanded the provision of foreign currency-denominated loans to resource-rich countries suffering from high levels of corruption,” an AidData report says.
According to the report, the CCP sets up a complex procedure. For example, issuing a loan to build infrastructure in the host country simultaneously sets up a deal to grab natural resources.
Long gone is the original Silk Road initiative, marked by the moral values and ancient wisdom of traditional China. Then, participating countries benefited from the productive advantages of their neighbors while sharing knowledge and know-how in pursuit of fair and win-win trade.
The CCP, as it has done with so many other things, managed to destroy such a valuable initiative that for centuries allowed the enrichment of all participating cultures. Instead, it transformed the exchange relations into an overwhelming locomotive, with the only interest being expanding its power and empowering the Party with globalist values that only benefit a few. Meanwhile, it leads the vast majority not only to economic poverty but also to the greatest misery resulting from the lack of values and righteousness.
Although the economic results for the participating countries have not been good, the need, greed, and corruption of many others have led the project to continue to develop.
Current war conflicts could mark a new world geopolitical scenario, which, depending on how power relations are arranged, may allow the true nature of the CCP to be revealed, exposing the damage it is doing to the entire world.