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China and Parthia


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I understand from a history that the first contact between China and 'the West' was when explorers from the Han dynasty reached the Parthian empire during the time of Rome. Can anyone give me more detail on the contact, how it started the Silk Road, and why there was the expedition in the first place? Did it have something to do with the Xiongnu?

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I seem to recall hearing a number of theories about first contacts. Reliable details are lacking on such matters, though I'm sure there is information on that particular expedition.

The silk road was not like a modern highway, and I'm not sure we can speak of it being "started" by anything in particular.

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Here are two links you can check:

http://www.asia2000.com.hk/asia2000/orchid/sagazhangqian.shtml

http://www.chinese-forums.com/viewtopic.php?p=20332#20332

Yes, it had to do with the Xiongnu. Han Wudi wanted to form an alliance with the 月支 against the Xiongnu, and sent Zhang Qian on an expedition to locate the 月支 and seek assistance from them. Zhang Qian failed in the original purpose of the mission. But the wealth of information he brought back to Changan; for example his encounters with the peoples of Bactria, Ferghana, and Parthia; captured the emperor's interest. So Wudi sent Zhang out on a second expedition to explore foreign markets for Chinese goods and to acquire the "heavenly horses" from Ferghana.

These expeditions indirectly led to the formation of the Silk Road.

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