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Chinese Section of the Silk Road: Land routes in Henan Province, Shaanxi Province, Gansu Province, Qinghai Province, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region; Sea Routes in Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province and Quanzhou City, Fujian Province - from Western-Han Dynasty to Qing Dynasty

Date of Submission: 28/03/2008
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
State Administration of Cultural Heritage
State, Province or Region:
Land Route in Henan Province, Shaanxi Province, Qinghai Province, Gansu Province, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the People’s Republic of China; Sea Route in Ningbo City of Zhejiang Province and Quanzhou City of Fujian
Ref.: 5335

The Tentative Lists of States Parties are published by the World Heritage Centre at its website and/or in working documents in order to ensure transparency, access to information and to facilitate harmonization of Tentative Lists at regional and thematic levels.

The sole responsibility for the content of each Tentative List lies with the State Party concerned. The publication of the Tentative Lists does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the World Heritage Committee or of the World Heritage Centre or of the Secretariat of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its boundaries.

Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Land Route of the Silk

Henan Province N 34 37 59-34 45 0, E 112 26 45-113 2 12 1

Gongyi Stone Cave Temple - Luoyang City N 34 48 47.57, E 113 01 4.47

Luoyang city of Han and Wei Dynasties - Luoyang City N 34 43 11-34 44 28, E 112 34 31-112 40 46

Luoyang City of the Sui and Tang Dynasties - Luoyang City N 34 38 50-34 40 39, E 112 26 45-112 30 20

White Horse Temple - Luoyang City 34 43 27, E 112 35 58

Han'gu Pass and Xiaohan Ancient Path in Han Dynasty

Shaanxi Province N 33 06 12-35 06 12, E 108 01 10-109 01 22

Site of the Chang'an City of Han Dynasty - Xi'an City N 34 17 29-34 21 15, E 108 50 38-108 54 51

Mao Imperial Mausoleum of Han Dynasty and Tomb of Huo Qubing - Xingping City N 34 20 26-34 20 36, E 108 34 05-108 34 10

Tomb of Zhang Qian - Hanzhong City N 33 06-33 09, E 107 17, E 107 19

the Dagoba of Kumarajiva - Xi'an City N 34 16-34 17, E 108 44-108 45

Site of the Chang'an City of Tang Dynasty - Xi'an City N 34 17-18 30, E 108 56 30-58 30

Xingjiao Temple Pagoda (Xuan Zang's Dagoba) - Xi'an City N 34 8, E 108 59 45

The Underground Chamber of Famen Temple - Baoji City N 34 30, E 107 22 35

Daqin Monastery Pagoda - Xi'an City N 34 15, E 108 31

Zhao Imperial Mausoleum - Xianyang City N 34 32 26-34 38 59, E 108 26 22-108 36 14

Qian Imperial Mausoleum - Xianyang City N 34 33 49-34 35 28, E 108 12 14-108 13 19

Great Buddha Temple Grottoes in Bin County - Xianyang City N 35 04 24.4-35 06, E 107 59 32-108 01

Xi'an Mosque - Xi'an City N 34 06 8-34 07, E 108 05-108 06

Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region

Historic City of Guyuan - Guyuan City N 35 34-36 38, E 105 58-106 57

Cemetery of Northern Dynasties and Sui and Tang Dynasty in Guyuan - Guyuan City

Site of Kaicheng - Guyuan City N 35 57, E 105 09-106 58

Mount Xumi Grottoes - Guyuan City N 36, E 106

Gansu Province N 32 11-42 57, E 92 13-108 46

Maijishan Grottoes- Immortal Cliff Grottoes - Tianshui City N 34 21 09, E 106 00 10

Shuiliandong (Water Curtain Cave) Grottoes- Lashao Temple - Tianshui City N 34 44, E 105 40

Bingling Temple Grottoes- Xia Temple - Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture N 35 48 3, E 103 2 56

Site of Yunen Gate and Hecang City - Dunhuang City N 40 22, E 93 54

Suoyang City Site and Tomb Complex - Jiuquan City N 40 15, E 96 12

Camel City Site and Tomb Complex - Zhangye City N 39 16 02-39 24 15, E 99 24 01-99 31 20

Guoyuan- Xincheng Tomb Complex - Jiayuguan City N 39 45-39 52 49.3, E 98 20-98 30

Great Buddha Temple - Zhangye City N 37 28-39 57, E 97 20-102 12

Mati Temple Grottoes- Jiata Temple and Qianfo (thousand Buddhas) Cave - Zhangye City N 38 10-38 50, E 99 54-100 45

Yulin Grottoes - Jiuquan City N39 57, E 95 57

Xuanquanzhi Site - Dunhuang City N 40 20, E 95 21

Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region

Ancient City of Jiao River - Turpan City N 42 25 22-42 25 26, E 89 03 15-89 03 58

Ancient City of Gaochang and Astana Cemetery - Turpan City N 42 50 21-42 51 19, E 89 30 49-89 32 17

Taizang Tower - Turpan City N 42 52 03, E 89 31 36

Buddha Subash Temple Site - Aksu Area N 41 51 20-41 51 40, E 83 2-83 3

Ancient City of Loulan - Ba YinGuoLeng Mongolia Autonomous Prefecture N 40 30 55, E 89 54 50

Niya Site - Hetian Area N 82 43 14.4, E 37 58 32.9

Kizil Grottoes - Aksu Area N 41 46 59-41 47 11, E 82 30 03-82 30 32

Kumtula Grottoes - Aksu Area N 41 41 25-41 42 95, E 82 40 59-82 41 59

Simsem Grottoes - Aksu Area N 41 51 50-41 52 05, E 83 08 31-83 09 55

Bezeklik Grottoes - Turpan City N 89 32 10-89 33 54, E 42 56 41-42 57 37

Toyuk Grottoes - Turpan City N 89 41 39-89 41 40, E 42 51 50-42 51 51

Mehmud Qeshqeri Tomb - Kashgar City

Sea Route of the Silk Road

Ningbo City N 29 46 10-29 58 54, E 121 20 52-121 47 27

Quanzhou City N 24 33 09-25 56 03, E 117 34 25-119 05 26

The Silk Road is the ancient trade route that starts in the old capital of Chang'an, the present-day Xi'an city and the center of politics, economy, and culture in a long period of ancient China. It refers to the overland commercial route connecting Asia, Africa and Europe, which goes over the Longshan Mountain, follows Hexi Corridor, passes Yumenguan Pass and Yangguan Pass, reaches Xinjiang, stretches along the oasis and the Pamir Plateau, enters the Central Asia, crosses Central Asia, Western Asia and Southern Asia, and then leads to Africa and Europe. It also served as an important trunk road where the economic, political and cultural exchanges between the Orient and the West were taking place. In its very first beginning the function of the trade route is to transport silk, the fine, delicate, elegant and portable goods, representing the civilization of ancient China which enjoyed advanced agriculture and well-developed handicraft industry. Therefore, when the name of "Silk Road" was first given by the German geographer Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen in the 1870s, it was widely accepted.

A large number of information in archeology and palaeoanthropology showed that the Silk Road had functioned as the main road for migration and communication before the Western Han dynasty (206 BC - 25 AD). But the well-documented and conscious communications and exchanges between the different civilizations of the East and the West started in the Western Han dynasty of ancient China. In the second year of Jianyuan (139 BC) and subsequently in the second year of Yuanshou (119 BC) of the Western Han dynasty, Liu Che, Emperor Han Wudi, dispatched Zhang Qian as his special envoy to the Western Regions (the areas west of Yumenguan Pass, including present Xinjiang and parts of Central Asia) so that the relations between the people of China's Central Plains and the peoples and states of Western Regions became closer. Such an unprecedentedly great undertaking contributed to the establishment and development of the Silk Road. As a result, the growth of merchandise trade and traveling changed the daily life of the peoples along the road greatly.

In Wei-Jin period (220 - 420), the Central Plains were plunged in war turmoil and thus the direct tour from the Western Regions to Chang'an was on the hazard. But the communications between the political powers of Europe, Africa, Southern Asia and Western Asia and those along the Hexi Corridor that took the responsibilities preserving the essence of Chinese traditional civilization remained unaffected. In fact, it was through the trade with the west that the political powers maintained their continuities. During this period, the Buddhism was introduced along the Silk Road on a large scale. In the areas of Xinjiang and Gansu it was, consciously or unconsciously, altered to suit the local societies in the process of popularization. In the period of the Northern Dynasties (386 - 581), with the strengthening of the unification tendency appearing in both the east and west ends of the Silk Road, and as the powerful empires emerged one after another, the traffic facilities, safety conditions and social order along the Silk Road had been improving continually. Thanks to these, the Silk Road reached its height of power and splendor.

After the Rebellion of An Shi (755-763), the regime of the later Tang dynasty gradually shank into the hinterland and Tubo (ancient name for Tibet) took up the middle section of the Silk Road. The communication between China and Central Asia, Western Asia and the rising Arab Empire, turned to increasingly growing sea route or made a detour through even more northern grassland. At that time the Silk Road entered the period of adjustment, but the friendly exchanges and the national amalgamation tended to be enhanced further. The emergence of Mongol Empire changed the relationship between Asia and Europe in the international arena greatly and objectively speaking, the passage between the East and the West was got through, which made the communications between different peoples more convenient for more options were offered. In this way the Silk Road was no more the only road to transport goods, so its strategic status was less significant.

After the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), the society and culture of China came into a stage of long-time adjustment and inward reflection while the world stepped into the process of modernization. During this process, the traditionally classical states gradually went into decline or desegregation. At the same time, the sea trade developed further and weighed more than the overland trade from both importance and scale. However, even in this period, the use of promoting cultural exchange of the Silk Road had not lost completely. A good example is Islam spreading to the east, which marked the most significant event during this period. Eventually ten Moslem peoples came into being in Xinjiang'Gansu and Shaanxi, ie, the eastern section of the Silk Road. After 1840, China was forced into joining the unfair international order set up by the Western European powers. And the peoples and states along the Silk Road suffered a series of invasions by capitalism powers to different extents. From then on, the Silk Road finished its historical mission finally.

The Silk Road had been playing the role of a bridge linking the economies and cultures between the ancient East and West as well as connecting the friendship of China and Eurasia. In the process of its formation and development, the major religions and cultures in the ancient world made plenty of communications, exchanges and amalgamations, which boosted the human being to create splendid and influential civilization and left behind valuable cultural legacy. Serving as a passage to connect the Eurasia together to exchange cultures, the Silk Road meets well the definition and requirements of the World Heritage Centre (WHC), reading "A cultural route is a land, water, mixed or other type of route, which is physically determined and characterized by having its own specific and historic dynamics and functionality; showing interactive movements of people as well as multi-dimensional, continuous and reciprocal  exchanges of goods, ideas, knowledge and values within or between countries and regions over significant periods of time; and thereby generating a cross-fertilization of the cultures in space and time, which is reflected both in its tangible and intangible heritage."

Since the Chinese section of the Silk Road associates with the vast areas of the following six provinces such as Shaanxi, Henan, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai and Xinjiang, this section is located in the converging area where the civilizations of agriculture, grassland farming and the oasis meet and the cultures of the East and West intersect. Therefore, as a kind of precious cultural heritage, the Chinese section was characterized by the inseparability between the section and the whole road as well as the unique regional and folk flavors that were deeply rooted in traditional Chinese culture.

Thereby, as the single world heritage, the Chinese section of the Silk Road also has the following characters:

1. Determined by its geographical location and natural environment, the Chinese section of the Silk Road becomes the key and the only section for presenting and preserving the historical process of the cultural exchanges and amalgamations between the ancient East and West in all aspects. The integrity of this section is a unique trait that other sections do not have.

2. The cultural connotation of the Chinese section of the Silk Road shows strong transition features. From the west to the east of it, how the other civilizations met, interacted and merged with the traditional Chinese cultural and how they became an integral part of the great Chinese civilization were clearly displayed.

 3. The Chinese section of the Silk Road presents strong multinational characteristic and multicultural style. In history the ancestors living in this region created brilliant civilization in merging together the cultures of the nationalities of Han, Tibetan, Uighur and Qiang as well as the Western Regions.

4. The Chinese section of the Silk Road shows the historical truth and keeps the records of the dual functions of outputting and learning that the ancient China took during the course of cultural exchanges along the Silk Road. In this course, the great vigor and potentials of Chinese civilizations fully reveal itself by absorbing other cultures, adopting excellent things from them and adapting them to suit the Chinese situations.

Hereby, we shall enumerate the most representative parts in the cultural heritage of the Chinese section of the Silk Road: (48 parts in total)

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

As for the criterion (i):

As the first route connecting the west and the east, the Silk Road starts very early and lasts very long time. It is not only a trade route, but also a route of technological communication and exchange of minds and a route of friendship and inter-understanding. It exhibits the creative spirit of human kind.

As for the criterion (ii):

The Chinese section of the Silk Road is an excellent example and proof sample for coexisting, communication and melting of multi-cultures in the northwest of China.

Areas along the Chinese section of the Silk Road are key part for multi-cultural fusion and Buddhism, Islam and other religions are all introduced and rooted along the Road, while at last they all turned into important parts of Chinese traditional culture. That enriches the connotation and value of the Road.

As for the criterion (iii):

 Elite part of civilizations, which came into being in the process of cultural exchanges between the Orient and the West from 2 BC to 19 AD, are well preserved along the Chinese section of the Silk Road. Due to special geographic and natural situations, cave temples, ancient buildings, city relics and tumulus have been preserved intensively along the Chinese section of the Silk Road. They are typical tangible heritage of civilizations from inter-communications between the Orient and the West in ancient time. With their outstanding universality and representative, they are epitomes for cultures within the whole Silk Road, to a certain extent.

As for the criterion (iv):

The architectures along the Silk Road embody the impact of the exchange of multi-culture and witness the development the architecture in the context of the culture exchange between the east and the west.

As for the criterion (v):

Employing the architectural technique of lowering the ground to built the wall, the Ancient City of Jiaohe River have made full use of the large scale space. This kind of planning thought has adjusted measures to local conditions and been used in the outlay of the whole city, which is the excellent example of the land-use of the human beings.

As for the criteria (vi):

Culture heritage along the Chinese section of the Silk Road are tangible samples for the localization of foreign cultures. The typical example is the introduction of Buddhism and its art into Chinese culture. Silk Road is the main passage for cultural communications between the west and the ancient China, and areas along this road are all places for culture blending and melting. Hence the evolving process and tangible samples for the localization of foreign cultures, religions, art and especially Buddhism and Buddhism art are all completely recorded and preserved along the Silk Road.

Thereby, given all that, the important status and prominent value of the Chinese section of the Silk Road are in accord with the six criterions about cultural heritage in World Heritage List, i.e. Item Ⅰ, Ⅱ, Ⅲ, Ⅳ, Ⅴ and Ⅵ, ect.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

To judge a cultural route should be based on its cultural connotations and its component parts and the time, the present using conditions, the legislations, the natural frames and other possible tangible and intangible elements should be taken into account. It was not an easy job for the authentication of those cultural routes which enjoys long history, vast areas, various traits and profound cultural connotations, especially the ones whose appearance were changed completely because of natural disaster, urbanization and historical evolvement. All the related works ranging from setting up clearly the scope of the route to establishing standard running system need supports from the plenty of researches in the science of history and geography, etc.. At the same time, the willingness of the public is also an important aspect for the cultural route cannot be true without the involvement of the communities. Given the present work systems for culture and cultural relics, how to arouse the public's enthusiasm for the application and get their effective supports is the focus of the research.

Therefore, the cultural heritage of the Silk Road can only be realized by typical single cultural heritage in accord with its value and connotation.

Comparison with other similar properties

a. The nature of the cultural heritage of the Silk Road is a cultural route that is related to the communication and migration in some certain historical periods. The route includes all the necessary elements, not only the cultural elements such as towns, villages, buildings, docks, post houses, bridges and so on, but also the natural elements such as mountains, lands, rivers, plants and so on.

b. As a kind of linear cultural landscape, the criteria for the Silk Road are different. They can be international or domestic, inter-regional or regional, within a cultural region or among different cultural regions. 

c. The constitution of the value of the Silk Road is polynary and multi-layer, including the whole cultural value of this route, the ecological and natural value along this route such as mountains, plains and valleys and so on. Furthermore, there are both tangible values in the buildings and other single heritages and intangible values of cultural heritage.