Project Wellspring

Di Luo's Teaching Portfolio

The Silk Road: A Cultural and Political History


Caravan on the Silk Road, dated 1380 (By Cresques Abraham (Atlas catalan) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Course Description

This undergraduate seminar examines the rich history of the Silk Road, a network of land and maritime trade routes connecting the empires and kingdoms across Eurasia over the past millenniums. We will be focusing on the peoples who traveled along the Silk Road in different time periods, such as merchants, missionaries, monks, diplomats, and explorers. In addition to historical writings and documents, we will also explore the diverse material culture of the Silk Road especially rock-cut temples, religious paintings and manuscripts, and silk fabrics. Themes to be covered in this seminar include trade, travel, pilgrimage, identity, ethnicity, frontiers, and empire-building.


  • Attendance and participation, 20%
  • Reading report 1 (5 pages), 10%
  • Reading report 2 (5 pages), 10%
  • Reading report 3 (5 pages), 10%
  • Oral presentation of research project (15 minutes), 10%
  • Research paper (20 pages), 40%


  1. Wood, Frances. 2002. The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  2. Course Reader (CR, available online).


1 Introduction: Course Overview
2 Defining the Silk Road

  • Wood, 9-47.
  • Christopher Beckwith, Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present, 320-62 (CR).
3 Conceptualizing Asia: Exchanges, Conflicts, Interconnections

  • Aurel Stein, On Ancient Central-Asian Tracks: Brief Narrative of Three Expeditions in Innermost Asia and Northwestern China, 1-36. (CR)
  • Prasenjit Duara, “Asia Redux: Conceptualizing a Region for Our Times” (CR)
  • Tansen Sen, “The Intricacies of Premodern Asian Connections” (CR)
4 Buddhism in the Western Regions: Kucha Material Culture

  • Rajeshwari Ghose, Kizil on the Silk Road: Crossroads of Commerce and Meeting of Minds, 9-23, 95-115. (CR)
  • Angela Howard, “Miracles and Visions among the Monastic Communities of Kucha, Xinjiang” (CR)
5 Pilgrimage: Journey to the West

  • Wood, 88-110.
  • Shoshin Kuwayama, “Pilgrimage Route Changes and the Decline of Gandhara” (CR)
  • Li Rongxi, The Great Tang Record of the Western Regions, 1-82. (CR)
Reading report 1 due
6 Missionaries: Texts, Rituals, Relics

  • Erik Zurcher, “Buddhism across Boundaries: The Foreign Input” (CR)
  • John Kieschnick, The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture, 24-82. (CR)
7 Patrons: Mogao Caves at Dunhuang

  • Qiang Ning, “Patrons of the Earliest Dunhuang Caves: A Historical Investigation” (CR)
  • Sonya Lee, Surviving Nirvana: Death of the Buddha in Chinese Visual Culture, 139-201. (CR)
  • Winston Kyan, “Family Space: Buddhist Materiality and Ancestral Fashioning in Mogao Cave 231” (CR)
8 Merchants: the Sogdians

  • Wood, 61-74.
  • Annette Juliano and Judith Lerner, Monks and Merchants: Silk Road Treasures from Northwest China, 220-29, 239-45. (CR)
  • Qingjie Zhang and Boqin Jiang, “Brief Reports on the Stone Sarcophagus of Yu Hong” (CR)
  • Grenet Frantz, “The Self-image of the Sogdians” (CR)
9 Trade Goods: Silk and other Artifacts

  • Wood, 75-87.
  • Xinru Liu, Silk and Religion: An Explanation of Material Life and the thought of People AD 600-1200, 49-72. (CR)
  • Xinru Liu, Ancient India and Ancient China: Trade and Religious Exchanges AD 1-600, 53-75. (CR)
  • Edward Schafer, The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of T’ang Exotics, 139-75. (CR)
10 Discussion with instructor about research project (No class) Reading report 2 due
11 Empire-building: Huns, Mongols, Manchus

  • Wood, 111-29.
  • Nicola Di Cosmo, Ancient China and its Enemies: The Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History, 161-205. (CR)
  • Beckwith, Empires of the Silk Road, 184-203. (CR)
12 The Great Game I: The Russian

  • Wood, 147-90.
  • Peter Hopkirk, Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia, 44-53, 190-222. (CR)
  • Daniel Brower, “Imperial Russia and its Orient: The Renown of Nikolai Przhevalsky” (CR)
13 The Great Game II: The British and the German

  • Wood, 191-222.
  • Stein, Ancient Khotan: Detailed Report of Archaeological Explorations in Chinese Turkestan, 482-506. (CR)
  • Stein, Serindia, vol. 2, 791-830. (CR)
  • Albert von Le Coq, Buried Treasures of Chinese Turkestan: An Account of the Activities and Adventures of the Second and thrid German Turfan Expeditions, 17-42, 111-41. (CR)
14 Student presentations I
15 Student presentations II Reading report 3 due


This entry was posted on April 11, 2016 by in syllabus and tagged , , , , , , , .
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