february, 2020

22feb4:00 pmM Talks China: The Many Facets of Belt and Road: Historical and Ahistorical


Event Details

Where: Glam, 7/F, No.5 The Bund, 20 Guangdong Lu, Shanghai
When: 4pm, Saturday, 22 February

Against “Silk Road(s)”! Alternatives to Understanding China’s Interactions with the Foreign World

The term “Silk Road(s)” coined by the German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen in the second half of the nineteenth century has become popular among academics, musicians, and politicians. While Richthofen used the term to specifically indicate the routes that traversed through Central Asia, it is now used for almost every route that connected ancient China to the rest of the world. Such arbitrary use of the term has led to the presumption that silk was the leading commodity in intra-Eurasian trade and a key agent in connecting various cultural zones of the premodern world. It has also implied the centrality of China in cross-regional connections prior to colonial expansion. Although the shortcomings of the term have been previously noted by several scholars, the alternatives to this highly popular term are yet to considered in detail. Focusing on the origins of the term “Maritime Silk Road,” this presentation attempts to decentralize both the elite commercial exchanges embodied in the silk trade and the role of China in premodern interactions. It will argue that the use of the term “Silk Road(s)” hinders a proper understanding of the complexities of premodern transregional connections.

Tansen Sen is Professor of History and the Director of the Center for Global Asia at NYU Shanghai, and Global Network Professor at New York University. Previously he was a faculty at the City University of New York and founding head of the Nalanda Sriwijaya Center at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. He is the author of Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 600-1400 (2003; 2016) and India, China, and the World: A Connected History (2017; 2018). He has co-authored (with Victor H. Mair) Traditional China in Asian and World History (2012), edited Buddhism across Asia: Networks of Material, Cultural and Intellectual Exchange (2014), and co-edited (with Burkhard Schnepel) Travelling Pasts: The Politics of Cultural Heritage in the Indian Ocean World (2019), and (with Brian Tsui) Beyond Pan-Asianism: Connecting China and India, 1840s-1960s (forthcoming). He is currently working on a book about Zheng He’s maritime expeditions in the early fifteenth century, a monograph on Jawaharlal Nehru and China, and co-editing (with Engseng Ho) the Cambridge History of the Indian Ocean, volume 1.



(Saturday) 4:00 pm



No.5 The Bund (corner of Guangdong Lu)