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The Maritime Silk Road

by Dwain Richardson

Most of us know China for its great landscapes, numerous bodies of water, architecture, and history. But do we know about the lesser familiar attractions? Perhaps one of the lesser familiar attractions is the maritime Silk Road, located in the country’s southeastern coastal areas, making connections with neighbouring countries.

Traditionally, this tourist route was divided into two: the East China Sea Silk Route and the South China Sea Silk Route. The former connected China with Japan and Korea. This portion of the route, which dates back to the Zhou Dynasty, was known for its silkworm, silk reeling, and weaving techniques — techniques that seeped into Korea through the Yellow Sea. Silk production was eventually Korea’s main commodity. This led to building many ports for exports to Japan. Moreover, Korea became the centre for technology. Because of the Haijin policy under the Qing Dynasty reign, however, business along the Silk Road declined. This policy prohibited maritime activities. The latter portion of the route connected China with other countries. As its route name specifies, this route surrounded—and still does today—the South China Sea. Guangzhou, Quanzhou, and Ningbo were the main departure cities when construction workers built this route. Like the eastern route, the southern route thrived during five dynasties (Qin, Han, Sui, Tang, Song) and declined during two of them (Ming and Qing). The decline was more noticeable during western wars, but the route renewed itself in the late Tang and Song dynasties with the rise of navigation and shipbuilding technologies. It connected with Southeast Asia, Malacca, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and Africa.

What exactly is the Maritime Silk Road? It’s a Chinese strategic initiative designed to increase investment and foster collaboration through the Silk Road (former network of trade routes that connected Asia to other eastern and western localities).

The Maritime Silk Road consisted of eight Chinese provinces: Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian and Hainan as well as two municipal areas of Tianjin and Shanghai.


This is one of the country’s northernmost provinces. Hebei means “north of the river.” Coincidentally, this province is north of the Yellow River. Surprisingly, this province is only eighty-eight years old! The central government founded it in 1928.

Hebei borders on a number of cities, countries, and geographical terrains (seas, rivers, plains, grasslands).Its climate is typical of a monsoon: Winters are cold and dry, while summers are hot and humid. For example, temperatures soar between –16°C and –3°C in January. In July, temperatures range from 20°C to 27°C. Given the high heat and humidity, it comes as no surprise that most rain falls during the summer months.


Ming Great Wall: The site runs from Jiayu Pass in the west to the Shanhai Pass in the east (the walls measure 8,850 kilometres in length), and through to Manchuria, located in northeastern China. The walls consist of trenches and natural barriers such as hills and rivers.

Bedaihe Beach Resort: A ten-kilometre attraction from the Yinjiao Pavilion to the start of the Daihe River. Let yellow sand glide over your feet and step into shallow waters. While you’re having fun on the beach, let yourself be dazzled by caves, secluded paths, and winding bridges.

Chengde Mountain Resort: A complex made of imperial palaces and gardens. Seventy-two scenic wonders await, including the “Tower of Mist and Rain.” Be prepared to see many grasslands, forested mountains, and valleys among the many buildings. This resort is on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.


This province is in the easternmost region of China, running parallel to the Yangtze River and bordering the Huanghai Sea. Nanjing is the province’s capital.

The province’s climate borders on a temperate and subtropical zone. Winters are the coldest in January and summers are the warmest in July. Jiangsu can receive anywhere from 800 to 1,200 millimetres of rain—precipitation is the greatest during summer months.

Local products are plentiful in the Jiangsu province—and yes, there’s lots of local cuisine to be had. Fish, chicken, seafood, and liquors are in every locality, and some of these staples are found in meals, including pork meat patties and broken bone fish’s head.


Classical Gardens of Suzhou: These nine eleventh- to nineteenth-century gardens are on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. They recreate miniature natural landscapes and reflect the importance of natural beauty. Visitors can find residential zones among the gardens.

Xiaoling Mausoleum of Ming Dynasty: One of China’s biggest imperial tombs located in the easternmost zone of Nanjing. The mausoleum’s key feature is the Sacred Way, a long path stretching 1,800 metres. You can see many animal sculptures like lions and elephants. Visitors can also see columns carved with dragons. Scenic sculptures also greet visitors. Like the gardens in Suzhou, the Xiaoling Mausoleum of Ming Dynasty is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Zhouzhuang Water Town: What makes this attraction so popular? Look around you and you’ll see many old buildings and bridges, crafts, and of course, lots of water. This water town is an hour and half away from Shanghai and Suzhou. Tourists should ideally visit this attraction in the spring (April/May) and fall (September/October). While you’re visiting, you can drop by local shops and marvel at traditional Chinese culture.


This city, which literally means “above the sea,” is an international port metropolis renowned for its economic, financial, cultural, scientific, and technological industries.

Many cultures converge in this eastern China city: modern and traditional, oriental and western. The mix of cultures isn’t new to Shanghai. Following the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, inhabitants from western and eastern Europe flocked to the port city to open businesses and build houses and mansions. Like many other destinations in China, many European architectural wonders await when travellers set foot in this city.


The Bund: A well-known waterfront in Shanghai. Located on the west bank of Huangpu River, the Bund flows from the Waibaidu Bridge to Nanpu Bridge (length of 1,500 metres). You can find twenty-six architectural sites on the Bund’s westernmost end. Architectural styles range from Gothic to Renaissance. If you’re a night owl, you should stop by the Bund, for you’ll see colourful lights shining in the river and flashing on the farthest side of the river. This attraction was named the “Shanghai Top Ten Night Light Views” in 2009.

Nanjing Road: Hear ye, hear ye, shoppers and foodies! Looking for major brands, new fashions, great foods, open bars? This is the place to be. You’ll see many upscale stores such as Tiffany and Dunhill. Is traditional shopping your cup of tea? You can still drop by a number of specialty shops and traditional stores featuring silk products and embroidery, not to mention clocks, jade, and wool. If you prefer evening strolls, why not have a pint of your favourite beverage and listen to music by street performers? There’s much to see and do along this 5.5.-kilometre route that stretches from the Bund in the east to Jing’an Temple in the west.


This is one of China’s eastern provinces. Its capital is Hangzhou. Nestled along the East China Sea, Zhejiang will charm you with its numerous islands, gardens, and landmarks such as the five-storey Leifeng Pagoda.

Take a moment to look around you when you arrive in Zhejiang. You’ll notice that most areas are hilly, though you will definitely encounter valleys, plains, and islands along the province’s coastlines.

The province has four seasons with different climates: Spring is generally rainy, especially in March. Summers are long, hot, humid, and wet. (Heads-up: The typhoon threat is considerable in late August due to great accumulations of rain.) In contrast, the fall is dry, warm, and sunny. With the exception of the far south, winters are short but cold. Average temperatures range between 15°C and 19°C. Depending on the seasons, however, temperatures vary slightly. For instance, they hover between 2°C and 8°C in January and 27°C to 30°C in July.


Baoguo Temple: A Buddhist temple, and the oldest surviving wooden structure. This attraction houses various exhibitions: statues, bronzes, Ningbo furniture, carved stone screens, to name but a few. Admission: 20 CNY ($3.97 CAD) per person. Be prepared to pay an extra fee if you want services by a tour guide.

Yandangshan: Mountains galore! This area has a northern and southern zone. You will find the highest peaks in North Yandang. This is where you’ll find Mount Yandang, an area known for its vertical rock faces and pinnacles, mountain slopes and its lush forests and bamboo groves, and streams filled with clear water, waterfalls, and caves. You’ll come across several shrines and temples as well.

Qiandao Lake: Akin to the Thousand Islands region located between Kingston and Cornwall, Ontario (1,078 islands on the lake and other thousands scattered about). Bird Island, Snake Island, and Monkey Island are some of the many islands you’ll visit. Did you know that Qiandao Lake is used to produce mineral water?


A southeastern province reputed for its mountainous and coastal cities. Rivers are plentiful, and are considered important because they were used as transportation routes for centuries. Fujian faces Taiwan (further east). It’s south of Zhejiang, west of Jiangxi, and north of Guangdong. Its capital is Fuzhou.

Fujian’s climate is semitropical along the coastlines (hot in summer, cool in winter). It’s cool between November and February, warm from March to May, and hot between June and October. Like Zhejiang, a risk of typhoons is great during monsoon season (expect between 1,270 and 2,030 millimetres of rain along the coast and in western mountainous areas). Average temperatures range from 11°C to 29°C.


Sānfāng Qīxian: This architectural site, located in the downtown core, is a set of ancient buildings coined “Three Lanes and Seven Paths.” The site was first built during the Jin Dynasty (around the twelfth century). Meander through the white-walled streets, shop at one of many local stores, or take a coffee along the canal.

Wŭyí Shān Scenic Area: Enter this area via Wŭyí Gōng, approximately 200 metres south of the Wŭyí Mountain Villa. Trails contained in this area connect with major sites. Are you up to walking a lot? Stroll along the 530-metre Great King Peak (via main entrance), or try walking along the 410-metre Heavenly Tour Peak (enter via Nine Twists River). If you plan to take the Great King Peak, walk with appropriate shoes, for trails may be slippery and wet.

Ānxī Cháyè Dàguānyuán: Would you like a cup of tea? The mountainous Ānxī County is known for its Iron Buddha tea. It is characterized by a thick fragrance and floral sweetness. This tea farm produces roughly fifty tea brands from China, Japan, and Taiwan. While you’re on site, take a free tour of the small museum and processing plant. 


Guangzhou: Gateway to the Silk Road. Of all the Chinese harbours, Guangzhou was the largest, and the only one to make connections to foreign countries. It also had historical significance: Three voyage routes originated from Guangzhou. In addition, in 1784, the American vessel Empress of China sailed to this city, which led to the first transportation route between the United States and China, and eventually giving way to trade.

On the cultural scene, most associate Guangdong with cuisine and music. This is considered the birthplace of what westerners call “Chinese food” (Cantonese food). Grab the authentic taste of sweet and sour pork, wonton soup, and dim-sum. The food is plentiful, delicious, and inexpensive, and few travellers can leave this city hungry.


Mount Danxia: Bring a camera and be dazzled by plenty scenic, mountainous sites. You’ll also see a number of temples scattered about. A river winds through the mountains, allowing visitors to ride a boat during their stay. This site is on the 2010 UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

Seven Star Crags: Find most crags around Star Lake. The lake has five distinct sections, and has small land and walkway strips. Like many attractions in China, there’s no shortage of Buddhist and Taoist sculptures around the lake. While you’re here, why not check out the many fantastic caves?

Chen Clan Ancestral Hall: A magnificently preserved example of nineteenth-century architecture. It was the ancestral shrine of a wealthy family, and now is a museum with many items and articles, including ivory sculptures and artistic statues.

Today, visitors can see more than twenty attractions along the Silk Road. Some of them include the Temple of God of South Sea, Huaisheng Mosque, the Temple of Bright Filial Piety, the Muslim Sage’s Tomb, Hualin Temple, and Lotus Tower. Like many countries, the Silk Road is showered with European architecture, especially when tourists set foot in Shameen.


An autonomous region in southern China bordering Vietnam. Its capital is Nanning. Guangxi’s climate is subtropical, just like many other localities in the country (long, hot summers).

Parts of this autonomous region are mountainous, especially areas in China’s northeast, north, centre, and southeast sectors. Guangxi is known for its many rivers that cut through mountains, forming what we know as the West River.

A few cultural notes:
Guangxi and Guangdong mean “Western and Eastern Expanse.” Traditionally, Guangxi has had a close connection with Cantonese culture and language. These influences are noticeable in the easternmost areas of the region.

Three varieties of Chinese are spoken in Nanning: Southwestern Mandarin, Yue, and Pinghua.

Lijiang River: The eighty-three-kilometre green river flows from Piled Festoon Hill to Bilian Peak in Yangzhou. Marvel at the steep peaks, luxuriant flowers, and green hills that reflect in the blue water.

Reed Flute Cave: This attraction, located five kilometres west of Guilin, got its name from verdant reeds that grew outside the cave (flutes are made with this type of reed). Walk inside this water cave and explore many stalactites, stone pillars, and rock formations. Don’t expect to see complete darkness: You’ll be greeted with many coloured lights as you tour the site.

West Street: This ancient street is found in the heart of Yangshuo County. It has been the centre of eastern and western cultures since the 1980s. Walk along the marbled streets and enjoy the simple styles and courtyard-like settings. While you’re here, have a coffee on a patio, purchase a number of souvenirs, or take a bite into local cuisine (the beer fish dish is worth a try).


This is China’s smallest and southernmost province. Hainan Island is the main island. Its capital is Haikou. Aside from islands, Hainan boasts of many rivers and lakes, including the Wanning and Changhua Rivers. Unlike other areas of China, natural rivers are few in number in this southernmost area.

Hainan’s climate ranges from subtropical to tropical. Haikou’s climate is subtropical, as are other areas in northern Hainan. The farther south you travel, however, the climate is more tropical (warmer temperatures are the norm). Winter temperatures range from 16°C to 21°C; summer temperatures are between 25°C to 29°C. As tourists would expect, summers are hot. This is particularly true in northern areas of Hainan.

A few notes about local cuisine:

Dig in on seafood! Chefs prepare many meals with shrimp, lobster, crab, and other sea life creatures.
Wenchang chicken: a drier meat with lots of texture.
Hainan chicken rice: a dish with rice marinated in chicken soup.


Five Officials Temple: Built in honour of the five Tang (618–907 AD) and Song dynasty officials (960–1279). This site is southeast of Haikou. The temple complex has many buildings, including the Guanjia Hall, Xuepu Hall, East and West Hall, and the Ancestral Hall of the Two Fubo Generals.

Yangpu Ancient Salt Field: An archaeological heritage site in Yantian Village. See more than one thousand stones that evaporate seawater to produce salt (stones are cut on top). Stones are equipped with a thin rim to contain water.

Yanoda: A rainforest located near Sanya. The Chinese government has reserved forty-five square kilometres for the Cultural Tourist Zone, while the rest of the rainforest (123 square kilometres) is fully protected. China’s tourism department has rated this attraction AAAAA, the highest rating on the country’s rate scale.



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