With its origins in the Han Dynasty (207 BC-220 AD), the Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes that extended from China, across Central Asia, as far as Europe.
Historically, the Silk Road was a key link between China and the West. Along with it, not only goods but also ideas were exchanged between the two great civilizations of Rome and China.
However, a trip along the ancient Silk Road was never a romantic journey as the name suggests. While traveling thousands of kilometers, merchants had to contend with extreme climates and terrains as they had to cross snow-capped mountains and vast deserts, among other hardships.
Due to such hardships, it was rare for anyone to undertake the entire journey. Instead, goods would usually be carried by teams of caravans, working in relays.
Time flies, today, the camel caravans have been replaced by trains.
And goods are being shipped at a pace that the ancient merchants could never have imagined.
Two thousand years ago, it would take a year for merchandise to be transported between China and Europe. But today, consumer goods from China can reach London in just 14 days, thanks to the Silk Railroad — an international freight railway network that connects China to cities across Europe.
A key stop on this network is Yiwu, in East China’s Zhejiang province. Today, the city is one of China’s leading trade hubs.
Until recently, Europe bound goods from Yiwu would take two hours by the road just to reach the nearest seaport in China, followed by a two-month journey across the ocean. Today, Yiwu is thriving, thanks to a direct overland rail connection to Europe — the Silk Railroad.
One of the destinations is Madrid. The 10,000- kilometer journey from Yiwu, across Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France and into Spain, takes 16 days, compared to the six-week journey-time by sea.
The trains, when they return, carry cargoes that include fine Spanish wines and other luxury items that are finding a growing market in China.
The Yiwu-Madrid line and other rail routes that are being established are carrying trade between China and Europe into a new era of connectivity.