Cultural Interactions

China prides itself on its history of five millennia of continuous civilization. Its abundance of natural resources and geographic barriers led it to exist in relative isolation for thousands of years, allowing a distinctive culture to develop. However, Chinese history is also filled with interactions with other cultures that contributed to creating the China we know today. Court support for international trade can be traced to the Han dynasty, if not before. Located in northwest China, Chang’an (modern Xi’an) served as the gateway to the so-called Silk Road, overland trade routes that linked the empire with Central, West, and South Asia. Traders and artisans traveled back and forth along the Silk Road, taking ideas and products with them. Chinese rulers supported international trade with Japan and Korea, Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, and the Indian subcontinent as well as the Islamic world and Europe. These exchanges helped shape the development of Chinese politics, religion, language, music, clothing styles, art, and many other aspects of life. Today, China is at the center of global trade, yet it retains its distinctive cultural history and identity.

Key Points

  • Chinese art reflects a multitude of outside influences on the country, and trade was central to the interactions of peoples and the diffusion of ideas.
  • China both imported and exported artistic products and technological innovations.
  • What constituted “China” both culturally and geographically changed throughout its history. The current borders of China were formed through Qing dynasty conquests of surrounding peoples.
  • There is not one China, but many Chinas, since it is a vast country that encompasses a variety of languages, religions, and ethnic groups. China today includes a number of ethnic minority peoples who contribute to its national identity.