The First Contact Between Rome and China

After Chang Ch'ien's trip to the west, the regular traffic began along the Silk Road, on which goods - above all China's silk - were carried across Asia, finally reaching the Roman Empire. Passing through land controlled by the Chinese, the Kushans, the Parthians, and the Romans, the goods were transferred from the caravans of one people to those of another, so that no single individual normally made the entire journey.

As a result, neither the Roman nor the Chinese knew much about the other, and although the Romans loved silk, they asserted that the material grew on tree. By the second half of the 1st century, the Han's general Pan Chao stabilized the Tarim basin region and chased out the Xiongnu who fought to control the trade route in the area. In 97 he decided to directly contact Da Chi'en (Roman Empire) by sending an ambassdor, Kan Ying, to Rome. Therefore Kan Ying set off to the west along the Silk Road with elaborate gifts. He got as far as Mesopotamia. He intended to take ship for Rome but when he was told that the journey would take up to two years, he gave up and returned home. The unfortunate Kan Ying was misinformed about the time by the Parthians, who feared any contact between China and Rome might interfere with their profitable role as middlemen.

The first direct contact between Rome and China didn't happen until the second century after Rome Empire defeated Parthia and controlled the Persian Gulf. In 166 the first Roman envoy was sent by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, from the Persian Gulf and successfully arrived China.

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