One land route of the grand Silk Road system links central China to Europe mainly through the vast regions of the Eurasian steppe, hence its name Steppe Silk Road.

According to environmental archeology, the regions on the Eurasian continent of latitudes between 40 and 50 degrees north of the equator, a long belt of steppe regions, were ideal for mankind’s east-west direction traffic. Just like the other Silk Road routes, the Steppe Silk Road consists of a whole network of land routes, which generally fall into two main lines. Both the southern and the northern lines connect the central China to the steppe, and thenceforward to the West. The southern line starts from Central China regions, follows the Hexi Corridor (Gansu Corridor) until Kumul, and turns northwest into the pasturelands north of the Tianshan Mountain Range to reach Central Asia, the Middle East, and East Europe. The northern line starts from Central China via a couple of routes passing the Great Wall to enter the Monglian Plateau first, runs westward through the Plateau, and following the pasturelands of south Russia and central Asia, passes the Aral Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea to reach East Europe.

Exchange of goods on the Steppe Silk Road arose from the division of labor between agrarian and nomadic civilizations. Major products of China’s inland areas included grain, linen, silk, textiles, handicraft, etc., while the pasture regions in the north produced livestock, fur, dairy products and meat, but lacked grain, textiles, and handicraft, etc. The mutually complimentary and dependent economic relationship between the steppe regions and central China areas was the very foundation of the Steppe Silk Road.

The Steppe Silk Road has been much more than a mere trade route between East and West. It is also a belt linking various cultures on the route, which conflicted and intermixed with each other. Various ethnic groups such as the Huns, the Turks, the Khitans, the Mongols, etc., were among the main actors along the Steppe Silk Road. Conflicts, marriage alliances, tributary friendly coexistence between them and the Chinese empire in the south alternated over history. Economy of nomadic tribes used to be greatly restricted by natural environment. Whenever natural disasters struck, they would be reduced to very unstable circumstances, and often ended up, in an effort to seek subsistence resources, waging a war against other ethnic groups, or with a grand migration of the whole tribe. The result of both war and migration was that cultures were carried by the tribes from one region to another.

China’s impact on the Eurasia continent and the world history alike was, to a considerable extent, realized by the Steppe Silk Road. Chinese inventions of dynamite, compass, and papermaking techniques were transmitted to Europe via the Steppe Silk Road. The wars between the Han Empire and the Huns, between the Tang Empire and the Turks, with the subsequent migrations of the defeated nomadic tribes to the west, and the Mongols’ Expedition of the West, have all profoundly impacted the course of world history.
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