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The 38th Parallel and the Silk Road

Wednesday, October 21 @ 5:30PM

Speaker: Valerie Hansen, Ph.D, Stanley Woodward Professor of History, Yale University

Today the 38th parallel runs along the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic of China. Historically, Silk Road travelers who chose to go south of the Taklamakan passed through this region on their way between China and points farther west, such as Samarkand, or to the south to India. This talk will focus on the experiences of Buddhist monk-pilgrims who visited the oases of Niya and Khotan between AD 300 and 1000 and of Sir Aurel Stein, the British-Hungarian explorer and archeologist who excavated multiple sites on the Southern Silk Road in the early twentieth century. The goal is to better understand the peoples of the region and their adaptations to the local environment.

Valerie Hansen teaches Chinese and world history at Yale, where she is professor of history. Having lived in China for six plus years, Valerie has visited at least 300 temples, climbed the Great Wall multiple times (once during a lightning storm), and posed next to the Terracotta Warriors eleven times. (All this in the company of her husband and three children).

Her most recent book, The Year 1000, argues that this period was a major turning point in the world’s cultural exchange. Other books include The Silk Road: A New History, The Open Empire: A History of China to 1800, Negotiating Daily Life in Traditional China, Changing Gods in Medieval China, 1127-1279, and Voyages in World History.

Map is from the British library