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Life along the Silk Road: 13 Stories during the Great Era

The ancient Silk Road is best known as a vital trade route and cultural bridge between the East and the West that connected China to numerous parts of the world.

The Exhibition

“Life along the Silk Road: 13 Stories during the Great Era” is an exhibition held by the China National Silk Museum, Hang Zhou, that opens from 21 June to 21 September 2019.

The exhibition narrates a comprehensive story of the Silk Roads by introducing 13 identities and true stories of their daily lives along the Silk Road. The Great Era of peace, cooperation, openness, and inclusiveness is illustrated alongside the characteristics of different periods from a variety of perspectives at different times and different cultures.

The exhibition is held in cooperation with the State Hermitage Museum, Russia, Institute of Archaeology of Xinjiang, Dunhuang Research Academy and many more museums, and supported by the National Cultural Heritage Administration of China, and the People's Government of Zhejiang Province.

International Curators’ Forum on the Silk Road

A two-day forum was organized to complement the exhibition from June 22nd to 23rd by China National Silk Museum, with the support of the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), the International Alliance of Museums of the Silk Road, the Committee of Museums along the Silk Road, and the International Association for the Study of Silk Road Textiles.

25 experts from institutions all over the world who have previously curated exhibitions on topic related to Silk Road are invited to speak on topics such as the Oasis and Steppe Silk Road, the Maritime Silk Road and the Silk Road in China. They also shared their experiences in conducting exhibitions on the topic of the Silk Roads as well as their future activities and projects on this theme. The Hangzhou consensus to promote cooperation and exchanges in the field of Silk Roads cultural heritage, and to set the International Silk Roads Day, was also issued and officially proposed during the forum.

Life along the Silk Road: 13 Stories during the Great Era is at the China National Silk Museum, from 21 June to 21 September 2019.


1. Mehrdad Shabahang (UNESCO Silk Road Online Platform), Opening Speech

Mehrdad Shabahang delivered the opening remarks to begin the event. He also introduced the UNESCO Silk Road Online Platform to the audience by first illustrating the relationship between UNESCO and other institutions as a database platform for sharing information regarding cultural heritage on the Silk Road with stakeholders from all over the world. He also described it as a tool to facilitate collaboration between experts and institutions for research. Secondly, Shabhang highlighted how UNESCO Silk Road Online Platform acts an an interactive atlas of cultural interactions along the Silk Road by grouping information into six main themes: science and technology, traditional know-how and craftsmanship; religion and spirituality; languages and literature; arts and music; traditional sports & games.

This is an online platform that UNESCO launched in 2013. [...] It aims to promote and disseminate the knowledge on the shared cultural heritage of the Silk Roads that has been developed by different stakeholders in different countries around the world. —— Mehrdad Shabahang, Project Officer, UNESCO Silk Road Online Platform

2. Kidong Bae (National Museum of Korea), "Silks in Museums on Silk Roads"

"Silks in Museums on Silk Roads: A Vision for Intercultural Understanding and Prosperity of Humankind"

Kidong Bae began his speech by explaining how silk is a symbol of civilisation and connection between different cultures. To illustrate the fact that various great innovations and globalisation started on the Silk Road, he showed the audience pictures of artifacts and items of Near Eastern Elements in Gyougju, ancient Silla such as glassware in Gyoungju from West Persian Sasanina and Rome. Bae also talks about the Far Eastern Silk Road on sea and land beyond China and how it ties into Korean history through introduction of mountain fortresses, stories of monks as well as charms and rituals for safe journeys.

To reflect on the connection between the history of the Silk Road and the modern world, Bae also introduced a few iconic exhibitions that were held at the National Museum of Korea, for example “Special Exhibition of Goryeo: An Era of Prosperity, Goryeo Dynasty in the Far Eastern Silk Road“ and “Shinan Shipwreck Symbolic Treasure of the Far Eastern Silkroad on Sea“. To conclude, Bae proposed the prospect of the future for the Silk Road, and urges museums to collaborate more often in order to connect people with the heritage of the Silk Road.

Silk is very beautiful, smooth and very to appreciate as a thing everyone should have. Now you can see beautiful silk here in this museum. But for the Silk Road, there were many deaths and trials [for those who needed] to survive. [This shows that the] Silk Road is tough. [...] Silk in ancient times is also an expression of the desire for prosperity [...]. At the same time, what we can learn from the Silk Road is friendship and [social] network… —— Kidong Bae, Director-General, National Museum of Korea

3. Helen Wang (British Museum), "Silk Road Exhibitions Around the World"

In 1877, Ferdinand von Richthofen spoke for the first time about The Silk Road. And the idea was to describe the trade and communication network across Eurasia. [...] In 1866, the Transatlantic Telegraph, in the words of Arthur C. Clarke the science fiction novelist, was the equivalent of the Apollo space project. [...] Think of the man on the moon and the silk road at the same time… —— Helen Wang, Curator of Coins and Medals, British Museum

4. Feng Zhao (China National Silk Museum), "The Silk Road Exhibitions in the MET"

I would like to focus on something different from [the other two speeches]. [...]The Silk Road has two main keywords, "silk" and "road". For our museum, we mainly start from "silk", although other people may pay more attention to "road". [In fact,] the MET did not use the Silk Road name, but [focused on] the Silk Road especially during the period of James Watt, who was in charge of the Asian Art department of the MET. —— Feng Zhao, China National Silk Museum

5. John E. Vollmer (Royal Ontario Museum), "Exhibition about art made for export"

"What do we want to accomplish when we mount an exhibition about art made for export?"

Two exhibitions that I worked on [...] were developed in Canada for Canadian audiences. As you'll see as I go forward the issue of what we want to accomplish actually always deals with the visitor. I led the team that developed Silk Roads China Ships for the Royal Ontario Museum in 1983. I also served as project manager for the design and installation of The Lost Dhow, which was a loan exhibition from Singapore's Asian Civilisations Museum [and] part of the opening festivities at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto in 2014. —— John E. Vollmer, Curator, Royal Ontario Museum

6. Judith Lerner on behalf of Annette Juliano (Asia Society)

"Narrative Strategies for Organizing Silk Road Exhibition"

This presentation concerns strategies used in the making of two Silk Road Exhibitions, in particular Monks and Merchants, which opened in 2001. [...] The inspiration is a whole process, as those of you may know, who have developed exhibitions. There is the inspiration and germination. —— Judith Lerner, Asia Society

7. Judith Lerner (New York University), "The Sogdians: Influencers on the Silk Roads"

I am very pleased to present this. Our online exhibition on the Sogdians, which is the first actual as well as digital exhibition to be devoted to the Central Asian Iranian people, who served as the so called middle men in the circulation of people and commodities as well as religious and artistic ideas along the Silk Roads during the fifth into the eighth centuries. —— Judith Lerner, Asia Society

8. Hsueh-man Shen (New York University Institution of Fine Arts), Curation as Mediation: How and Why

My talk today is really about the role played by curators in Silk Road exhibitions and using the two Silk Road exhibitions that I have organised in the past as examples. —— Hsueh-man Shen, Associate Professor, New York University Institution of Fine Arts

9. Nathalie Monnet (La bibliothèque nationale de France), "Diversity in the Dunhuang Trove"

"Diversity in the Dunhuang Trove Brings the Silk Road to Life"

[...] Silk Road artifacts have been my daily companion for three decades and I have made a few exhibitions of Dunhuang documents in Paris. [...] In 1910 the Dunhuang collection was divided between two institutions. Most paintings were sent to the Louvre and are now in [...] the main museum of Asian Art in Paris. The manuscript were deposited at the French National Library, or to say it in a more textile oriented way, all paintings on silk and hemp went to the Grevin Museum, while all the writings , sketches and drawings of people [...] remained at the library. —— Nathalie Monet, La bibliothèque nationale de France

10. Maria Menshikova (Hermitage Amsterdam), "The Silk Road: Masterpieces of the Hermitage"

Every time we are thinking of an exhibition, we speak of the same question. Everyone of us. We are facing the people and we have to answer to their interest and expectations. We have to answer and explain to them what why how and so on and so forth. —— Maria Menshikova, Curator, Hermitage Amsterdam

11. Sakae Naito (Nara Prefectural Museum of Art), "Shosoin Exhibition and the Silk Road Culture"

The Shosoin was built as a repository for the temporal Todaiji in the 8the Century. [...] Todaiji is a large temple complex in the city of Nara that was established by Emperor Shomu. [...] The name of Shosoin became world-known because it contains numerous treasures from the 8th century. Today, over nine thousand objects remain. —— Sakae Naito, Director and chief curator, Nara Prefectural Museum of Art

12. Kunwoo Kang (National Museum of Korea), "Commemorating Kazakhstan, a special exhibition"

"Commemorating Kazakhstan, the Cradleland of the Golden Man, a special exhibition in National Museum of Korea"

The National Museum of Korea held a special exhibition: Kazakhstan, the Cradleland of the "Golden Man" [with the cooperation] of the Republic of Kazakhstan. In this exhibition, we focus on the great steps civilization over Kazakhstan and the cultural heritage of the nation who continuously switch between the settlements of migration. —— Kunwoo Kang, Curator, National Museum of Korea

13. Stephen Murphy (Asian Civilization Museum), "Curating Maritime Silk Routes"

Today I am going to talk about the Tang Shipwreck Gallery. It's also known as the Belitung Wreck. [...] Actually I realised that compared to all the other talks I think this one of the differences here is that this is actually a permanent gallery [...] of the Silk Road. [...] This is more of a ceramic route. We use the term silk route because it's catchy [....]. But what's being shipped by sea is mainly ceramics. —— Stephen Murphy, Senior curator, Asian Civilization Museum

14. Mawaddatul Khusna Rizqika (National Museum of Indonesia), Color of Uniqueness: An Understanding

In this opportunity, I would like to present about temporary exhibitions related to the Silk Road in the context of Indonesia as multicultural nation. Firstly I would like to explain about Museum National Indonesia… —— Mawaddatul Khusna Rizqika, National Museum of Indonesia

15. Aisara Kainazarova (National Museum of Kazakhastan), Hall of Gold at the Museum and the Gold Man

Gold jewellery of Scythian-Saki culture is renowned throughout the world. Imagination is staggered by rich burials of Saki chiefs in royal burial mounds. On display there are gold products covering the time period from the Bronze Age to the Golden Horde. The main part consists of gold ware from the Saki archaeological finds. —— Aisara Kainazarova, National Museum of Kazakhastan

16. Mayel Aqa Karimy (National Museum of Afghanistan), Mes Aynak recent excavation

Before going on to speak about the exhibitions, it will be good to briefly talk about the mystery of the National Museum of Afghanistan because it's unique. I think it's not happening to other museums and in [other] countries and after that we go through to the sides. —— Mayel Aqa Karimy, National Museum of Afghanistan

17. (in Chinese) Yueying Shan (National Museum of China), Memories of Thousand-year Silk Road

"The China Memories of Thousand-year Silk Road: The Curation of Silk Road Exhibition in National Museum of China"


Today I would like to share and communicate with everyone the strategies the National Museum of China has used for the curation of the Silk Road Exhibition. —— Yueying Shan, National Museum of China

18. (in Chinese) Jianwei Jia (Gansu Provincial Museum), "Dialogue and Communication"

"Dialogue and Communication: The Practice and Exploration for Silk Road Themed Exhibition Series"

「我們 [甘肅省博物館] 來自甘肅。大家都知道,甘肅是大西北,而且它是出在絲綢之路的一個重要路段。絲綢之路在甘肅經歷了有2600多公里,所以他遺留了大量證明東西文化交流的文物。」

[Gansu Provincial Museum] is from Gansu. As you all may know, Gansu is from the Northwest. It is one of the most important parts of the Silk Road. Around 2600km of the Silk Road runs through Gansu, therefore leaving behind countless archeological artifacts that are proof of Eastern and Western cultural exchanges. —— Jianwei Jia, Director, Gansu Provincial Museum

19. (in Chinese) Jun Wei (Guangdong Museum), Silk Road on Guangdong Sea "Silk Road on Guangdong Sea: the Maritime Silk Road Exhibition of Guangdong Museum"


What I would like to share with everyone today is that the many Maritime Silk Road exhibitions the Guangdong Museum have organised over the years. This speech will be divided into four main parts… —— Jun Wei, Director, Guangdong Museum

20. (in Chinese) Shuliang Chen (Hunan Museum), "Research to Application, Academic to Arts"

"Research to Application, Academic to Arts: The curation of 'Seeking Hometown at the Furthest Place' Exhibition in Hunan Museum"


“Seeking Hometown at the Furthest Place” is an exhibition the Hunan Museum prepared for the opening of the new museum. It is an original exhibition that has taken three years' time to organise. This exhibition is a careful selection of over two hundred artifacts from all over the world. —— Shuliang Chen, Hunan Museum

21. (in Chinese) Bing Wang (Tang West Market Museum), Practice and Thoughts of Curating


We will not simply tell the story of the Silk Road. We will pass on the spirit of the Silk Road at the same time. Especially under this grand, creative idea, we as curators of museums, we ask the question of how to tell the story of the Silk Road. We need to make use of our exhibits to do so. —— Bing Wang, Director General, Tang West Market Museum

22. (in Chinese) Min Mao (China Maritime Museum), When Nautical Science Meets the Museum

When Nautical Science Meets the Museum: the Exploration of “Ancient Chinese Nautical Science” Exhibition.


As most people may know, since our country suggested the grand creative ideas in 2013, museums have responded to it by organising exhibitions related to the Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road. It can be said that these exhibitions have created a wonderful cultural atmosphere. My speech today will be focused on the Maritime Silk Road, especially the technology involved there. —— Min Mao, China Maritime Museum

23.(in Chinese) Yang Zhou (China National Silk Museum), Ancient Paths with New Understanding

"Ancient Paths with New Understanding: The Silk Road Exhibition under the Perspective of Cultural Relic Science China National Silk Museum"


In 2017, we [China National Silk Museum] participated in the “Top 10 Objects from Museums”. We received a winning prize instead of a gold prize. Nevertheless, I was quite pleased and satisfied as Cultural Relics and Museums — an influential organisation, spoke of our exhibition. At the same time, they included it into the “Top 10 Objects from Museums”, here is what it had commented: “In nowadays, where the category of Silk Road exhibitions is well received, “New Knowledge on Ancient Roads” broke the boundaries of traditional exhibitions and rearranged their characteristics to result in a stunning effect. This gave the exhibition a story, attractiveness and a touch of science, which made it very novel. This exactly shows the fundamental way of developing a museum by relying on the usual academic, professional and scientific qualities of Silk Road exhibitions.” (When I heard this, It seems that I have found my bosom friend. —— Yang Zhou, China National Silk Museum

  • About the exhibition, buddhism, Mesopotamia, Ancient Miditerrian Sea, Greek and Rome civilization

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