For thousands of years, the fabled Silk Road, as travelled by Marco Polo, was the link between the people of Europe and the vast riches of mysterious China. Spanning the deserts, grasslands, and seas between Istanbul and the major cities of China, the Silk Road witnessed an ongoing parade of goods and traders, carrying with them their art, religion, and culture. The impact of the Silk Road is immeasurable - giants such as Alexander the Great and tyrants such as Genghis Khan created our world's history while striding along its path! Now, the Silk Road comes alive, in all its glorious colours, sounds, and historical drama, in an unparalleled documentary achievement. The first co-production of China Central TV and the outside world, this series was ten years in the making, and produced at a cost exceeding 50 million. The entrancing soundtrack made the composer/performer Kitaro a worldwide star, and has sold millions of records to date. Silk Road has been aired to huge critical acclaim in over 25 countries, and remains to this day the highest rated documentary series in Japan's television history.
Glories of Ancient Chang-An
In Glories of Ancient Chang-an you will visit modern day Xi-an, formerly Chang-an, thie starting point of the Silk Road and the world's largest city when it was the capital of Tan Dynasty China in the seventh century. You will see the incredible Clay Army of Emperor Oin Huang Di, who united China and buit the Great Wall. Buried for almost 2,000 years, the unearthing of the Clay Army was an archeological triumph-and the Silk Road crew were the first foreigners allowed to photograph it. You will thrill to the sculptures of Emperor Gaozong's tomb-the world's largest-50 miles west of Xi-an. You will enter China s most hallowed Buddhist temple, climb the Great Wall, and examine the hidden underground murals of Princess Yong-tai.
A Thousand Kilometers Beyond the Yellow River
In A Thousand Kilometers Beyond the Yellow River, you will leave Xi-an
and cross the Yellow River on a goat-skin raft. You will gaze in awe at the giant Buddha at Bing-li-si, and enter the secret caves, never before filmed by a television crew. You will traverse the forbidding He-xi Corridor, a long and narrow defile between the Oi-lian Mountains and the Gobi Desert. This former battleground of the Huns was bitterly conquered by the Chinese for its real treasure-the Heavenly Western Horses which gave the Huns their fearsome military power. You will stroll the streets of the citadel town of Zhang-ye, and visit the Nie-pan Buddha, already two hundred years old when Marco Polo lived here in the fourteenth century.
The Art Gallery in the Desert
In The Art Gallery in the Desert, you will tour the world-famous Ma-gao Caves at Dun-Huang-over 500 caves, more than 30 miles in length, with 3,000 murals and statues-in the middle of the Gobi Desertt Dating from 366 AD, and encompassing the art styles of Greece, India and the many dynasties of China. these caves hand-tunnelled into the Mingsha Mountains are a tour-deforce of religious art, They exemplify man's striving to create a legacy of his accomplishments and beliefs. Art scholars dream of visiting these caves-now you will examine the priceless treasures yourself, and know why!
The Dark Castle
In The Dark Castle, you will encounter the ghost castle of Khara-khoto, 250 miles from the oasis of Jiu-chang, near the Qilian Mountains in the Gobi Desert. This legendary lost city was obliterated from the face of the Earth by Genghis Khan, who exterminated the Tangut people who built it. Buried by the Gobi sands, it was unearthed by the Russian explorer Koslov, who took its artworks to the Hermitage. The castle has stood unentered for fifty years, since the locals refuse to enter the cursed grounds. YoLi will embark on a Mongol camel journey from Narnborg, traverse the desert, and enter the castle gates-alone!
In Search of the Kingdom of Lou-Lan
In In Search of the Kingdom of Lou-Ian, you will learn of the lost kingdom of LoLi-lan, which vanished into the sands of the desert when the nearby lake Lop Nor moved away! You will join the first journey in halt a century to seek Lou-Ian from Yan-guan on the eastern tip of the Taklamakan Desert, 1,200 miles west of Xi-an, in a secure military zone normally forbidden to visitors. You will find relics of the Silk Road trade over a millenium ago, and you will be the first to unearth a mummy from a grave hidden for more than 2,000 years!
Across the Taklamakan Desert
In Across the Takiamakan Desert, yoo will be the first foreign visitors in over seventy-five years to the ancient Buddhist city of Miran, southwest of the legendary kingdom of Lou-Ian. You will meet the Uighurs of the oasis town of Cherchen, near the Kun-lun molintains, and then attempt to cross the Taklarnakan Desert, which means "The place from which nothing living returns"' After losing your way in the 120 degree heat, you will stumble into the ruins of Niya, and then attempt a night escape across the desert to safety!
Khotan-Oasis of Silk and Jade
A camel caravan brings big chunks of jade down from the Kun-Lun Mountains south of the Taklamakan Desert. Comments on religious significance of jade in China; picture of spectacular suit of jade armor from a tomb. People searching for jade in a river; then the jade market in town. The silk industry--weaving and spinning. The famous tale of the "Silk Princess" who smuggled silkworms out of China and is depicted in one of paintings discovered by the archaeologist Aurel Stein. Expedition searches for that site in the desert (Dandan Oilik) but fails to locate it. Scenes of typical Uighur market day in Khotan, but Japanese film crew play the foolish tourists. A silk dance, with the female dancers carrying plates of cocoons. Visit to the local ice house in the heat of mid-summer. Some rather silly dialogue (When did you get the ice? In January? Oh, you mean in winter!) and a remarkable assertion that Uighurs have little furniture in their houses today because once (hundreds of years ago!) they were nomads. Other somewhat demeaning comments on Uighurs. Mosque scene with some 5000 worshippers on Friday--China as a bastion of freedom of religion today. A little about history of Khotan as a Buddhist center before the arrival of Islam in tenth century. Visits there by Xuanzang, the 7th century pilgrim, and by Marco Polo in the thirteenth century.
A Heat Wave Called Turfan
Mud lake below sea level, excessive heat in summer with people sleeping in open air on roofs. Spectacular ruins of city of Gaochang (Kocho) with a fair amount on history and culture and some pictures of important artifacts including Manichaean and Nestorian paintings. Emphasis on cosmopolitan nature of the town. Impressive T'ang era fortress of Jiaohe (Yarkhoto) on a large plateau, but minimal comment on its history. Importance of grape harvest and raisins to the local economy; shows process of drying the raisins. The important Bezeklik Buddhist caves in nearby mountains, but talks as much about destruction by locals and foreign archaeologists as it does about content of paintings. One painting shows supposedly foreign ambassadors from more than a millenium ago. Interesting footage of the karez underground irrigation system including a walk through the channels. Overall, a lot of useful material in this film.
Through the Tian Shan Mountains by Rail
The 470 km. trip from Turfan to Korla, starting in the Gobi region, crossing the eastern Tien Shan and down into the northern Tarim Basin oases. Travel was at time railroad just completed (ca. 1980); much of footage and narrative is a paean to the benefits the railroad would bring to the indigenous peoples. Apart from lots of photos of the steam locomotive passing through sometimes stark landscape, also some good camel shots, since several taken along for the expedition to test how difficult camel travel over the mountain passes would have been for historic Silk Road travelers. Some interesting shots of T'ang era fortifications, especially at Iargo (?). Construction technique not packed earth layering but layering of rounded boulders with reed mats. Brief section on some 2500-year-old burials of nomads, with some elegant gold animal-style artifacts. Notes that even in 400 B.C. area had active E-W exchange. Brief music/dance performance in front of yurt of local Torft (? Oirot?) nomads. Tragedy of their Kalmuck ancestors in 18th century alluded to but not properly explained. At Yanqi (Karashahr) oasis on Kaigdu River, notes population is Hui Muslims, but when Xuanzang passed through in 7th century it had been Buddhist. Brief glimpse of Shi Koshing Buddhist cave complex in ruins; a few of sculpted artifacts.
Journey into Music-South Through the Tian Shan Mountains
From marshy 800 sq. mile lake through what film calls the most formidable pass in the southern Tien-Shan and on to Kucha, some 300 km. west of the pass. Some discussion of how important and cosmopolitan it had been in earlier centuries. Donkey cart "busses." Flourishing market today ("abundance of consumer goods in recent years" with nylon blouses the rage, not silk). Emphasizes fame of Kucha for its fruit and its music. Music theme throughout this film is one of its strengths: Harvest and threshing scenes and their songs, a cradle song, harvest festival with mashrab music and various traditional instruments such as dop, dotar, asatar. A tray dance, a performance of a traditional love song by an elderly woman accompanying herself on the long-necked lute, a wedding scene and its music. Interspersed is effort of Expedition to determine whether any of the instruments today are similar to ones that had come to Japan in earlier centuries via Silk Road and Kucha. Historic artifacts and paintings brought to bear--a painted box showing an "orchestra" which had been excavated in Buddhist ruins of Subashi Castle in 1903; paintings in Qumtura and Kizyl caves. In former find a 4-stringed instrument depicted which is like the Japanese lute (biwa), Tocharian inscriptions and images with Western features. In Kizyl Caves, largest such complex after Mogao in Dunhuang, the "Music Cave" (no. 38) with many images of angels (apsaras) playing instruments. One has a 5-string lute, the unique example of which in Japan being one in the 8th-century collection of the Sho-so-in. It seems to have traveled from India, via the Tarim Basin, and then East. Xuanzang quoted about the superiority of the instrumental music of Kucha. This film has a great deal of interest.
Where Horses Fly Like the Wind
On the Kazakhs of the Northern Tien Shan (the narration notwithstanding, not to be confused with the Cossacks). Views of horses and sheep in mountain pastures. The oasis city of Hami, famous from early times for its melons. Interesting scene of salt production. At Hami, the "Silk Road" branches, one route going south of the Tien Shan to Turfan, Korla and Kucha; the other north to Lake Barkol. Han armies pursued Huns as far as Barkol. Interesting views of hospitality in a yurt, including ceremony of serving a sheep's head. Shows milking a mare, and discusses the importance of mare's milk in diet, but does not explain adequately processing of milk products. Interspersed with views of current nomadic life are historical references and quotations regarding the nomads from the early Chinese histories. Even in this region Han-era signal towers, which were manned by thousands of soldiers. Stress on fact that it was here the Han emperor sought the "heavenly horses" for his armies. Script errs in saying Chingis Khan led "Golden Horde" through here (Golden Horde is the common designation for the western part of the Mongol empire which came into being only after his death). Legend of Prince Mu meeting the Queen Mother of the West (Xi Wang Mu) in Tienshi Lake. Interesting footage of Kazakh wedding; several scenes with music. September market at L. Tsaidam when nomads begin to descend from their summer pastures. Stress on new prosperity, availability of manufactured goods, and ethnic diversity ("races"). Ends with problematic assertion that sedentary agriculturalists change, but way of life of nomads never does (=part of the "romance" of the Silk Road). The expedition unable to cross border into USSR near where Ili River enters Kazakhstan.
Two Roads to the Pamirs
3700 km. from Chang-an to Kashgar--in old days a full year's journey. Kashgar's main mosque and celebration of end of Ramadan with thousands in square; music and dancing (for men only)."Tomb of the Fragrant Concubine" (Abakh Khoja Mausoleum), burial place of 17th and 18th century Naqshbandi Sufi rulers; legend of the Kashgari woman Xiangfei, who met tragic fate as emperor's concubine. School for non-Chinese--cute kids identify their ethnic groups in rogues' gallery lineup. Bazaar and craftsmen--lathe run by hand bow; beaten copper pots, making jewelry, musical instruments--continuation of tradition of Kashgar as commercial center. Marco Polo quoted on city. Modern truck caravan trade over Karakorum Highway to Gilgit in Pakistan--barter exchange with silk, ceramics, tea, tools, thermoses from China in exchange for dried fruit, nuts, nylon scarves, medicines. Dancing entertainment. 1300-yr.-old Buddhist caves on outskirts of city, the oldest in Xinjiang (narrator mis-speaks--200-300 BCE), but all despoiled now. Drive toward Pakistan with scenic views, nomadic herders; scene of yak caravan crossing glacier to illustrate difficulty of mountain travel. Old fort at Tashkurgan; Ptolemy cited for report from Greek merchants about "Stone Tower" (the film does not mention it likely was not the one here...). Xuanzang passed through here. Tajiks of region; an interesting Tajik village wedding with dancing. Ends on Khunjerab Pass, 4943 m.