The Silkroad(s) is well known as a major trading hub, which covered most of China and stretched into Mongolia, through to Persia, Egypt, around India and in to the Mediterranean sea. The name ‘Silkroad’ was first coined by Ferdinand von Ricthofen a 19th century geographer, the term itself Seidenstraße was roughly translated to Silkroad. The Silkroad(s) were active from the Early Han Dynasty to roughly 1450 at least on the larger scale. The various borders and countries that were intertwined with Silkroad routes obviously led to a mixture of trade and culture, the cultural side of the trade brought scriptures of different religions, particularly Buddhism, which arguably was the biggest transmission and integration of religion in China and along the Silkroad(s), though Buddhism later became the prominent religion along the Silkroad(s) it was not the only major religion. The Silkroad(s) was a hub of religious practices from Confucianism and Daoism to Buddhism and Christianity. Though Christianity is largely dwarfed by the previous three religions it still existed.
Figure one : from google images
Confucianism was a religion practiced in the majority of China during the Han Dynasty, the practice of Confucianism can be argued as to its philosophical origins, which lay in astrology. Confucianism was a practice that essentially covered belief in the state and family or social harmony and was very much a belief in hierarchy and that loyalty to the ‘state’ is the way of peace in all under heaven, Confucianism was also concerned with the betterment of oneself through study. Though this is philosophical in its base, the fact that the hierarchy is divined by ‘Heaven’ gives it, its religious connotation. The end of the Han Dynasty led to a downfall in Confucius belief as many saw the corruption and wars that followed as a failing of the Confucius doctrine; this left a religious vacuum in which other religions would soon come to fill. Although Confucianism is often followed in a religious manner by the Chinese; arguments continue over whether it is a religion. Confucianism discusses elements of the afterlife and a view concerning Heaven, but it is relatively unconcerned with some spiritual matters often considered essential to religious thought, such as the nature of souls.
figure two and three : from google images
The decline of Confucianism as stated led to a vacuum in religion, with the terrible, wars and the constant changes in governance that followed the fall of the Han Dynasty (The Three Kingdoms Period). The outbreak of wars led to starvation, disease and overall chaos, with many having lost faith in the Confucian ways, many looked to other forms of practice and one in particular to gain prominence was Taoism (Daoism).Taoism, unlike Confucianism was much more involved with self-preservation, oneself to avoid sickness and achieve longevity on must balance the forces within oneself and ultimately believed in the possibility of eternal life. The Daoist belief was concerned with the harmony of the yin and yang and believed that all illness was due to the imbalance of the two forces. The theory of the yin and yang is that in the beginning there was “absolute nothing” which they called chaos or wu chi, the wu chi is represented in the Yin and yang symbol as the black outline which is completely blank. Originally a blank circle, the wu chi evolved itself into the “great absolute” which became known as ‘tai chi’ that is represented by the black half of the yin and yang symbol. Many people were suffering at this time and illness was everywhere, so the belief that sickness can be defeated by the new religion was quickly adopted by the people and Taoism became the largest religion in China at this time, it went all along the Silkroad until India and Europe, though it was adopted by only a few beyond China’s borders and practiced in very minute circles, it was nevertheless a major religion.
figure four and Five : google images
Buddhism, soon to be the largest religion in China had always existed, since trade with India pre-dated the Han Dynasty but before the Han’s collapse it was only practiced by the elites of society and even then it was very few among the elites that would practice it. As with Taoism the influence of Buddhism only really expanded after the collapse of the Han Dynasty and the decline in Confucius beliefs, as with Taoism, Buddhism was much more focused with oneself but many could not accept the idea of eternal suffering as this was a particularly foreign concept to China; that is in the spiritual sense at least. The growth of Buddhism was marginally stagnant even after the Han’s collapse and this was largely to do with the lack of transmission of trade, due to the warring states much of the trade was reduced or ceased in some parts completely but with the end of the wars and the Tang Dynasty old trade routes were reopened. The reopening of the trade routes led to a massive spike in trade and transmission on a cultural level, this allowed scriptures to be brought through from India as well as medicinal manuscripts. The growth of Buddhism can also be attributed to the fact that Emperor Gaozu 1st Emperor of the Tang was also a Buddhist eventually Buddhism under the Tang Dynasty became the stately religion, this is again attributed to the large contributions by the court and courtiers to Buddhist Temples. The eventual growth would not completely wipe away the Taoist belief but it did become the prominent religion and with the Buddhist temples cropping up in numerous place due to the donations provided many began to understand and follow the Buddhist religion.
image Six and Seven : from google images
Christianity never gained prominence but there were pockets of Christian settlements dotted along the Silkroad(s) but due to its very low following, it really doesn’t claim any greatness, there was a small increase after trade with the West increased but it never gathered any real considerable following until the 19th and 20th centuries.