The Silk Road has had an unprecedented impact upon people in terms of cultural connections and the exchange of products. This trade network stretched from the Mediterranean Sea all the way to Japan and the Korean Peninsula, linking societies across Eurasia continent. It thrived majorly across East Asia and Central Asia from 100 BCE to 1500 CE. As Liu (2011) asserts, the Silk Road was the hub of culture and commerce. Towns across this trade route offered water, food, and accommodation as well as opportunities for commercial and cultural exchanges. The route provided a considerable flow of goods in both directions allowing a brisk trade to develop. Besides physical products, Silk Road was a route for the exchange of scientific innovations, architectural ideas, literature, and religious values. In other words, all things created and used by humans, were traded across this specific route.
Many recent studies have researched the historical cross-cultural interaction and trading relations among Eurasian societies through the Silk Road (Liu, 2011; Hee Soo, 2018; and Hansen, 2015). The studies have analyzed the explicit aspects and shifting historical backgrounds that influence the Silk Road societies and interrelation, as well as the exchange of ideas and innovations that link East Asia to the Middle East. As such, the research studies have developed a new viewpoint on the long-distance cultural interactions in Afro-Eurasia.
Main Questions/ Ideas in the Article
Lee Hee Soo, in the article The Silk Road and Korea-Middle East Cultural Connections, explores the cultural exchange and interaction between the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East-Islamic through the Silk Road. The fundamental questions tackled in this article include: What was the Silk Road? In what ways did the Silk Road facilitate the cultural interaction between Korean and Middle-East?
According to Hee Soo (2018), the Silk Road was a historic trade network, established in the second century BC until the fourteenth century AD, to enhance the exchange of products as well as ideas and cultures. Both traders and the residents of the cities along this route benefited from learning about each other's religious beliefs, language, values, and ideas. Lee Hee points out that Korea began interacting with other civilizations during the Bronze Age. It was during this era that the Siberian Culture and Ordos Bronze aspects reached the Korean Peninsula. A study conducted by Chong Su-il indicates that the close interaction between the Korean Peninsula and other civilizations occurred after the Neolithic period. Besides, as mentioned in the article, there are also specific cultural artifacts linked to Scythic-Siberian influences. This implies how Korea adopted the Siberia ideas and beliefs. Further, the excavated golden crown from the Steppe route closely replicates the art style usually existed in the northern part of the Black Sea region in general appearance and pattern descriptions (Hee Soo, 2018). Indeed, this hints to the relations with Siberian shamanism.
However, with the development of ship construction technology and the art of navigation beginning in the eighth and ninth centuries as well as the extension of Islamic power; a route linking China and West Asia through the Indian Ocean was unveiled. Diverse societies were able to exchange their culture through the route. There is substantial proof that demonstrates the exchange of cultures across the Silk Road. For instance, the Afrasiab painting among the Samarkand palace describes envoys from Koguryo as they intermingle with ancient Koreans (Hee Soo, 2018). Also, a comprehensive study on the Kūshnāma, an early Persian impressive poem that talks about the relations between the Silla Kingdom and ancient Iran. The term Basīlā which is included in the poem sheds new light on the historical Arabic that Korea intermixed with Persian societies. With all these indications, there is no doubt that the Silk Road played a considerable role in facilitating the interaction between Korea and other civilizations. The interaction developed the trade, innovation, and technology in the region. At the same time, it steered exchange of ideas between Korea and China, and accomplished a collective benefit of mutuality, establishing a reasonable basis for future cooperation.
There are many ways that the Silk Road facilitated the interaction between Korean and Middle-East, Hee Soo (2018) affirms. First of all, as stated in the article, the Islam existed in Korea before the Korean War by over five decades. In fact, artifacts from the fourth and fifth centuries refer to an ancient history of political and trade relations between the Middle East and Korea, which proceeded after Islam settled in Korea. Even though the actual date of the arrival of Islam in Korea has not been noted, the interrelations between these two societies can be drawn to the middle of the ninth century. To expound this, the author further describes the ancient relations before Islam, settlement of Muslim in Silla society, Isla in Koryo and Early Choson and the contemporary Muslim community in Korea.
The cultural exchange through the Silk Road became more apparent during the dynasty of Koryo as the Mongol Empire ruled up until the late fourteenth century (Hee Soo, 2018). This was the start of Choson dynasty under the rule of King Sejong. Nevertheless, the relations between the Korean and the Middle East came to an end in 1427 because of the royal declaration that condemned any interaction with overseas cultures. As such, the elements of Islam and the Silk Road that endured at this time were quickly integrated into Korean culture.
Certainly, the cultural exchange between the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East through the renowned trade network – Silk Road- substantiates the idea that Korea was not an isolated nation, but a country that actively encompassed and encouraged the existence of different cultures. The basis of the international power, one of the most distinguishing factors of Korea as a country, can be traced back to such a dynamic embracement of other cultures and beliefs.
Application of Big History Framework to the Article's Content
The article's content can be examined through the lens of Big History framework, which explores the human existence and the history of the universe. The framework can help to understand how Silk Road contributed to the shaping of human history. Without a doubt, the critical role of the Silk Road was to simplify trade; however, the social, technological and economic interactions that resulted had an even considerable influence on human existence. Just as the ancient world was ordinary until liable situations made it possible for more multifaceted entities to exist; human societies and the consequential interactions between them followed the similar path (Christian et al., 2014). The presence of different products, ideas and people across the Silk Road was the facilitator for an exceptional rise in the complexity of human interactions and collective learning, which has steered human growth towards the modern society.
It is worth noting that Silk Road established trade relations between diverse societies, such as Korea and the Middle-East. The relationships started as early as the middle of the seventh century and had continued until in recent times without generating antagonism or conflict. As noted in Hee Soo (2018), many central Asian Muslims migrated to East Asia during the Mongol Empire and the Yuan dynasty that succeeded it. Through the revitalized Silk Road, the culture of Islam was spread in East Asia. This enabled the uprising of new ideas, values, and beliefs. Many Muslims settled permanently and were incorporated into Korean society. For instance, a man known as Samga married a Korean woman and was recognized as the predecessor of the Jang clan of Doksu, whose descendants continue to develop in modern Korea (Liu, 2011). It is through such assimilation levels of collective learning and complexity were increased, further leading to local and international implications.
During the dynasties of Goryeo and Joseon, Muslims were able to establish their communities, which enabled them to preserve their religious beliefs, cultural values, and traditions. The descendants of these communities highly resulted in the development of Mosques known as Yegungs – ceremonial palaces (Hee Soo, 2018). Their leaders achieved prominence and could even participate in court ceremonies and religious rituals. Besides, there were several scientific developments due to the interaction between Koreans and Muslims, such as the lunar calendar that was widely distributed throughout Korea and China. The Muslim settlers in Korea gradually acquired the customs, ideas, and values that have shaped their existence in East Asia.
It can be argued that the trading, exchange of ideas, and the cultural interchange along the Silk Road intensified the connectedness across this vast world. This was really important in the manner in which the contemporary world advanced and progressed, especially after the fifteenth century. The societies had diverse or rather related ideas, spreading from the West to the East. Thus, as a result of adopting the ideas, traders were in a position to develop their religions and cultures for commercial and economic purposes. They could now be able to interact effectively with the people they meet on their way, generating a sense of sociability and togetherness (Spier, 2011). A good instance is the traders from the Middle-East, who after interacting with Koreans across the Silk Road, were able to absorb the cultural elements of that region.