Xining, 4 Apr (ZXS) -- Question: Why did the Persian Sassanid silver coin become the "international currency" on the Silk Road?

——Interview with Dorje Ben, Director of the Cultural Relics Research Center of Qinghai Provincial Museum

China News Agency reporter Pan Yujie

Persian Sassanid silver coins unearthed in China's Qinghai Province reflect the active trade between East and West along the Silk Road. How are these silver coins related to the Sogdians? Why did it become the "international currency" circulating along the Silk Roads? Dorje Ben, director of the Cultural Relics Research Center of Qinghai Provincial Museum, recently gave an exclusive interview to the China News Agency's "East-West Question".

The following is a summary of the interview:

China News Agency: In many places in northwest China along the Silk Road, a large number of Persian silver coins have been unearthed.

Dorjeben: Most of the Persian silver coins unearthed in Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu and other places in China belong to the Persian Sassanid era (224-651), which roughly corresponds to the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties, Sui Dynasty of China until the early Tang Dynasty.

During these centuries, the Sogdians from Central Asia entered China along the Silk Road and established a trading network. The Sogdians lived between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, at the crossroads of the Silk Road, with China to the east and Persia and Rome to the west. Persian silver coins carried by the Sogdians circulated widely along the Silk Roads and became an "international" currency.

The Gansu Lanzhou Wuquan Mountain Wax Museum displays a wax figure scene of the "Sogdian merchant". Photo by Yang Yanmin

Persian Sassanid silver coins from the Northern and Southern Dynasties period unearthed in the collection of Qinghai Provincial Museum and unearthed in Xininghuangmiao Street, Qinghai. Photo by China News Agency reporter Ma Mingyan

China News Agency: From the Southern and Northern Dynasties to the Sui and Tang Dynasties, why did the Sogdian caravans monopolize the overland Silk Road trade? How can these trade activities facilitate connectivity along the route?

Dorjeben: Sogdian caravans traveled east along the Silk Road, often in groups of several hundred, leaving some people to settle in each town, and the rest continued to move forward, gradually connecting their own settlements as transit points for trafficking goods and exchanging silver coins between them, and over time monopolized the trade of goods along the route.

On this commercial network, it was mainly the Sogdians, but also included other peoples of Central Asia and the Western Regions who migrated with the caravan, collectively known as "Shang Hu", and there were also local forces along the route that provided protection and translation for the caravan. Volume 50 of the Book of Zhou, "The Legend of Tuyuhun", records the actual exchanges between "international caravans" mainly Sogdian Hu on the Qinghai Road of the Silk Road.

The Sogdians exchanged Western spices, woolen fabrics, gold and silverware, etc. with China's bulk goods and silk, and the famous American sinologist Xue Aihua's "The Golden Peach of Samarkand: A Study of Imported Products from the Tang Dynasty" and Laufer's "China-Iran Edition" and other works explain in detail the situation of exchanges at that time. Many artifacts unearthed on the Qinghai Road of the Silk Road, such as Greek-style human fishtail gold ornaments, Sogdian style gold and silverware, Persian-style onyx twelve-curved cups... They are all representatives of foreign cultures at that time, proving the prosperity of the Qinghai Road on the Silk Road.

People visit the Persian Sassanid Hu bottles on display at the Shaanxi History Museum in Xi'an. Photo by Zhang Yuan

China News Agency: With the Sogdian commercial activities as the carrier, what are the aspects of spiritual and cultural exchanges between the East and the West? What are the characteristics of this exchange of Silk Road cultures?

Dorjeben: The Sogdians transferred the products, technology, and culture of China and Central and West Asia back and forth through commercial activities, and they themselves integrated multiple cultures. In the Tubo tomb group in Duran in Qinghai, 80% of the textiles unearthed after expert research are woven from the Central Plains, and the rest are mainly Sogdian brocade and Persian brocade, and some clothes are made of Sogdian brocade, but the style is Tang clothing; The unearthed gold ornaments also have the characteristics of the nomads of the Eurasian steppe.

The exhibition "Cultural Exchange on the Silk Road: Art Treasures of the Tubo Period" in the Mogao Grottoes Scenic Area of Dunhuang. Photo courtesy of Visual China

There are famous sentences in Tang poems such as "Golden Bottle Sake Bucket Ten Thousand" and "Grape Wine Luminous Cup", which are related to the Sogdians who brought gold and silver products and were good at growing grapes. The musical instruments and dances of the Tang Dynasty were influenced by the Kang Guo music and Indian music styles brought by the Sogdians, and even the surnames Shi, Kang, and An were all Han surnames after the Sogdians came to China, and the Chinese historical books were called "Zhaowu Nine Surnames", which all confirmed the spiritual and cultural exchanges and interactions between the East and the West.

Qinghai Provincial Museum's "Qinghai Historical Relics Exhibition" related to the "Silk Road Qinghai Road" exhibited. Photo by China News Agency reporter Ma Mingyan

China News Agency: Since the Northern Wei Dynasty, the Central Plains Dynasty appointed "Sabao", how can official certification accelerate people-to-people exchanges?

Dorjeben: "Sabao" is the elected leader of the Sogdian caravan and is responsible for commanding the caravan and settlement.

During the Northern Wei Dynasty, the "sabao" had been incorporated into the traditional Chinese bureaucracy, thus giving it the dual identity of Hu chieftain and central or local official, indicating that the Central Plains Dynasty had begun to administer and control the Sogdians from that time. Emperor Sui Jiao conquered Tuyuhun to the west and set up four counties in Hexi to open up passages to the Western Regions and provide guarantee for business travel on the Hexi Corridor. At that time, copper coins were used in the Central Plains, but in Xinjiang and Hexi, where people and commerce converged, Persian silver coins could also be circulated and were officially recognized.

The "Hu Ren Camel Molded Tomb Brick" unearthed in Qinghai Huangzhong on display at the Qinghai Provincial Museum. Photo by China News Agency reporter Ma Mingyan

With the support of the Central Plains Dynasty, a large number of Sogdians remained in China, from the Wei and Jin dynasties to the Sui and Tang dynasties. For example, the tomb owner of Shi Jun's tomb was a Sogdian "Sabao" during the Northern Zhou Dynasty, and his wife was born in Xiping (鄯州, present-day Xining, Qinghai), and the couple lived in Chang'an until their deaths. The image materials of Shi Jun's tomb fully and vividly show his life, and it is also a reflection of the deep exchanges and integration between the Sogdians and the local area.

During the Tang Dynasty, Hu settlements were changed to "townships" and placed under local administrative jurisdiction, and Sogdian commerce activities were more convenient and frequent. In the metropolises of Chang'an and Luoyang at that time, a large number of Sogdians engaged in business, joined the army, became dancers and singers, and lived and worked peacefully in the Central Plains.

The mural of Hu Ren leading the horse on display at the Shaanxi History Museum. Photo by Zhang Yuan

China News Agency: Sea shells from prehistoric sites have been unearthed in Qinghai, do they have the attributes of general equivalents? Why is it in Qinghai?

Dorjeben: During archaeological excavations in the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods in Qinghai, many sea shells were unearthed, and most of them were produced in the Indian Ocean after research, indicating that there were exchanges between Qinghai and South Asia 5,000 years ago. Sea shells may have some exchange function, but they do not yet have circulation properties.

Qinghai Provincial Museum, Persian Sassanid silver coins from the Southern and Northern Dynasties period (unearthed on both sides of Xining Huangmiao Street) and Roman gold coins (unearthed in Xiangride, Zhongduran County). Photo by China News Agency reporter Ma Mingyan

Different from sea shells, the cellars of several Persian silver coins found in Xinjiang and Qinghai have a large number of silver coins, which shows from the side that Persian silver coins are used in large quantities as general equivalents.

The discovery of these currencies shows that due to its special geographical and strategic location, Qinghai has become a hub on the east-west transportation artery, and the so-called "rush of the mountain sect water source road" plays a very important role in foreign civilization exchanges. (End)

Respondent Profile:

Dorjeben, male, Tibetan, director of the Cultural Relics Research Center of Qinghai Provincial Museum, has worked in Qinghai Qutan Temple Museum and Xinlu Cultural Relics Management Institute since 1999; Since July 2005, he has been working in Qinghai Provincial Museum, focusing on Qinghai historical relics and ethnic culture.