Mapping New Silk Roads

Perhaps no better term romanticizes the cultural space across Eurasia better than the Silk Road. The name itself is a late 19th century invention by Ferdinand von Richthofen.

And In a 21st century context, the Silk Road countries drew people’s attention back to the area because of the region’s abundant oil and gas resources, great economic potential and critical geopolitical location. As grand political and economic agendas are planned out for the region, they are invariably entitled with the historical cultural term of the Silk Road, including the New Silk Road Initiative of the US, Silk Road Economic Belt of China and others by Kazakhstan, Japan, EU, etc. Yet this is not a research to evaluate the opportunities and risks these Silk Road plans bring about per se, but how the cultural term is cleverly borrowed to make an economic and political case for the region, and how the Silk Road’s loosely defined geography is tailored in different narratives to help tell their own story.

In particular, the Chinese case of the Silk Road Economic Belt is studied. By placing the Silk Road belt region in the economic, geopolitical and cultural context of the country, the analysis illustrated the strategic objectives behind the generous development proposals. Another point that is challenged here is to view China as one gigantic chunk on the map, while in reality the inland provinces of northwest China crave for opportunities of development just as much as their Central Asian neighbors do. By laying all Chinese provinces and countries of the region on the same map, one actually finds many shared problems and needs across the ancient Silk Road map.

Then through the lens of media content analysis, I mapped this new imagined Silk Road space, and more importantly, how this imagination varies from the Chinese’s own perspective to reactions from within the region and outside.  The paper ends with discussions of the culture’s role in these plans. While politicians can easily pick up historical anecdotes for speech openings, the Silk Road culture seems to grow proportionately in places that are economically and politically favorable too. Is culture ultimately a political construct, or does the symbolic term itself lend anything to the game, anything nostalgic, but also inspiring?


Yunjie Li