Routes of Silk Road
The description of this route to the west as the `Silk Road' is somewhat misleading. There was not a single route taken. Several branches are leading to the western world. The routes all started from the capital in Changan, headed up the Gansu corridor, and reached Dunhuang on the edge of the Taklimakan. From Chang'an to the Hexi Corridor, the Silk Road branched out into three-the southern, the northern and the central routes.
The northern route started at Chang'an, ran through Xianyang, Jingyang, Chunhua, Binxian and Pingliang, crossed over Liupan Mountain, and crossed the Yellow River at Jingyuan, to reach Wuwei.
The central route started at Chang'an, ran through Xianyang, Liquan, Qianxian, Yongshou, Binxian, Changwu and Pingliang, crossed Liupan Mountain to Dingxi, and crossed the Yellow River at Jincheng (present-day Lanzhou), to enter the Hexi Corrodor.
The southern route started at Chang'an, ran through Xianyang, Fufeng, Qishan, Fengxiang, Qianyang, Longxian, Zhangjiachuan, Qin'an, Tianshui, Longxi and Lintao, and crossed over the Yellow River at Jincheng (present-day Lanzhou), to enter the Hexi Corridor.
The Hexi Corridor, as part of the Northern Silk Road running northwest from the bank of the Yellow River, it used to be the most important passage from ancient China to Xinjiang and Central Asia for traders and the military. More specifically, Hexi is a long narrow passage stretching for about 1000 km from the steep Wushaolin hillside near the modern city of Lanzhou to the Jade Gate at the border of Gansu and Xinjiang. The strikingly inhospitable environment surrounds them: the vast expanse of the Gobi desert, the snow-capped Qilian Mountains to the south, the Beishan mountainous area, and the Alashan Plateau to the north.
Since ancient times, the Hexi Corridor had been a focus of contention between the Central Plains area and the ethnic minorities in northwestern china. More than 2100years ago, the ambitious Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty launched an expedition against Xiongnu (Huns), and sent Zhang Qian as envoy to the Western Regions. Zhang Qian opened the continental route between the East and West. At first, the Western Han government set up four prefectures in Hexi-Wuwei, Zhangye, Jiuquan and Dunhuang.
In Qinghai, there were the Hehuang Route leading eastward to the Central Plains, the Qianghu Route leading northward to the Xiongnu, and the Qiangzhong Route leading to the western Regions via Qinghai. The Hehuang Route,(from Linxia in Gansu Province to Minhe County, Xining and the Qinghai Lake in Qinghai Province) and the Qiangzhong Route (from Qinghai Lake via Golmud to Ruoqiang in Xinjiang) had served as main branch routes of the Silk Road. In the 300 years from the early 4th to the late 6th centuries, they reached their zenith.
Through the Hexi Corridor, there was the southern route. The southern route runs from the Hexi Corridor in Gansu to Yangguan Pass, goes westward along the northern foot of the Altun and Kunlun Mountains, via Shache to the Pamir Plateau, to Afghanistan, Iran, and further to Iraq, the Mediterranean Sea, and enters the Roman Empire in Europe.