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Buddhist Art Styles and Cultural Exchange Along the Silk Road

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This article is adapted from curriculum material to be published in From Silk to Oil: Cross-Cultural Connections Along the Silk Road, a project of China Institute in America, funded by the US Department of Education. The volume will contain twenty-three units in five sections: Geography, Ethnic and Political History, Exchange of Goods and Ideas, Religions, and Art. The activities described below are aimed at bringing the visual arts into the high school global studies classroom.1


Winding through the deserts and high mountain passes of Central and Inner Asia,2 the network of caravan routes collectively called the Silk Road linked China to the Middle East and Europe. From the second century BCE on, it was a major conduit for moving people, ideas, and goods. Monuments such as the towering fifty-three-meter (175 feet) high Buddha at Bamiyan in Afghanistan (destroyed by the Taliban in 2001) and the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas in northwest China bear witness both to the importance of the Silk Road and to a once flourishing Central Asian Buddhist culture.