Journeys to the West: Kitan and Jurchen Travelers in 13th-Century Central Asia

Mongol Empire

Mongol Empire

Project Overview: 

This Story Map follows the early thirteenth-century travels of Yelu Chucai and Wugusun Zhongduan, who found themselves journeying from north China to Central Asia in the wake of the Mongol empire's first major conquests under Chinggis Khan. Although the two men went "west" for markedly different reasons and probably traveled along different routes, both produced written records in Chinese of their impressions of Central Asian lands and cultures - cultures strikingly and sometimes bewilderingly different from their own.

One of the most romantic images associated with Central Asia is that of a timeless Silk Road of trade moving by camel caravan between China and the Middle East or Europe. By the year 1200, however, barely any inhabitants of the Chinese-speaking world had visited Central Asia for over four hundred years. During these centuries, much of Central Asia had been settled by Turkic-speaking migrants from the Mongolian and Kazakh steppes and had converted from Zoroastrianism and Buddhism to Islam. The Mongol conquests of Central Asia and Iran eventually initiated a period of unprecedentedly intense interaction between China and the Islamic world, including the migration to China of large numbers of Central Asian Muslims - the ancestors of today's Hui community. But in the years 1219-1221, when Yelu Chucai and Wugusun Zhongduan encountered Central Asia, all that was yet to come. They could not have known that they were witnesses to the creation of a Mongol world order that would connect east and west and make the later, more famous travels of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta possible.

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Project Team: 

Shao-yun Yang

Department of History, Denison University