How one key trade port on
the Maritime Silk Road changes the world
by Xinhua writers Yan Liang, Ye Shan
NINGBO, China (Xinhua) -- Merchant
Vessel (M.V.) COSCO Netherlands left Ningbo Zhoushan Port in
Zhejiang Province in eastern China on Tuesday afternoon
continuing its roughly 40-day journey from China to Europe to
retrace the Maritime Silk Road, an ancient trade maritime route
linking China with the rest of the world.
The vessel began its journey on Sunday from Shanghai to
relive the old-time trade route. China proposed the 21st Century
Maritime Silk Road in 2013, which is not only a valuable
spiritual treasure to all of humanity but also a road of
dialogue for Chinese civilization with the world.
On the backdrop of surging counter-globalization in the world
today, retracing the memory about that history that different
countries, regions and peoples along the route shared is a
global call for peaceful intercultural ties.
Leaving Yangshan Deep Water Port in Shanghai, one of the
world’s largest cargo ports, M.V. COSCO arrived at the Ningbo
Zhoushan Port late on Monday afternoon.
Ningbo, called Mingzhou during China’s Tang and Song
Dynasties, was one of the Chinese coastal cities linked with the
ancient Maritime Silk Road. Nowadays, traces of the Maritime
Silk Road relics still can be found in Ningbo, including the
Yongfeng warehouse, a key official depot from the Southern Song
Dynasty through to the Ming.
On the site of Yongfeng, large quantities of cultural relics
had been found, like famous porcelain products from the Song and
Yuan Dynasties, which prove that Ningbo was a significant
trading port on the thriving Maritime Silk Road in ancient
Located in the middle of China’s long coastline, Ningbo
possesses rare geographical advantages and serves as a unique
port. The city has a special position in China’s history
engagement with the world as the estuary of the Grand Canal of
China and also the port of departure on the Maritime Silk Road
in ancient China.
China’s Grand Canal was officially inscribed on the World
Heritage List in 2014, which consists of three
sections—Beijing-Hangzhou Canal, the Sui and Tang Dynasties
Canal, and East Zhejiang Canal which refers to the section from
Hangzhou to Ningbo.
It is because of Ningbo’s unique geographical advantages that
cargo and people could be transported to Japan and the Korean
peninsula through the Zhoushan Islands in the east, and reach
anywhere in the world through ports in Quanzhou and Guangzhou in
South China, Liu Hengwu, a professor at Ningbo University, told
Ningbo was an important "window" for Chinese civilization,
and it was irreplaceable in the trade and cross-cultural
exchange in ancient East Asia, Liu said.
Traditionally, it it believed that the ancient Maritime Silk
Road came into being in the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C.- 220
A.D.), grew up in the Three Kingdoms Period and the Sui Dynasty
(220 - 618 A.D.), flourished in the Tang and Song Dynasties (618
- 1279 A.D.), and fell into decline in the Ming and Qing
Dynasties (1368 - 1911 A.D.).
From China to East Asia, Southeast Asia and Europe, the
ever-extending Maritime Silk Road brought business and trade
convenience to the countries and peoples along its route, while
enriching the culture of local societies.
A huge number of well-known cultural sites and examples of
engagement with foreign societies are preserved in Ningbo today,
Among these are the Tiantong Temple, Asoka Temple, Samo
Pagoda, the Site of the Goryeo Embassy, and the Site of the
Yongfeng Warehouse, among others.
Contact between Tiantong Temple and the Japanese Buddhist
temples started from the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279 A.D.),
During the Song and Yuan dynasties, there were not only many
Japanese monks living and practicing Buddhism at the Tiantong
Temple, but also eminent Chinese monks, such as Lanxi Daolong
and Wuxue Zuyuan, who went to Japan and cast a profound
influence on the development of Japanese Zen Buddhism.
The ancient Tiantong Temple, as an international religious
cultural center, left its glorious mark on the history of
cross-cultural exchange on the Maritime Silk Road.
Since the Southern Song dynasty, the relationship between
Tiantong Temple and Japanese Zen Buddhism has been ongoing for
nearly 1,000 years. Chinese and Japanese Zen monks have played a
significant role in promoting cultural ties between China and
The Maritime Silk Road had facilitated the melting of
different countries, religions and peoples. Its abundant relics
constitute its various cultural heritages while promoting mutual
learning between China and the rest of the world.
In this sense, the Maritime Silk Road has witnessed the
progress of the human civilizations. And it is the common
responsibility of all humankind to preserve its many heritages.
China has also been lending a helping hand in this regard to
some Southeast Asian countries, including Cambodia.
Chinese cultural relics experts have spent many years in
Cambodia, protecting and repairing cultural relics from the
Angkor Wat complex, such as the Chau Say Tevoda and Prasat Ta
These experts working in the countries along the Maritime
Silk Road today play a similar role like the 29 sailors of the
M.V. COSCO Netherlands.
The Maritime Silk Road signifies a long journey that crosses
different oceans and civilizations. Looking back on the history,
numerous monks, scholars and artists from foreign lands had
travelled a long way to China by ship through the ancient route
regardless of the various risks in order to learn Chinese
culture while spreading Western civilization.
In addition to exchanging needed goods, another important
reason why foreigners flooded in was the diligence, courage,
wisdom, openness, tolerance, and integrity of the ancient
Chinese, who became curious about foreign things, accepted
outside civilizations, and lived in peace with foreign nations
based on mutual respect and trust.
After all, this inclusiveness stemming from the Chinese
culture enabled many foreigners and religious cultures to
co-exist and converge in China’s coastal ports, or even the
hinterland. Together with these foreigners, the industrious and
courageous Chinese people have composed glorious chapters in the
history of human civilization.
In the 21st century, it is of greater significance to study
and carry forward the Maritime Silk Road spirit.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the ancient Chinese.
Sometimes, they encountered raging waves and died in foreign
lands. But despite all the hardships, the merchants and sailors
along the Maritime Silk Road remained fearless in pursuing the
In the 21st century, it is more important than ever to carry
forward the spirit of the Silk Road when dealing with
complicated international and regional situations.
On this warm spring day, the M.V. COSCO Netherlands is
travelling along the Maritime Silk Road.
With history as a mirror, it hopes to embrace a brighter
China-Europe rail prospers
as alternative to sea and air cargo
ZHENGZHOU China (Xinhua) --
In ancient times, the Silk Road blazed by
imperial envoy Zhang Qian 2000 years ago carried caravans of
Chinese silk, Indian spices and Persian brocade between the
Middle Kingdom and Europe.
Today, a new land route pieced together by railways in six
countries takes a matter of days to transport made-in-China
products, from laptops to Airbus parts, and made-in-Europe baby
formula and wines between Europe and Asia.
Starting from Zhengzhou, a logistics center and transport hub
in central China’s Henan Province, the 10,214-kilometer
Zhengzhou-Europe International Shuttle Train crosses the border
at the Alataw Pass in Xinjiang before passing through
Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Poland on its way to Germany’s
The containers have to be transferred by crane first to the
Russian-style broad gauge line at the Kazakhstan-China border
before being transferred back to the standard gauge at the
The 15-day journey following the Eurasian land bridge, also
dubbed the "new Silk Road," offers an alternative to slower and
riskier sea freight and much costlier air cargo.
The new intercontinental rail route can save about 20 days
compared with maritime transport and costs 80 percent less than
air shipment, according to the Zhengzhou International Inland
Port Development Co. Ltd., which runs the train service with
partner rail companies in each country.
The freight train normally consists of 51 containers filled
with vehicle parts, cables, machinery, shoes, and clothing en
route to Hamburg, some of which are discharged at Warsaw,
Poland, and some that are headed to Antwerp, Belgium or
Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Zhengzhou INLEDCO Lighting Co. Ltd., which once transported
its export LED lighting products by air to Europe, now uses the
General manager Liu Qinghua told Xinhua that this helps cut
the company’s overall costs by half.
Demand for the rail cargo service has exploded since its
maiden journey in July last year, according to the Zhengzhou
International Inland Port.
From July 18 to the end of 2013, the rails carried 9,461
tonnes of cargo, valued at about 307 million yuan (about 49
million U.S. dollars), in 14 trains.
In the first six months of this year, the figures more than
doubled, with cargo worth 884 million yuan transported in 20
Zhao Wenming, general manager of the Zhengzhou inland port
company, expects cargo volume and value to skyrocket this year,
as the train has begun to operate twice a week regularly since
May this year, compared to the original frequency of once weekly
The growing demand has also been reflected in the train’s
length, which increased from the original 41 containers to the
In July, the shuttle train started to provide return service
on a stable basis twice a month from Hamburg to Zhengzhou,
carrying sophisticated materials, advanced machinery, baby
formula, wine and even finished vehicles.
The booming business comes at a time when many manufacturing
companies are moving to inland China from coastal areas,
creating growing need for logistics and transportation services
for the transport hub.
The train has also evolved from a regional service to a
According to the rail freight service operator, more than 70
percent of cargo comes from outside Henan Province, mainly the
coastal Pearl River Delta, Yangtze River Delta and the Bohai
River Economic Rim.
Tai’an Bowins Garment Company in coastal Shandong Province
used to transport garments by road to a port in Qingdao and then
ship them overseas.
Company manager Zhao Xingwen told Xinhua that most of his
products now go to Europe through the train in Zhengzhou, saving
at least 15 days and helping avoid loss of orders due to
unstable maritime transport.
Due to its secure and low-cost service, companies from
neighboring countries are also jumping on the bandwagon.
In April this year, the first batches of electronics made in
the Republic of Korea were transported through the railway to
According to Zhao of the inland port company, companies in
Japan, Hong Kong and a few Southeast Asian countries have also
started using the shuttle train, and more firms are approaching
the rail company for future cooperation.
China still heavily relies on sea freight in its trade with
Land transport allows traders to avoid passing through the
pirate-plagued Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Malacca.
Over the past three years, several mainland cities, including
southwestern Chongqing and Chengdu, Wuhan in central China, and
northeastern Shenyang have launched rail freight services to
But the Zhengzhou service is by far the most successful and
does far bigger business.
Speaking at a meeting earlier this year, Xue Yunwei, vice
mayor of Zhengzhou, attributed the success of the shuttle train
partly to the complete transport system in the city, which is a
hub in central China for railways, airlines and highways.
The ability to provide so-called "multimodal transport
service" is seen by Zhao as the key to success.
Through its partner companies specializing in highway,
maritime and air transport, the inland port company picks up
cargo from factories before transporting it to Zhengzhou and
Zhao said they are able to use the most cost-effective means
of transport at all stages.
In addition to the China Railway Corporation, the company has
or will soon sign partnership agreements with DHL, COSCO, DAMCO,
Schenker, UPS, China Post, and China Shipping among other
leading logistics companies.
The government also plays a big role in ensuring the
effective and efficient operation of the rail cargo service,
which involves cross-border customs, product inspection and
Vice Mayor Xue said the government handles all the problems
so that the company can focus on how to provide the best
Zhengzhou municipal authorities have organized several
meetings, such as one in November of last year when senior
customs officials from the nine countries along the rail route
gathered in the city to solve problems affecting the railway’s
Railway cargo between China and Europe holds enormous
potential, said Guo Yuhua, vice director of the China Railway
Corporation’s transportation bureau.
Among the 110 million tonnes of goods exported to 13 major
European countries in 2012, about 78 million were suitable for
However, only 1.5 percent of trade volume was achieved via
the railway, according to research by the CRC.
Trade volume between China and Europe is currently 566
billion U.S. dollars and is expected to reach one trillion U.S.
dollars in 2020.