magination, until recently, was the only vehicle for traveling the Silk Roads, the ancient network of trade and communication routes linking Europe, the Middle East and China.
Even today, many of these routes are still blocked, as they have often been in decades and centuries past, by regional conflicts or the mutual mistrust of nations. And though such barriers can be surmounted in particular cases, the effort of persuasion and organization is a long one. Thus this special issue of Aramco World, devoted to two journeys along the entire length of the Silk Roads, took four years to complete.
One of these journeys is the geographical one: In 1984, contributing editor John Lawton and photographer Nik Wheeler, reporting on China’s Muslim population for Aramco World, followed the Silk Roads—along which Islam first reached China—across the breadth of that country. Further travel then was barred by the closed Sino-Soviet border. When that border was briefly opened in 1986, the unexpected death of former Aramco World editor Paul Hoye, who first decided to cover the ancient trade routes, made it impossible to send a reporting team along them.
Late in 1987 finally, Lawton and photographer Tor Eigeland set off from Istanbul and—by train, plane and bus—traveled across Turkey, the southern Soviet Union and into China to complete the assignment: They are among only a few hundred people in history to travel the Silk Roads from one end to the other. The second journey was a trip through history. Contributing editor Paul Lunde drew on libraries and other resources in Britain, Italy and Spain to research and write a compact history of the Silk Roads, and Dr. John Voll, professor of history at the University of New Hampshire and a specialist in Middle Eastern studies, wrote an introduction that outlines the importance of the commerce in goods and ideas that the Silk Roads made possible.
Finally, designer Peter Keenan joined texts, photographs and illustrator Michael Grimsdale’s map and painting into a coherent whole to produce this issue. We hope it will illuminate its subject and inform—and entertain—its readers, thus serving the same valuable function as did the Silk Roads themselves: to increase the mutual understanding of cultures. —The Editors