The Silk Road was a trading route which started from Changan (now Xian), then Gansu Province, Xinjiang, Central Asia, West Asia and linked the Mediterranean countries. It was opened by Zhangqian in Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-8 AD).
The silk route was consisted by land silk route and the maritime silk route. The land silk route within China territory was also called "the Northwest Silk Road" to distinguish it from future another two traffic lines which also called "Silk Road". Because the silk products were the most significant goods in this western road (and most of them were transported by China), so this road was called "Silk Road".
The land Silk Route was divided into three main routes in the territory of China, they were:
North Route of Tianshan Mountain:
Xian — Dunhuang (in Gansu Province) —Kumul (also called Hami in Xinjiang) — Urumqi (in Xinjiang )— Ili (in Xinjiang) — the Soviet Union（in Russia）— Rome(Italy)
North Route of Western China:
Xian— Dunhuang — Kumul — Turpan (in Xinjiang) — Karasahr(in Xinjiang) — Korla (in Xinjiang) — Kuqa (in the Midwest of Xinjiang) — Aksu (in western Xinjiang) — Kashgar (in western Xinjiang) — Pamirs (in the middle part of Asia) — Central Asia
South Route of Western China:
Xian — Loulan (in Ruoqiang County in Xinjiang )— Qiemo County (in south of Xinjiang) — Niya (in Niya Riverside in Xinjiang) — Hotan County (in southern Xinjiang) — Kashgar — Pamirs — Central Asia — Western Asia
AS a major country of the Silk Road, China boasts many Silk Road culture till now for people to dig up more about this ancient history. Section in China can be traced from the following route: Xian – Lanzhou – Jiayuguan – Dunhuang – Turpan – Urumqi – Kashgar. Each city will tell you different stories and legends which may happen on the Silk Road at that time.
Xian is a famous ancient capital as the start point of the Silk Road. You can visit Terracotta Warriors, Xian City Wall, and the Shaanxi History Museum to know the first chapter of the Silk Road. Lanzhou is a hub for tourists to get to the Hexi Corridor (golden section of the Silk Road). Jiayuguan is a well-known site along the Hexi Corridor and the Jiayuguan Pass (the westernmost end of the Ming Great Wall) during the silk route era, Jiayuguan was a great important passing point for anyone want to enter or to export the country. Dunhuang is a famous silk route city. If you have visited the Mogao Grottoes, you may know the profound Buddhism art in the ancient time. Turpan is a place for travelers to explore about the ancient city of Gaochang. Urumqi is a city grew along side of the silk road, developing from the early days of the silk road to the major habits today, with the population dominated by the Uyghur speaking their own Arabic like language. It is an important city in the center of Eurasia with prosperous economic development situation. Kashgar was the junction of the south and north routes of the Silk Road. Kashgar old city is a must see place in your silk route journey. It has 2000 years history and over 1000 years building with twist winding cobbled streets, handmade craft on this old town streets living in people and doing the job for generations
In addition to the land silk route, the Tang dynasty also developed the maritime silk route. The maritime silk route could date back to the Qin and Han dynasties. It got popular and developed during Sui and Tang years and reached its heydays in Song and Ming dynasty in Chinese history. In the middle Ming years, the maritime silk route had experienced being shut down due to the maritime trading prohibition policy from the central government of that time at a state safety concern. There were a few main ports during maritime route era, such as Quanzhou, Guangzhou, Ningbo, Yangzhou, Dengzhou, etc. Quanzhou was always the biggest port of ancient China till the Song dynasty and Guangzhou was the only port left open even when during the prohibition age of Ming dynasty.
East Route from China to Korea and Japan.
South Route from China to Southeast Asia.
West Route from China to South Asia, Arabia and East African coastal countries.