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.TOEFL Listening Comprehension TranscriptNarrator
Listen to part of a university lecture by a professor of History.
You know, class, today we live in what's becoming essentially a single, worldwide civilization. There're still a few isolated areas that haven't hooked up to it yet, I guess, but the Africans are driving Toyotas, the Americans love sushi, the Chinese are shopping for Gucci bags, and the young people of Russia and Iran and Peru all wear Levi jeans and listen to rock music.
The greatest impetus for this globalization today is no doubt the internet, but one of the first major drivers of globalization came into being about two thousand years ago. It was the Great Silk Road, which was the oldest, longest, and most historically significant trade route in the world, and it significantly changed the cultures of almost all of continental Eurasia.
The Silk Road wasn't actually a single road, though. It was actually a network of trade routes between China and Italy, and it ran thousands of kilometers through and over and around the Taklimakan and Gobi Deserts, the Himalayas, and the Karakorum and Kunlun mountain ranges, through some of the most inhospitable geography on earth. Travelling across this vast area was difficult, to say the least, and it took centuries for these trade routes to reach completion.
The route from the West apparently began developing earlier. The Persian Empire controlled a large portion of the Middle East- from Syria to the kingdoms of India- so trade between these nations was already affecting, uh, influencing, their cultures. Then, when Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 330 BC, trade expanded into southern Europe, and Greek culture was extended as far east as what is now Afghanistan. Alexander's empire itself did not actually last very long, but waves of succeeding ruling peoples in this crossroads area brought their cultural elements into the mix, too. In the Gandara culture of northern Pakistan, for instance, Buddhist and Greek art was fused into a unique form, where many of the carved Buddhist idols strongly resemble statues of the Greek hero, Herakles.
The Silk Road developed more slowly from the East. Its first big impetus came during the Han Dynasty in China, whose emperors reigned from about 200 BCE to about 200 AD. China's warring states had just been united, and the Great Wall of China had just been begun. Since they were still troubled by northern barbarians, the Han emperors extended the Wall westward and sent out emissaries even farther west in search of allies. In 125 BC, one of their generals, Zhang Qian, brought back news of previously unknown peoples in the west, and of a new, large breed of horse that would be invaluable for the Han cavalry. The emperor was very interested, and so more expeditions were sent out. The "heavenly horses", as they were called, were obtained, and Chinese trade missions eventually pushed through to Persia, bringing back many wonderful gifts for the emperor. Zhang Qian is considered by many to be the father of the Great Silk Road.
Actually, the Silk Road's name wasn't coined until the nineteenth century, and silk was never its main commodity, though that fabric must have been very remarkable to Europeans, and it was certainly in demand. The road's most significant commodity was probably religion- primarily Buddhism, but to a lesser extent, Christianity and Islam as well. Buddhism surged east from northern India in the fourth and fifth centuries AD, where it later reached its height of development in China and Japan.
Meanwhile, the secret of silk production - which had been carefully hidden from foreigners- was finally discovered. In the mid-sixth century, the Byzantine emperor, Justinian, quickly sent secret agents to China to bribe silk experts and bring back some silkworm eggs. A Christian monk smuggled these eggs out, and after this time, silk was also produced in southern Europe.
The Silk Road's greatest years of art and civilization came in the seventh century, during the Tang Dynasty. In 754 AD, one of the largest Asian cities, Changan, at the eastern end of the road, boasted a population of more than five thousand foreigners from all over Eurasia. After this time, however, the internal stability of China began dissolving, and robbers and neighboring states increasingly pillaged the Silk Road caravans. Eventually, sea trade and sea travel began to supersede these slow, unsafe land routes.
Nevertheless, five hundred years later, the Silk Road was still viable enough to inspire its greatest chronicler, Marco Polo, whose book, "Book Million", so famously told of his nearly twenty-five years of travel- from 1271 to1295- along its length, and his travelogue still captivates the reader with the wonders he saw along the Great Silk Road.
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