Xin Wen is Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies and History. His first book provides an exciting and richly detailed new history of the Silk Road that tells how it became more important as a route for diplomacy than for trade.
How did you get the idea for this project?
This project began about ten years ago as my dissertation in Inner Asian and Altaic Studies at Harvard University, which I defended in 2017. I had two reasons to choose this topic. The broader reason was that I had always been interested in the Silk Road, and wanted to write a new history of the Silk Road on the basis of the Dunhuang documents, which constitute the largest archive of information about long-distance travelers in pre-modern Central Eurasia. The narrower reason was that I was reading Khotanese (a middle Iranian language used by the kingdom of Khotan, Dunhuang’s western neighbor) envoy reports under the supervision of Professor Oktor Skjærvø, and was impressed by the rich lives of these diplomatic travelers that have yet to be examined by scholars. A combination of these two reasons directed me to choosing this topic for my dissertation that eventually led to the book.
How has your project developed or changed throughout the research and writing process?
After defending the dissertation, I went back to the Dunhuang documents and read (or in most cases, reread) relevant materials, and restructured the book manuscript. I took out a few chapters from the dissertation, reworked the rest into four chapters. On the basis of suggestions from my colleagues (including a manuscript workshop) and new ideas from my own additional research, I composed six new chapters. The result is a manuscript that is narrower in scope but much richer in detail and case studies. I hope it is also a more focused and engaging read.