BUCSA: Art and Literature on the Silk Road


The Center for the Study of Asia, an affiliated center of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, held a Feb. 29 discussion on art and literature and their cultural impact along the Silk Road.

Catherine Yeh, Director of BUCSA and Associate Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature, and Roberta Micallef, Associate Professor of the Practice, Middle Eastern Literatures and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, led the discussion entitled “Cultures in Contact: Art and Literature Along the Silk Road.”

Micallef said the travel of commodities along the Silk Road opened up the exchange of food between cultures from China to Europe.

Stone used to ground millet, to ground wheat, to make flour came from Iran,” Micallef said. “Iranian travelers brought that to the Silk Road, and that’s how they first figured out how to make flour. Once they made flour, we have what are called wrapped foods. We have different forms of dumplings going from China all the way to Italy. A ravioli is a form of a dumpling. It’s the stone that came from Iran to Asia that allowed people to produce flour.”

Yeh pointed out that in addition to the exchange of commodities between cultures along the Silk Road, the movement between societies had cultural impacts for literature, music and dance.

The Silk Road transferred not only goods and food, but literally forms of dance, movement, costumes and instruments — and not only instruments but new music,” Yeh said. “China early on had the flute which is made out of bamboo, but plucked instruments came with the Silk Road being opened. All the string instruments are actually Silk Road instruments coming into China.”