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The start of Silk Route where China connects to the rest of Asia – Yumen Pass or Jade Gate or Pass of the Jade Gate, is the name of a pass of the Great Wall located west of Dunhuang in today’s Gansu Province of China. During the Han dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), this was a pass through which the Silk Route passed, and was the one road connecting Central Asia and China, the former called the Western Regions. Just to the south was the Yangguan pass, which was also an important point on the Silk Route.

Travellers to ‘The Western Regions’ left China through the famous Yumenguan, or ‘Jade Gate Frontier-post,’ named for the many jade caravans that passed through it. The original Jade Gate was erected by Emperor Wu of Han soon after 121 BCE and its ruins may still be seen about 80 kilometres (50 mi) to the northwest of Dunhuang which was, until the 6th century, the final outpost of Chinese territory for caravans on their long caravan journeys to India, Parthia, Middle East and the Roman Empire.

This is where Zhang Qian started his journey to the western region as a Chinese official and diplomat who served as an imperial envoy to the world outside of China in the 2nd century BC, during the time of the Han Dynasty. He was the first official diplomat to bring back reliable information about Central Asia to the Chinese imperial court, then under Emperor Wu of Han. Today Zhang Qian’s travels are associated with the major route of transcontinental trade, the Silk Route. In essence, his missions opened up to China the many kingdoms and products of a part of the world then unknown to the Chinese. Zhang Qian’s accounts of his explorations of Central Asia are detailed in the Early Han historical chronicles. The Central Asian sections of the Silk Routes were expanded around 114 BC largely through the missions and explorations of Zhang Qian and he is revered for the key role he played in opening China to the world of commercial trade.

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