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The Silk Road: the first case study of semantic multiplicity of the signified of a symbol’s connotation

The “Silk Road” has long been celebrated as a route of dialogue between the Chinese and the Western trade. Through the East-West trade transactions, the Silk Road not only facilitated the exchange of exquisite artworks and handcrafts but also helped communicate the image of China as an ancient Oriental nation. But in different historical periods, the significance of the Silk Road has been different.

The Silk Road in the ancient times: a road for China to highlight its imperial influence to the world

In the early stage of the Silk Road, the most important trade activities that happened along the route were the inter-governmental tributary trade. In order to highlight China’s influence as a leading imperial power of the world, China endowed on the tributary countries considerably more merchandises than those paid by those countries as tributes to China. In this way, China showcased its stance and posture as an Oriental power, the “Middle Kingdom” of the world. This form of highly politicized commerce represented the original purpose of opening the Silk Road. As a political symbol, the Silk Road in the ancient times carried a political meaning, signifying that China was a grand and great power, a country of

The Ancient Silk Road’s Connotative Signification

Figure 2.1 The Ancient Silk Road’s Connotative Signification

unparalleled prosperity, influence and magnanimity. Obviously, the ancient Silk Road had already surpassed its function of trade and gradually evolved into a symbol representing China at that particular historical period. Its signified on the connotative level was “affluence, prosperity, and powerfulness,” an emblem of ancient China’s economic boom and vibrancy.

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