I covered my Japanese Daimyo family history and my husband’s Chosun Dynasty family history on his father’s side, so I thought I’d cover my Chinese family history today. My father immigrated from China before the Communist Revolution to attend UCLA for a PhD in mathematics. He was asked to return to China right as the war began, but he decided to stay in Los Angles instead. A wise move in hindsight, given the Cultural Revolution that lay ahead. As an educated professional with family roots in the silk trade, he would have not fared well. Indeed, when we visited relatives in the 1980s, I met our Chinese relatives and heard the sad stories of what happened to his favorite nephew.
But I never knew much about the family silk business which I assumed was vertically integrated — from silk worm to silk thread to silk fabric to the Silk Road. I find that when I go to my public library, I always grab a few picture books that catch my eye that are on display.
I checked out A Single Pebble: A Story of the Silk Road multiple times. Today, I am finally going to explore my Silk Road ties. I am imagining that this was the life of my father’s family back many generations but I don’t know for sure. Maybe my Chinese relatives will chime in via the comments.
This TEDTalk is about The Silk Road: Connecting the Ancient Worlds Through Trade.
A Single Pebble: A Story of the Silk Road by Bonnie Christensen
Chang’An, where the picture book begins.
The story begins near Chang’An in 850 AD. It’s located in Northern Central China. My father’s family originates from about JinJua which is famous for ham, similar to prosciutto.
JinJua, my father’s hometown.
Mei wants to travel to market with her father but her job is to take care of the silk worms; his is to travel to trade the silk in Turfan. Since she can’t travel the silk road, she asks her father to take a special pebble with him. Perhaps a singe pebble can make it to the end of the road.
The father gives the pebble to a monk in Turfan who travels west to Kashgar. He also buys a small square of blue glass to give to Mei.
The monk befriends a sandalwood trader and he puts the pebble and the monk’s flute in a fine box made of sandalwood and takes it to Samarkand.
The sandalwood trader gifts the pebble to a family performing acrobatics. They add a tiny carved elephant to the box of small treasures and take it to Baghdad.
A stick of cinnamon is added to the box by a stranger who takes it to Antioch where he boards a ship to Italy. Unfortunately, his ship is robbed by pirates who take the box.
The stranger’s box gets taken by a pirate on his ship from Antioch on his way to Italy.
The pirate returns home to Torcello in Italy where he gives the box to his son. Torcello is near Murano which is famous for its glass. Perhaps the blue glass square that Mei receives from her father came from Torcello? [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Mei’s job was taking care of the silk worms through their life cycles captured in this video:
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16 thoughts on “My Chinese Silk Road Heritage”
Wow! Thank you for sharing part of your family’s history along with this material about the Silk Road. It’s a fascinating subject, evoking images of adventure and rich cultural exchange. It’s all the more interesting when you add the details of family members who were actually tied in with the silk trade.
Thanks so much Sarah,
I don’t know too much about my Chinese side of the family in terms of their silk trade but I’d love find out more. It was fun to dream about what they might have done and where they might have gone to trade their goods.
What an really intersting post. I’ve always found the history of the silk road so fascinating. Ironically, my interest sprang from Sunday School classes at church when I was growing up (the three wise men and their gifts were the stuff of silk road imports). I’m going to have to find A Single Pebble and read it.
A Single Pebble just spoke to me. I think I ended up checking it out three times before I finally posted on it. And each time, it looked like a book that I hadn’t read. I think I was meant to read it :).
Thanks for sharing part of your family history, Mia! It has been ages since I last read A Single Pebble–such a rich and informative book. Time to re-visit it!
I’m glad you like this picture book too! I just seemed to be karmically drawn to it.
What a fascinating post about traveling the silk route. I enjoyed your including the maps so that we could follow the route. I saw the Single Pebble somewhere, but haven’t read it. This is a gem. And I appreciated learning about some of your history.
I needed the map myself because I am so bad with geography. It is such a long journey, isn’t it? I envisioned a more dangerous journey (which I assume it was).
Reminds us that we are all just tiny specks in the universe.
And also how these little things resonate outwards like ripples in a pond, quietly changing everything.
This book sounds great! You have an amazing family history.
We enjoyed raising silk worms last year.
I wish I knew more about that side of the family!
What a very personal and detailed/thorough review of A Single Pebble – I’ve reviewed this too in my blog for our reading theme last year about China and the Middle East, I think – but this one really takes the cake, as they say. Thank you for this, dear Mia.
Thanks so much for your kind words Myra! I really appreciate it!
How fascinating to hear your links to the Silk Road and your father’s crucial decision not to go back to China… A Single Pebble looks sweet. Have you seen Barefoot Books’ lovely anthology Stories from the Silk Road? Not just China, of course – but a lovely book!
I think I owned that Barefoot book a long time ago but I could never get my kids into it. 🙁