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Smithsonian Folklife Festival
The Silk Road

Xi'an Tower

Global & Local


Today, the primary travelers along the Silk Road are tourists, who are particularly attracted to the Chinese portion of the Silk Road. Among the most popular sites in China are the caves at Dunhuang and the terra cotta warrior army of Qin Shihuangdi, the newly excavated Han tombs, the Great Mosque, and the Bell Tower in Xi'an.

The Silk Road was primarily a trade route, but its travelers also exchanged cultural and religious information. Today when tourism, both domestic and foreign, is the new form of commerce along the Silk Road, this exchange of historical, cultural, and religious information continues. Tourists eagerly purchase souvenirs and provide income to guides, translators, drivers, hotel and restaurant workers, and craftspeople. The tourist industry has sometimes encouraged preservation of historic places and renewed interest in and protection of local craft industries. At the same time, tourism must be carefully managed to avoid potential negative effects such as overtaxing of local resources and infrastructures. In Dunhuang, for instance, the large number of tourists have endangered the fragile environment within the caves, and simulated "copy caves" have been built for tourists to visit.

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