The Country of Chens and “Ya-mei-ni-ya” – From China to Armenia Through the Silk Road

The Country of Chens and “Ya-mei-ni-ya”The two ancient peoples – the Armenians and the Chinese – have been aware of each other’s existence from times immemorial. In Chinese, the name “Armenia” is pronounced as “Ya-mei-ni-ya” while its hieroglyphs mean “beautiful maid of Asia”. In its turn, some Armenian accounts, tales, and legends refer to China as the country of Chens, Chinumachin, Chenastan, or Chinastan.

A large amount of archaeological material testifies to the developed trade relations between those countries in the Middle Ages. The materials include Chinese porcelain and celadonite, which were discovered during archaeological excavations in Garni, Dvin, Ani, and the fortress of Amberd.

Apart from that, an Armenian coin was showcased in the National Museum of Shanghai in an exhibition dedicated to the Silk Road. Among the artifacts was also the letter written by Dalai Lama to the Armenian commune in Tibet. This letter is a testimony to the fact that the Armenians not only were engaged in trade with China but also formed permanent settlements with religious and cultural structures.

The ancient Chinese legends state that the Zhou tribe had come to China from the west in the 12th century BC. They have lived in western China for about 500-600 years before heading west to intermix with the local Shan tribe.

According to the Zhou legends, the Zhou and Shan tribes originated from the same mother. A legend says that Zhou have brought a new religion to a country founded mainly on the laws of the heavens.

Ancient accounts contain reliable evidence that the Armenians have been traveling to China to trade and have been importing silk and other Chinese goods to Armenia over 2,000 years ago. In at least the 2nd century BC, the Armenians have been engaged in active trade with the Chinese. They not only imported produce to Armenia but also worked with Armenian traders living in China.

During the reign of Emperor Wu (141 – 87 BC) of the Han dynasty, Armenian traders began to trade silk, jade, and other products.

Among the most interesting fragments of the Armenian-Chinese relations is the legend of the Chinese origin of the Mamikonian Armenian princely family. 5th-century Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi wrote in his “History of Armenia”: “They say that in the days of Shapur, the ancestors of the Mamikonian family came from the northeast, from a noble and great country, and from one of the first northern peoples, the Chens.”

Today, the restoration of the Great Silk Road presents new opportunities for the all-around development of Armenia’s economy. It would allow for the progressive development of the trade relations between the two countries, which could then become a mean for ending the current economic crisis.

Over the centuries of the existence of the Great Silk Road, Armenia has been particularly engaged in trade with China and played a key role in the establishment of both.

The Great Silk Road begins in the Chinese city of Xi’an, from where it branches towards north and south. The Chinese called their country “Chung Kuo”, which means “Center and Universe”. China is known as the homeland of silk, paper, gunpowder, and tea. The Great Wall of China is among the Seven Wonders of the World. The Great Wall preserves its original looks until today. By the way, the techniques of the Great Wall’s construction have also been used by Armenian builders.

The Great Silk Road has been first used during the reign of Emperor Wu in the 2nd century BC. Counselor Zhang Qian offered the Emperor to export silk in exchange with horses, fruits, wine, and other goods. Apart from silk, the Chinese exported porcelain, metal utensils, rice, tea, makeup, and imported horses, military uniform, gold, silver, leather, wool, cotton, lions, tigers, hunting dogs, etc.

The Great Silk Road has impacted Armenian trade immensely, increasing the commodity turnover and expanding the boundaries of Armenia’s market.

Today, the Great Silk Road is being recreated in Armenia. The current direction of the foreign trade of the country could someday change and orientate at China, thinks Armenian scholar, the chairperson of the Union of Domestic Commodity Producers of Armenia Vazgen Safaryan. The primary trade direction that could interest China is the non-ferrous metallurgy in Armenia. After all, large amounts of concentrates of molybdenum and copper are now being exported to China.


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