About Us

  Culture Journals - Silk Road Journeys
  Issue No. 1 : China Treasures for All to See

Relationships, business enterprises and political interests in Hong Kong are subject to fast and frequent change. These changes led to stress - one of the greatest and most inevitable miseries of urban living. However, by taking a leisurely journey through historical space and time, you will realize that everyday change is nothing more than a flash of lightning across the sky. It doesn't matter so much whether you succeed or fail; as long as what you do is meaningful to your community and your nation, you will find fulfillment and satisfaction.

I decided to participate in the development of the Silk Road in 1993. In that year, the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) and the United Nations Education Science and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) featured the Silk Road as a key area for future economic development. The insight I have gained through developing the region has made me realize the significance of cultural exchange in the development of human civilisation and this understanding has made me increasingly fascinated - perhaps even obsessed - with the work I'm doing.

The Roman scholar Gaius Pliny the Elder (23 - 79 AD) wrote that silk was produced in Seres (China), woven into beautiful embroidered fabrics, then transported to Rome to be sold and made into exquisite gowns for noblewomen. The westward transport of silk led to the gradual joining together of the routes from East to West into what we think of as the Silk Road. Trading along the Silk Road reached its height during the Sui and Tang dynasties (581 - 907 AD). As a result, relations between China and the West took a great leap forward and the Silk Road became an important channel between China and the West. 
Apart from silk, tea leaves, porcelain and iron utensils were transported west by China traders, while spices, precious stones, leather, glass and agricultural products were brought into the country. The four great inventions of china - paper, gunpowder, printing and the compass - were carried westwards, while the three great religions of the world - Buddhism, Islam and Christianity - traveled eastward to China. The Silk Road thus contributed greatly to the development of human civilisation as we know it today.
The Silk Road is not a single straight thoroughfare. It is actually a group of routes linking China and the West. Within China, in courses through the provinces of Shaanxi, Nigxia, Gansu and Xinjiang; outside China it traverses Middle Asia, including Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Initially, I invested in the middle section of the Silk Road, which runs in three routes west of Dunhuang, bypassing the mountains and the deserts, to reach the border of Middle Asia. The routes pass through such cities as Urumqi, Turpan, Kuqa, Kashi and Hotan. I made the effort to go deep and wide into the wilderness to open up interesting sites in China to tourists. My first "culture" hotels were built in Dunhuang and Turpan. My next projects will be in Urumqi and the Tibetan autonomous region. By 2001, I hope to have four or five more hotels up and running and will have "done China". My plan is to travel westwards to Middle Asia - Iran, Iraq and Turkey - and introduce tourists to these interesting Silk Road sites.
The aim of these culture hotels is to cultivate new tourist destinations and unlock the economic value of cultural elements. This is achieved by highlighting the heritage, arts and crafts and cultural life at different periods of places along the Silk Road. At each hotel we have opened a bazaar to sell cultural products. These are more than just souvenirs - you can take only so many souvenirs back home to fill your house. They are traditional arts and crafts that combine practical application with cultural promotion, thus enhancing their acceptability to foreign visitors. For example, we have commissioned the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts in Beijing to participate in the development of two patterns from paintings found on the ceilings of the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang. 
The grottoes, dating back 1,600 years to the Wei dynasty, are one of two World Heritage classified sites in Dunhuang. The other is the Mingsha Mountains, with its famous crescent-moon lake. Although situated in the middle of the desert, the lake has not dried up in 7,000 years. The ceiling paintings in the grottoes are a fascinating mix of East and West. Dunhuang is the place where Marco Polo came into China and merchants crossed paths here for several dynasties. The patterns, which we are developing into prints for fabrics, show influences of Iranian, Middle Eastern, Islamic and Buddhist art.
Prints like these were used by fashion designers in Europe in the early 1900s. People used to sit on fabrics and wear dresses influenced by the traditional arts and crafts of the Silk Road peoples. They were brought back to Europe by the explorer and archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein. Next year is the 100th anniversary of Stein's first expedition to China, which exposed the Dunhuang treasures to the world, and exhibitions and symposiums will be held at various locations, including Harvard and London University. It is estimated that two-thirds of these treasures ended up in Britain. Stein was called a robber by the Chinese government at the time, but in a sense his "looting" turned out to be a blessing in disguise. If he had not have taken the treasures west, they would have been lost in the Cultural Revolution.
The Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel, nestled below the Mingsha Mountains, was finished in 1995 and it was my first hotel on the Silk Road. When we were building it, the local authorities were critical of its design, which follows the traditional architectural style of the region. It is a cluster of seven buildings, modelled after those in the Tang and Han dynasties with quadrangles, like a small township in the desert. The construction was entirely ecologically friendly, using cow dung and local straw for the plaster on the walls - this is the traditional material and it actually smells quite nice! We used authentic green bricks for the walls and floors, and gravel from the Gobi desert. The locals wanted to see something modern and shiny, with curtains, carpets and walls of glass. The only modern things in the rooms are the toilets and the mattresses. I told them that visitors didn't want to come all the way to remote northwest China to see what they already had back home. Bill Gates was our first customer, and I say if it is good enough for him it is good enough for any Americans. And last year we had a valuable patron in President Jiang Zemin, who stayed at our hotel in Turpan for two nights.
The Chinese authorities are becoming more aware of the importance of preserving their heritage. With rapid development over the past two decades, China's history is disappearing fast. We are asking the government to preserve its old buildings, but this awareness only comes slowly. China is so vast; when I travel into the remote northwest, it is sad to see people tearing down their old houses with their beautiful doors and carvings. Feeling rather like Sir Aurel Stein, before they are broken and destroyed I want to take away the bowls that people have put down to feed their cats and dogs. This might be the only way to preserve the local crafts. 
The authorities must realize that their heritage is a valuable asset that will bring in tourist dollars. And they have to preserve their livestock for the tourists to see and enjoy. In the short term, it may be more economical to kill these animals for their flesh or skin, but in the long run this will kill the tourist industry, which can be so much more lucrative.
Wong How-man of the China Explorers & Research Society and an RTHK film crew stayed at the Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel on route to the Tibetan plateau. They produced a documentary on the plight of the antelope, and after seeing it the authorities cracked down on the poachers; now the Tibetan antelope has a chance. In the six years since I began building culture hotels on the Silk Road it has been tough to convince the authorities to look upon their culture and heritage as valuable assets, but attitudes are changing. The message is finally getting across: development must be ecologically sound and it should preserve and promote the culture of the region.
One must eat to live; not live to eat. There must be profit for business, yet profit is not the sole aim of business. Business investment, where the benefits to society are considered, is a meaningful investment. I have great enthusiasm for the business of deriving economic value while promoting culture. The Silk Road development, with its commercial and cultural values, is truly a project to which I should devote my energy and years of experience. 
By Peter M.K. Wong


<< Back To List

Copryright © 2023 Culture Resources Development Co Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Site Map | Disclaimer