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New Medieval Books: The King’s Road

The King’s Road: Diplomacy and the Remaking of the Silk Road

By Xin Wen

Princeton University Press
ISBN: 978-0-691-23783-1

‘A Bottom-Up History of Diplomacy’ along the Silk Road between China and Central Asia, this book focuses on the years 850 to 1000. It aims to show the Silk Road was just as important a route for envoys as it was for merchants.


This book is a social history of the lives of these diplomatic travelers. By tracing their steps, observing their actions, and assessing their impact, the book investigates the organization and mechanisms of Eastern Eurasian international relations in the age of kings. Unlike earlier works of diplomatic history, I am not primarily concerned with military strategies and decision-making in court. Instead, my interest lies with more mundane matters: What did the envoys eat and drink? Where did they stay? How did they organize the logistics of transporting goods across the difficult terrain of Eastern Eurasia? How did they communicate, both orally and in writing, with people who spoke a different language? What diplomatic protocols did they follow? These matters open onto a set of larger questions about the political dimensions of this time. What motivated kings to engage in diplomacy? Was diplomacy critical to their idea of kingship, and if so, why? What motivated envoys to participate in diplomacy? The documents discovered in the Dunhuang cave provide the answers to these questions, and many others.


Who is this book for?

There will be few medievalists familiar with the topics covered in this book, but that gives more reason to read it. It offers much about travel and daily life in the Middle Ages, as well as diplomatic practices in the medieval world.

The author

Xin Wen is Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies and History at Princeton University. The King’s Road is his first book, and he is continuing on with research on medieval China and Central Asia. You can follow him through his university webpage or on X/Twitter @xwen0113


The King’s Road recently won an award from the American Historical Association. Click here for more details.

You can learn more about his book from the publisher’s website

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