From the Silk Road to the Belt and Road: Economic and Political Relations Between China and Western Asia

Seminar Dates:  Course will be postponed until summer 2021

Location:  Stanford Center at Peking University, Beijing, China

Instructor: Lisa BlaydesProfessor of Political Science and Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

Fees/Cost: Airfare, accommodations, and food are covered by the Stanford Center at Peking University.  See details under "Program Cost."

Application Process

seminar application is required plus an official Stanford transcript via Axess.  Please submit transcript and the application online at the same time.  The deadline to apply is March 29, 2020.  Applications received after the deadline will be considered for the waitlist.  Transcripts via Axess should be submitted to Leigh Wang


From the ancient Silk Road trade to the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative put forth by the current Chinese leadership, China and countries in West Asia have for centuries had close contact at both the elite and the grassroots level. This workshop offers a thematic approach to the study of Chinese relations with countries of Western Asia from the historical period to the present. Through classroom discussions and presentations, students will be able to identify broad trends in the political, social, and economic relations between the countries and to critically evaluate existing explanations for those trends. Topics covered include economic development (the Great Divergence), ancient and modern trade, as well as public opinion. Class discussions will also be devoted to cutting-edge research published in top social science journals, helping students develop strategies for testing theoretically-driven hypotheses using the advanced analytic tools of the modern social sciences. Towards the end of the workshop, students will gain first-hand experience from field trips to the ancient Silk Road museums and the modern Belt and Road commercial project sites, including the tech giant Alibaba’s “Digital Silk Road” cross-border e-commerce pilot area.


  • 30 percent: Response paper (Due July 27)
  • 40 percent: Belt and Road report and presentation (Due August 3) 
  • 30 percent: Class participation

Possible student presentation topics:

  • Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: Proposed in 2013, "a development bank dedicated to lending for infrastructure projects.
  • Silk Road Fund: Announced by Xi Jinping in November 2014, a US$40 billion development fund intended to invest in businesses rather projects.
  • University Alliance of the Silk Road:  Centered on Jiaotong University (Xi’an) with the goal of fostering understanding and academic exchange.

Agenda of Topics and Readings

The course will be on discussion about the readings.  Students will also be asked to present the results of their own research in presentations:

July 20: Origins

Chaffee, John. 2018. The Muslim Merchants of Pre-modern China: The History of a Maritime Asian TradeDiaspora, 750-1400. New York, NY: CambridgeUniversity Press. Chapters 1 and 3. 

Curtin, Philip. 1984. Cross-cultural Trade in WorldHistory. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press Chapter 5 

Frankopan, Peter. 2016. The Silk Roads: A New Historyof the World. New York, NY: Alfred Knopf. Chapter 1 

Park, Hyunhee. 2012. Mapping the Chinese and theIslamic Worlds: Cross-Cultural Exchange in Pre- ModernAsia. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Chapters TBD.

July 21: Silk Roads as a World System

Abu-Lughod, Janet L. 1989. Before EuropeanHegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chapter 7, 9-10. 

Blaydes, Lisa and Christopher Paik. 2019. “Trade and Political Fragmentation on the Silk Roads: The Economic Effects of Historical Exchange between China and the Muslim East.” Working paper.

Curtin, Philip. 1984. Cross-cultural Trade in WorldHistory. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 6.

July 22: Cross-Cultural Encounters

Blaydes, Lisa and Christopher Paik. forthcoming.“Muslim Trade and City Growth before the 19th Century:Comparative Urbanization in Europe, the Middle Eastand Central Asia.” British Journal of Political Science.

Ibn Battuta. 2002 [1354]. “China.” The Travels of IbnBattuta. Editor, Tim McIntosh-Smith. Picador: London.

Musgrave, Paul and Daniel Nexon. 2018. “DefendingHierarchy from the Moon to the Indian Ocean: Symbolic Capital and Political Dominance in Early Modern China and the Cold War.” International Organization. 72(3). 

July 23:  Day Trip to Tianjin  (Tentative)

Visit to National Maritime Museum of China and tour ofTianjin Economic-Technological Development Area(TEDA) 

July 27: China in the World Economy

Frank, Andre Gunder. 1998. ReORIENT: Global Economy in the Asian Age. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Chapters TBD.

July 28: China and the Great Divergence

Pomeranz, Kenneth. 2001. The Great Divergence: China,Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Chapters TBD.

Rosenthal, Jean-Laurent and Roy Bin Wong. 2011. Before and Beyond Divergence: The Politics of EconomicChange in China and Europe. Cambridge, MA: HarvardUniversity Press. Chapters TBD.

July 29: State-Owned Enterprises in the Middle East and China

Hertog, Steffen. 2010. “Defying the Resource Curse: Explaining Successful State-Owned Enterprises in Rentier States.” World Politics. 62.

Jones, Calvert. 2019. “Adviser to the King: Experts, Rationalization, and Legitimacy.” World Politics.  71

Jones, Lee and Yizheng Zou. 2017. “Rethinking the Roleof State-owned Enterprises in China’s Rise.” New Political Economy.  22

Leutert, Wendy. 2016. “Challenges Ahead in China’sReform of State-Owned Enterprises.” Asia Policy. 21. 

July 30: Belt and Road

Ferdinand, Peter. 2016. “Westward Ho — The ChinaDream and ‘One belt, one Road’: Chinese Foreign Policyunder Xi Jinping.” International Affairs. 92(4). 

Frankopan, Peter. 2018. “The Roads to Beijing.” The New Silk Roads. London: Bloomsbury.

Olimat, Muhamad. 2014. China and the Middle Eastsince World War II. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. Chapter 1. 

Scobell, Andrew. 2018. “Why the Middle East Matters toChina.” China’s Presence in the Middle East: TheImplications of the One Belt, One Road Initiative. Editors,Anoushiravan Ehteshami and Niv Horesh. London:Routledge. 

August 3: Attitudes

Blaydes, Lisa. 2019. “Attitudes toward China’s Economic Rise in Muslim Societies.” Working paper.

Lind, Jennifer. 2018. “Life in China’s Asia: What RegionalHegemony Would Look Like.” Foreign Affairs.March/April.

Schweller, Randall and Xiaoyu Pu. 2011. “After Unipolarity: China’s Visions of International Order in an Era of U.S. Decline.” International Security. 36(1).

August 4: Chinese Power Projection

Allan, Bentley, Srdjan Vucetic and Ted Hopf. 2018. “TheDistribution of Identity and the Future of InternationalOrder: China’s Hegemonic Prospects.” InternationalOrganization. 72(4).

Blaydes, Lisa and Justin Grimmer. forthcoming. “PoliticalCultures: Measuring Values Heterogeneity.”

Political Science Research and Methods.

Blaydes, Lisa and Christopher Paik. 2019. “Measuring Cultural Affinity to China: From the Silk Roads to the Belt and Road Initiative.” Working paper.

August 5:  Trip to Hangzhou (Tentative)

Visit China National Silk Museum, Hangzhou Chinese Medicine Museum, and National Tea Museum 

August 6:  Trip to Hangzhou (Tentative)

Alibaba headquarters visit and tour of Hangzhou “digitalSilk Road” cross-border E-commerce pilot area