Chapter 12 Transformations in Asia, 220-1350 A.D.
A.D. 629 a 27-year-old Chinese Buddhist monk named Xuanzang set out on an
extraordinary journey. Leaving China, he traveled west through the harsh deserts
of Central Asia, crossed the towering Hindu Kush mountains into India, and then
traveled down the Ganges River to the birthplace of Buddhism, in eastern India.
This trek of several thousand miles took Xuanzang four years, but that was only
the beginning of his journey. While in India, he visited sacred Buddhist sites
throughout the country, then settled down to study Buddhism at the fabled
university at Nalanda. Finally, after a 16-year absence from China, he returned
home with knowledge that would influence the course of Buddhist learning in
China, Korea, and Japan.
The tale of Xuanzang highlights the power of faith and the human spirit
to overcome great challenges. It also reveals the interchange of knowledge and
culture between the nations of Asia at a time when Asian civilizations were at a
high point. While Europe was still in the Dark Ages, the cultures of China and
India were enjoying a golden age of civilization unsurpassed in the world at the