The subject of Azerbaijani-Chinese relations is a little-studied topic.

08.04.2019 15:26

Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences

Institute of the History of Science


Maryam Gasan Seyidbeyli

Doctor of historical sciences



The subject of Azerbaijani-Chinese relations is a little-studied topic. For many centuries these relations developed in the sphere of trade, culture and economy. The article considers the historical processes of formation, development and current situation of the Azerbaijani-Chinese relations from political and cultural point of view. With a thorough study of this issue, it is possible to identify the development of many fields as a result of contacts between these peoples. A special impetus to the development of Azerbaijani-Chinese relations was the development of the Great Silk Road. The Chinese specialists took part in the establishment of the observatory in Maragha in 1259. These contacts were also observed during the reign of the Kara Koyunlu dynasty, Ak koyunlu, Safavids in Azerbaijan. Nowadays, relations between Azerbaijan and China continue to develop.


Azerbaijan-China relations: Historical Heritage


“Contacts between the two countries age over 2000 years and it derives its roots from the period of the Silk Road”

Jiang Zemin

5th President of the People's Republic of China



The Azerbaijani-Chinese relations had deep historical roots even before the establishment of the Silk Road.

Being located at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, Azerbaijan occupies a favorable geographical position, which facilitated the development of trade, economic, cultural and political relations with many countries, including China.

Information about trade routes over water Oka [1] (Amu Darya) Caspian Sea is found in the following sources: we meet interesting information about Amu Darya in the composition of the Chinese historian Sima-Qian "Records of the Grand Historian". He borrowed this information from Jean-Xiang, the emissary of Emperor Wu-Di (140-83 BC) who began to prepare for war with the Huns with the coming to power.

He called the Amu Darya “Gui Shu” and wrote: "There are merchants and tradesmen living there, who distribute their goods to neighboring possessions by road and sea, even for a few thousand" [2, 149-150; 3, 20].

Chinese-Hunnic relations played an important role at the early stage of the Azerbaijani-Chinese relations since the Huns were the ancient ancestors of the Turks, the Azerbaijanis inherited many traditions of Huns.

The Chinese could not conquer the Huns and were forced to abandon the conquest of the great steppe. The victory of the Huns over the Chinese influenced the direction of the development of world history, since the Huns did not allow the Chinese to settle in the the Great Steppe. The victory of the Huns became possible only thanks to the courage and love to their land. The Chinese captives are used in agriculture by the Huns. Along with the Chinese population, which was influenced by the mind of the Huns, pro-Chinese groups among the Hun nobles began to marry Chinese women, the children of Huns received Chinese education and gravitated toward Chinese culture. [20, 24].

Hunnic-Chinese relations were of a varied nature: trade ties, political relations. For example, the first Hunnic-Chinese treaty was concluded in 198 BC. Before this, Mete-khan, the leader of the Hun Empire, as a result of several successful battles with the Chinese (209-199 BC), obliged them to pay an annual tribute and consolidate their relations by marrying a Chinese princess. From this point on, their relationship began to develop more intensively. To manage the state, Mete-khan widely used the services of Chinese specialists-defectors. They made diplomatic messages for them to the Chinese court. Subsequently, his son, Ki-ok Khan married a Chinese princess following his father's step. From the trade with China, the Huns had Chinese goods. Hunnic women replaced clothes from wool to silk dresses.

According to the contract in 198 BC, the Chinese annually supplied the Huns with silk, wine, rice, etc. The Chinese also bought horses from the Huns.

As stated in legend, Zhang Qian, a diplomat-traveler, a dignitary of Emperor Wu of Han, saw horses in the Fergana Valley that struck him with their beauty in the II. BC. He offered Emperor Wu of Han to take silk, wine, sweet fruit abroad in exchange for horses [4, 11]. In 139 BC Chinese Emperor Wu of Han sent as an ambassador to the western lands of Prince Zhang Jiang, who set out from China to the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. This was the beginning of the opening of Western lands for the Chinese. The main goal of Emperor Wu of Han was to expand the spheres of influence of the Chinese state in all directions. The prince traveled from China via Central Asia to Afghanistan, after this, caravans loaded with silk began to move to the west from China, and goods from the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus to China.

II century BC can be considered a starting point for the birth of the Silk Road, which existed until the II millennium of 16th century.

With the emergence of the Silk Road, a large number of travelers, diplomats, missionaries, merchants, etc., who traveled great distances from Europe via Azerbaijan, Iran and Central Asia to China, left valuable information about the countries in which they arrived.

The term of the Great Silk Road was introduced into historical science by the historian-traveler F. Richthofen at the end of the 19th century [5].

A scientist-traveler made 7 expeditions, visiting almost all areas of the Chinese Empire from 1868 to 1872. He studied the areas of geology, physical geography, as well as anthropogeography [6, 20].

The Great Silk Road linked such states as Rome, Byzantium, the Arab Caliphate, India, Mongolia, China, passed through the territory of Russia, the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus. This is known from the writings of researchers and travelers: the Chinese Xuan Jian [7], the Italian Marco Polo [8; 9, 236], Arab Ibn Fadlan [10, 243], the Russian Afanasy Nikitin [11, 445] and others.

Depending on the political situation in this or that region, the main tracks of the Silk Road could change. At that time the southern part of Azerbaijan (Atropatena) was part of the sphere of influence of Parthia, and the northern part (Caucasian Albania) - the Roman state. The Great Silk Road was the main highway connecting these regions with China and other countries of the East in the field of business and trade relations. During archaeological excavations in Ganja, Shamakhi, Sheki, Mingechevir, there were traces of Chinese culture (linen cloth, faience jugs).

During the Middle Ages (III-XV centuries) the relations between China and Azerbaijan continued to evolve. For example, goods from India and China first came to the markets of Azerbaijani cities in the III-VII centuries [12; 6, 25].

After the conquest of the Arab Caliphate of Azerbaijan, the trade route passed into the possession of the Arabs. In Arabic sources there is a lot of information about the Great Silk Road. Especially, interesting reports are from Ibn Fadlan, Al-Istakhri, Abu Dulaf and others [13, 345; 14, 50-70].

At that time, the cities of Derbent, Beylagan, Barda, Ardebil, Tabriz, Maraga, Nakhchivan, etc. played a significant role in the relations of trade between Azerbaijan and other countries.

Trade routes of Azerbaijan linked these cities to other countries of Asia, Africa and Europe [15].

The states of Shirvanshahs emerged in the territory of Azerbaijan in the IX century. In the XI century Azerbaijan was captured by Seljuks. In the XIII century Azerbaijan was captured by the Mongols and all trading roads by land and sea became theirs. There are reports that during the rule of the Hulagu, many Chinese specialists took part in the construction of the Maragheh Observatory in 1259, which was built by the great Azerbaijani scientist Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201-1274). A lot of scientists from different countries, including from China, worked at the Maragheh Observatory. Among the scholars of Dar al-Hikmah ("House of Wisdom"), which was headed by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi himself, were scientists such as Fu Mang Chi from China, Kamal ad-Din Aflatun al-Hindi and Ala ad-Din Suleiman Al-Multani from India [16].

In the beginning, Maragheh Observatory was the largest in the world, for its construction by order of Hulagu Khan (1217-1265) and scientists and masters from all over the world, including from China came here. These scientists, returning to China, brought with them astronomical instruments, from which copies were made used until the XV century. It is believed that the Maragheh Observatory influenced the creation of the Beijing Observatory in turn.

In turn, China has had a strong influence on the spiritual life of a large geographical area, including Azerbaijan. For example, the great Azerbaijani poet Nizami Ganjavi in his poems "The Seven Beauties" and "Iskendername" praises the beauty and tenderness, intelligence and bravery of the Chinese women. He above puts the painting of China. In this period Chinese subjects appear on the canvases of Azerbaijani artists. Sultan Muhammad Tabrizi, Mirza Ali, Muzaffar Ali created Chinese subjects and images (dragons, phoenixes, birds, animals) [6, 30].

In addition to this, Azerbaijan cooperated with China in the field of medicine and education in the Middle Ages. The doctors of China and Azerbaijan exchanged the achieved results of medical treatment of pharmacology. Scientists from China taught medicine in the largest and most prestigious educational institutions of medieval Azerbaijan. For example, scientists from China, India, Syria and Egypt worked at the Dar Al-Shifa University (House of Cure), which was located in Tabriz (Southern Azerbaijan), along with educators and scientists of Azerbaijan. In the library of Dar Al-Shifa, there were more than 300,000 valuable manuscripts from Azerbaijan, Iran, India, Egypt, China, Greece, and Cyprus.

Further development of cultural relations between the Azerbaijani and Chinese peoples is received during the reign of the Safavid dynasty.

Numerous historical sources testify to the spread of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. In the beginning of XV century (from 1403 to 1433) 7 major expeditions were undertaken, led by a Chinese traveler, naval commander and diplomat, Zheng He (1371-1435). He and his ancestors professed Islam, but at the same time Zheng He respected other religions. According to Ma Huan, author of the book "The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores", China was trading with the whole world and was the latest point of the caravan routes of Tabriz, Bukhara, Samarkand. Chinese dishes and silk were delivered through Hormuz throughout Iran, Azerbaijan and Central Asia, and they sent weapons, carpets and jewelry in turn [4, 53].

The ancient cultures of our peoples are united by the religious and philosophical cut, as, for example, the philosophy of Manichaeism has equally dominated both in Azerbaijan and in China. According to the sources, Manichaeism was professed in the large territory of Southern China in the XI century.

Thus, the Azerbaijani-Chinese relations have an ancient and extremely complex history, the stages of the convergence between the two countries has changed.

Despite the centuries-old history of friendship, diplomatic relations between China and Azerbaijan were established on April 2, 1992. On December 27, 1991, the PRC recognized the independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In August 1992, the Embassy of the People's Republic of China was opened in Azerbaijan and the first ambassador was appointed on December 1, 1993. The Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan  in the People's Republic of China was opened on September 3, 1993[17, 34].

Within established more than 24 years, new prospects for cooperation appeared in the relations. At the same time, the prospects for bilateral relations, mainly include: diplomatic, economic, scientific, educational and cultural cooperation.

In March 1994, Heydar Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan successfully made a historic visit to China. The heads of the two countries signed and published the “Joint Declaration on the Basis of Friendly Relations between China and Azerbaijan”, which contributed to the development of bilateral relations and laid a strong legal basis for the successful development of relations. During the official visit of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev to China in March 2005, President Hu Jintao and President Aliyev signed and published a joint communique of the People's Republic of China and Azerbaijan and witnessed the signing of twelve treaties on cooperation in such areas as trade and economy, customs, information technology, taxes, culture, youth, radio and television, sports, justice, extradition, etc. [6, 15].

In recent years there has been an increasing desire of dynamically developing China to play a more active role as a participant in the new "great geo-economic game". The Caspian region has become a region of great geopolitical importance for China. It occupies an important place in China's foreign strategy.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations to the present day, the PRC supports Azerbaijan and its initiatives in many political decisions. An example of this can be China's positive position on issues related to amendments made by the Azerbaijani side in the Resolution on Cooperation between the OSCE, adopted on December 2, 2002.

Despite the fact that Azerbaijan, unlike the Central Asian republics, has no common borders with China, and they are separated from each other by thousands of kilometers of distance, very close political, commercial, economic, business, cultural and other relations have been established between these countries.

Chinese companies in Azerbaijan are actively working in the fuel and energy complex and are doing their best to expand their activities in this sector. In particular, CNPC and  Shengli are participating in four projects to develop oil fields onshore Azerbaijan – “Kursangi” and “Garabagly”, “South-West  Gobustan” and “Pirsaat”. They openly declare their wishes to participate in new, larger projects, up to the development of offshore fields, and are ready to invest heavily in this field. The energy resources of the Caspian Sea are considered as potential sources of oil and gas in China.

The Chinese telephone company Hauwei successfully cooperates with Baktelecom, since 2005 the second Chinese company ZTE Corporation has started operating in this sector, and at the end of 2006 Azercell provided the subscribers of the GPRS / MMS roaming service with the operator "China Mobile" from China [6, 32].

The number of joint and purely Chinese enterprises operating in Azerbaijan is growing. If by the end of 2006 about 30 joint ventures were established in the republic and 8 Chinese companies were registered, in 2008 their number increased significantly. The prospects of cooperation in agriculture and transport are expanding.

At present, these two countries have a rapidly developing economy, a strong political base, a deep historical connection and strong economic complementarity. Between these countries, the trade and economic volume is rapidly increasing. In 2011, the volume of trade between China and Azerbaijan reached 1,086 billion US dollars, which is 16.5% more compared to 2010 and 700 times more than the volume at the beginning of the establishment of diplomatic relations. China has already become an important trading partner and the fifth largest country - the source of imports for Azerbaijan [18, 11].

Such bilateral cooperation creates all the necessary prerequisites for the dynamic growth and development of the national economy of our country.

The Azerbaijani-Chinese relations in such as science, education, culture, medicine, etc. are developing on a growing scale. One of the former Chinese ambassadors in Azerbaijan Zhang Haizhou, referring to the development of bilateral educational ties, said: "Quite an intensive exchange was established in the sphere of education. Every year, at the governmental level, the parties mutually grant each other 15 state scholarships for students. Graduates of this project already work in government and diplomatic missions of the two countries. In addition, an annual number of students studying in universities of China and Azerbaijan on the non-governmental line are growing. For example, now more than 200 of our students are educated in Baku. This year, the Government of China also provided a one-sided scholarship for study in China for 5 Azerbaijani students [19, 41].




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