That official, Zhāng Qiān, is credited with charting the legendary route known today as the Silk Road. He laid the foundations for a trading network which profoundly influenced the history of the world.
"Trade, finance and logistics have shaped China as much as philosophers, warriors and emperors.”
Not long after Zhāng Qiān’s seminal journey, China introduced the world to paper. We well know the profound impact of paper on the capture and transmission of knowledge across civilisations but it was also an invention that had a profound influence on the evolution of the global trade-finance-logistics ecosystem.
Inventions and trade went hand-in-hand in ancient China. During the Song dynasty, for example, two developments transformed China into a mercantile nation. With the invention of the compass and the emergence of paper money, transportation and finance expanded China’s ambitious trading ambitions.
Trade, finance and logistics have shaped China as much as philosophers, warriors and emperors.
This chapter of China’s rich history reminds us the opportunities before us today are similar to the adventures faced by our counterparts over the millennia. It’s an ageless question for business: how can we find new markets and how do we get there?
Just as ageless is the essence of how successful businesses work. They value partnerships, they seek alliances. They constantly strive for new and better ways to sell and move their wares, just as we continue to explore new technology to improve the efficiency of global trade.
But we are now moving beyond the age of paper. As we used to track, measure and record everything on paper, we are now beginning to create and store trillions of terabytes of information about trade, finance and logistics digitally.
It is little coincidence banking in China, and particularly the invention of paper money, was born in the Western Triangle along with the charting of the Silk Road.
Early banks facilitated payments, allowing money to be transferred via book entries in branches. Trade was enabled by road, river and sea connections, allowing merchants to bring fortune to a city.
We are looking to the future but it’s important to consider the legacy of the past - and in terms of documentation, across both banking and logistics, not much fundamentally changed in the last 1,000 years. Today it needs to. Paper-based documentation is one legacy we can do without.
At ANZ we are well advanced in helping our clients and partners make this transition. For example, the distributed ledger technology (DLT), the basis of blockchain, has a key role. Take food safety, a huge concern. We teamed up with Cisco to use DLT to enable Australian farmers to sell their grain to merchants in Asia.
The DLT transaction provided an efficient, documented, verified, and trusted process, removing concerns about the quality and origin of the grain. Similarly DLT can verify and guarantee goods shipped from here in Chongqing are certified in terms of quality and authenticity.
You can see how this would enrich and preserve Chongqing’s brand as a leading manufacturing and logistics hub globally.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) plans to build a ‘digital Silk Road’ along the same corridors as its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). President Xi Jinping has said this would involve helping other countries build their digital infrastructure and internet security to “create a community of common destiny in cyberspace”.