Skip to main content

Geocultural Power

China’s Quest to Revive the Silk Roads for the Twenty-First Century

Geocultural Power

China’s Quest to Revive the Silk Roads for the Twenty-First Century

Launched in 2013, China's Belt and Road Initiative is forging connections in infrastructure, trade, energy, finance, tourism, and culture across Eurasia and Africa. This extraordinarily ambitious strategy places China at the center of a geography of overland and maritime connectivity stretching across more than sixty countries and incorporating almost two-thirds of the world’s population. But what does it mean to revive the Silk Roads for the twenty-first century?
Geocultural Power explores this question by considering how China is couching its strategy for building trade, foreign relations, and energy and political security in an evocative topography of history. Until now Belt and Road has been discussed as a geopolitical and geoeconomic project. This book introduces geocultural power to the analysis of international affairs. Tim Winter highlights how many countries—including Iran, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, and others—are revisiting their histories to find points of diplomatic and cultural connection. Through the revived Silk Roads, China becomes the new author of Eurasian history and the architect of the bridge between East and West. In a diplomatic dance of forgetting, episodes of violence, invasion, and bloodshed are left behind for a language of history and heritage that crosses borders in ways that further the trade ambitions of an increasingly networked China-driven economy.

See the author’s website for the book.

304 pages | 15 maps, 11 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Silk Roads

Asian Studies: East Asia, General Asian Studies

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography

History: Asian History


"Geocultural Power vividly explains how cultural heritage and its historical narratives shape the geopolitical landscape. Focussing on China’s reconstructive use of the Silk Roads as a geocultural imaginary in the Belt and Road Initiative, Winter convincingly argues that a historical narrative of the Silk Roads is of great use for rising China to enhance its policies of peaceful exchange and interregional cooperation. . . . [He] provides much-needed insight into the intersection of politics, history and culture, and an empirically rich account of China’s reconstruction of the Silk Roads’ transboundary history."

Asian Studies Review

"This well-researched and well-supported volume by Winter addresses the question of how China's Belt and Road Initiative (sometimes referred to as the New Silk Road) seeks to rewrite history and reshape international trade and political relations today."


"‘Big Idea’ writers—including Niall Ferguson, Thomas Friedman, Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington, Robert Kagan, Paul Kennedy and Antonio Negri, among others. . . . Winter offers Geocultural Power as a candidate for joining this list."

Tim Oakes, Political Geography

“In this fascinating account of the Silk Roads story, Winter argues that objects and histories are more potent than corridors of politics in weaving far-flung peoples and places into networks of cooperation. He views the contemporary Belt and Road Initiative as a quintessential Chinese assemblage of infrastructure and culture, of trade and diplomacy, of hard and soft power that aims to configure a geocultural topography beyond China’s borders. This is a sophisticated exploration of how China envisions and exercises its power abroad.”

Aihwa Ong, author of Fungible Life: Experiment in the Asian City of Life

“Winter provides a lucid, subtle, and meticulous account of the manifold ways in which heritage and history are invoked and deployed in the exercise of both novel and familiar forms of geopolitical power. The notion of heritage diplomacy provides a new and important conceptual framing which helps to shine a light on often neglected aspects of the politics of the past—showing how we might uncover the operations of power outside of conventional analyses of conflict and contention between and across the relations of citizens and nation-states. This important book breaks new ground in helping us to understand current transformations in the politics of heritage-and the accompanying transformation of forms of power-in the current era of ‘open’ borders, mass mobility, international trade, and geopolitical ‘cooperation’.”

Rodney Harrison, University College London

“Winter has produced a unique and deeply insightful view of the Chinese Belt and Road initiative. Focusing on heritage culture along these routes, he reveals the tangible weave of Silk Road imaginaries with the geopolitics of Chinese infrastructural investments. It is worth following the extent to which this new arc of heritage culture can realize its cosmopolitan possibilities.”

Prasenjit Duara, Duke University

". . . a careful deconstruction of the Chinese government’s early twenty-first-century mobilisation of the nation’s Silk Road heritage. . . Geocultural Power is a well-written, wide-ranging and innovative scholarly account that makes visible and comprehensible contemporary Chinese attempts at forging relations with nations throughout Eurasia."

Chima Anyadike-Danes | Inner Asia

"As Winter notes, Geocultural Power is present in all tenses. This new theoretical intervention in understanding the BRI will allow the readers to understand how the past is reworked in the present to imagine and look to the future of history making."

Eurasian Geography and Economics

"Tim Winter's book stimulates a most welcome and necessary conversation about power, politics, and the role of history and culture in diplomacy and international affairs. Geocultural Power makes a much-needed contribution to interdisciplinary analysis of global dynamics and to holistic understandings of the construction of new world orders."

Political Geography

"Much of Winter's discussion is fascinating and convincing... A compelling study of how objects and discourses about past events and people are being mobilised as part of the wider diplomatic relations and cooperation structures of the Belt and Road. Covering a panoramic scope of issues, Geocultural Poweris well-suited for both introductory overview and scholarly reading."

Acta Via Serica

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Work Together for a Bright Future of China-Iran Relations, Xi Jinping, January 2016

Chapter 1. From Camels and Sails to Highways and Refineries
Belt and Road
The Dream of an Integrated Eurasia
Heritage Diplomacy

Chapter 2. The Silk Road: An Abridged Biography
Constructing the Antiquities of Eurasia in the Politics of Empire
Inscribing National Pasts
Traveling Eurasia
East-West Encounters in the Shadow of the Cold War

Chapter 3. A Politics of Routes
The Restitution of Greek Culture
Connecting Futures; Metaphors of the Past
Shifting the Geographies of Internationalism

Chapter 4. Corridor Diplomacy
Corridors of Silk
Heritage Corridors by the Sea

Chapter 5. Objects of Itinerancy
Shipments of Porcelain
Exhibiting Itinerancy
Trafficking Antiquities

Chapter 6. Historical Openings
Explorations in History
Assembling Belt and Road Knowledge

Chapter 7. Geocultural Power
The Routes of Geocultural Power
The Smooth Touch of Silk
The Broad Arc of History

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press