Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Charles Stevens

Charles Stevens Charles Stevens
20 Jul
2018
With fellow student Tom Micklethwait, Charles is travelling the route of the New Silk Road to explore the impact the initiative is having across the region

I study history, but specific interests are the historic Silk Road, the relationship between geography and history and questions related to global leadership. My interest in China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a manifestation of this interest. The Belt and Road Initiative represents China’s foreign policy centrepiece and both an economic and geo-political attempt to return to a position of predominance as a regional and, eventually, global agenda setter. 

The New Silk Road Project is interested in understanding this. We will document the ongoing infrastructure integration via the people, places and companies forging this network, gauge perceptions of China’s growing global presence and interview the key thinkers and actors at the individual project level to see how the separate components differ from its overarching theory. 

I think it is easy to forget that Europe sits on the edge of a much larger Eurasian landmass. Danny Quah’s map on the shifting economic centre of gravity shows that the rise of the East is a return to the historic norm. However, in the 21st century this shift of the economic centre of gravity eastwards is taking place at an unprecedented rate. For the first time since the end of the French Revolution, we are entering an age where Enlightenment thinking and Western cultures, languages, ideas and religions will not alone stand on the vanguard of global developments.

China has immense resources and a population it is able to mobilise in a way that other countries cannot. From what I understand, this is in part down to the conformity which Eastern religions such as Taoism and Confucianism imposes. Therefore, China’s leadership can act with a sense of purpose and long-sighted direction which other nations may not be able to. The new Silk Road displays China’s ambition to return to its position as zhongguo (middle kingdom) as Xi Jinping stated during China’s 19th National Party Congress.

At the start of June we are setting off from the Chinese Embassy in London and we will finish in early August in the wholesale market of Yiwu in Eastern China. Our route parallels that of the first direct London-Yiwu train that made its first journey in April 2017. Of course we do not want to follow the train exactly, but more what it represents. We are using it as a conceptual framework to show the scope, bidirectional and forward thinking nature of the Belt and Road Initiative.

During the two months, we will aim to visit two dozen BRI-related infrastructure projects. These will include intermodal terminals, ports, residential developments, new roads and railways across Eurasia. When we visit, we will engage with the workers, managers, strategists and thinkers there to understand the developments.

We are interested in this ongoing infrastructure integration and the promises that Eurasia is forging into a coherent and contiguous whole. Bruno Maçāes argues this in The Dawn of Eurasia. We will be meeting him in Istanbul.

The trip will take 64 days and cover 10,000 miles across 18 countries, and will require three visas. It was going to be five but due the ongoing issues in Russia we decided to cut out this axis and focus more on the developments in Central and Eastern Europe. Our route also intermingles with the historic Silk Road. The Belt and Road Initiative strongly alludes to this but there will be little time to engage with its archaeological legacies as it is not our focus. 

I will travel the entirety of the route with Tom Micklethwait. Tom studies Mathematics and Russian at Georgetown University. His languages skills will be indispensable in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In Istanbul we will be joined by Will Chamberlain for two weeks who studies with me at St Andrews University. Rob Krawczyk, whose interest is in the spatial connections emerging from BRI, will also join in the South Caucasus until our terminus in Yiwu. We have a great team and this trip would not have been possible without the hard work everyone has put in.

For more information about Charles and Tom's journey, visit www.thenewsilkroadproject.com

This was published in the July 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

LATEST HEADLINES

Subscribe to Geographical!

University of Winchester

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PEOPLE...

Explorers

From Calcutta to the Himalayas, in The Last Englishmen, author…

Development

As part of our monthly series of reports looking at…

Development

Using WhatsApp to monitor and predict deadly landslides in Colombian…

Explorers

During her time in Ghana, Sarah Begum experienced the lives…

Development

An investigation reveals how the illegal export of talc, used…

Cultures

Land rights for the indigenous are still a problem, but…

Development

New statistics suggest rising healthy lifespans in China, at the…

Cultures

The addition of traditional Māori names to Wellington’s urban landscape is…

Cultures

Native American communities in the US are devising their own…

Refugees

Calais’ continuing refugee crisis may not make daily headlines now…

I’m a Geographer

With fellow student Tom Micklethwait, Charles is travelling the route…

Development

As part of our monthly series of reports looking at…

Development

Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number…

Explorers

For British cave divers, Chris Jewell and Jim Warny, who…

Cultures

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that football…

Development

A German recycling scheme is proving to be a source…

Development

The Galápagos are often thought of as a unique natural…

Development

China’s ban on plastic imports will displace more than 110…

Cultures

If you think you can escape the ballyhoo of the…