China connected to the wider world long before the Qing dynasty. Ancient trade routes, later known as the Silk Roads, linked China to the Mediterranean. Merchants, monks, soldiers, and diplomats traversed these routes throughout the centuries, together with their goods, ideas, and languages.
For Qing people, the Silk Roads were a distant memory. Most trade, often conducted by European empires, bypassed the old overland routes, instead using the sea. Ideas that once entered China via the Silk Roads, like Buddhism and Islam, remained and flourished under the Qing.
Buddhists memorise popular mantras or incantations, such as this one, and recite them for protection. Rather than translating the meaning, these Chinese characters recreate the sound of the original Sanskrit text, a part of the Great Compassion Mantra.
Ref. Chinese Crawford 67
In the seventh century, Chinese monk Xuanzang travelled to India over the Silk Roads to explore Buddhism. Still a relatively new faith in China, he studied Buddhism in its original languages. This novel about Xuanzang’s quest was written one millennium later, with Buddhism firmly established in China.