In January 2017 a freight train arrived in Barking in east London, carrying 44 containers of clothes and suitcases to be sold on the high street. This would have been an otherwise unremarkable event but for the fact that it had set off 18 days previously from the heavily polluted city of Yiwu in central Zhejiang province in China, weaved its way through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France, before popping out of the Channel Tunnel into England’s green and pleasant land. With much fanfare, London became the 15th European city to be connected to China’s One Belt, One Road programme, the 21st-century incarnation of the old Silk Roads – the trading routes that connected a string of peoples and places from across the Eurasian landmass to western Europe, and left an indelible mark on the shape of modern civilisation.
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