This paper investigates the historic and contemporary place of European and Asian trade in the context of the so-called “Silk Road”. The success and the competition of the present-day Chinese economy is seen as the cause of the declining role of Western economies in world markets but the reality is and was much more complex in the past. Was the Industrial revolution a fundamental turning point? In Central Asia in particular the institutional and economic rapports were much more nuanced than one might be led to believe by the notion of the “Silk Road” as a mere route of East-West transit. It is with this in mind that I consider the rapports between the maritime road and the silk road. I interpret the growing presence of Russia in the Central Asian markets from the sixteenth century onwards in connection with the Chinese advance in Western Asia. The English ambition and presence in Southern Asia (India) was also concerned with central Asian markets and was in direct competition with Russian expansion. These economic and institutional rapports went on to have a deep influence on 19th and 20th century geopolitics, in which the general concept of the Silk Road developed.