Yuan Chang (whose name can be transcribed from Chinese in several different ways, meaning that he is sometimes called Xuanzang or Hsuan-Tsang) was a seventh-century Chinese monk who made a long journey from China to India lasting from 627-644 AD. He wanted to take Buddhist scriptures from India to China, so that they could be translated into Chinese and increase the knowledge and observance of Buddhism in his homeland. Yuan Chang wrote about his travels in a book called Great Tang Records of the Western Regions, which, nine hundred years later, inspired Wu Cheng'en's Journey to the West, one of the four great Chinese classical novels.
Yuan Chang had traveled extensively in China looking for rare Buddhist texts when, in 627, at the age of about twenty-five, he set off along the silk road in the direction of India. He had many adventures, being captured and imprisoned by the Chinese army for traveling without a permit, and almost dying in the desert, before reaching the city of Samarkand, in modern-day Uzbekistan, of which he gives a detailed description. Most of his travels in what was then India were in cities and monasteries now in Pakistan and Nepal, including Lumbini, birthplace of the Buddha. When he returned to China, his achievements were celebrated, and he was offered various high positions at court. However, he chose to spend the remaining twenty years of his life translating and commenting on the scriptures he had found.