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The Ancient Tea Horse Road--a World Heritage

Date:2020-07-22 10:10:45 Source:Organizing Committee Author:Organizing Committee

    In the deep valleys of Hengduan Mountains, you can hear lasting sound from the bells tied to the horses’ necks and see faint figures of business teams with horses. The Ancient Tea Horse Road is a precious gift left to us by ancestors. It’s a treasure of Yunan province, Sichuan province, China and the whole world.

    The Ancient Tea Horse Road situates in the southwest part of China. It’s a non-governmental international trade passage with horses as the main way of transportation, an economic and cultural corridor for various nationalities in southwest China and one of the 7th batch of important heritage sites under state protection. The road can be divided to Sicuan-Tibet route and Yunnan-Tibet route. Thanks to business team with horses, people can trade tea in Sichuan province and Yunnan province with horse and medicine in Tibet.

    In video record, people can witness the true history of ancestors living in northwest China making an international business pathway during thousands of years despite difficulties. From Tang and Song Dynasty to Ming and Qing Dynasty, ancestors created a long ancient road by relying on man and horses. The main product was been tea. This is the Ancient Tea Horse Road, a way for business, nationality integration and cultural communication between China and the world.

    To put it simply, the Ancient Tea Horse Road is a road in mysterious southwest China with the aim to trade tea and horses between Han people and Zang people as well as between China and countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia. It originated in the tea horse frontier market in the southwest frontier of China in the Northern and Southern Dynasties, became a fixed business road in the Tang Dynasty, peaked at the Ming and Qing Dynasty and lasted till the early period of the People’s Republic of China. It could also be described that the road stemmed from the tea horse frontier market in the south west frontier of China in ancient times and reached it’s peak at the middle and latter period of the Second World War.

    The Ancient Tea Horse Road is the one with the highest altitude, most hardship and most complex terrain and climate among ancient roads in the world. It’s along the deepest valleys in tall mountains with turbulent rivers beside. The roads along the mountains are impossible for carriages and vehicle to go through, so people can only rely on themselves and horses. With the development of trade, the large-scale business  promoted the the economic and cultural communication along the way, and goods no longer limited to tea, mules and horses. There are two main routes for the Ancient Tea Horse Road. The first one starts from Yaan city in Sichuan province and links Lhasa through Luding, Kangding, Batang, Changdu and other cities and towns, then leads to the west and ends in countries including Nepal and India. The second one starts in the Puer city in Yunnan Province, reaches the Tibet through Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-La, then leads to the west and to the south to countries including India, Nepal and Myanmar.

    The Ancient Tea Horse Road is a conveyor between different cultures and nationalities, thus plays an important role in the communication between ethnic groups, including Han People and Zang People. On one hand, the southwest China is the main producer of tea and Tibet doesn’t produce any. On the other hand, people living in Tibet eat a lot of meat and less vegetable, so they need to drink tea as a nutrition balance. In addition, the interior land of China hasn’t had enough horses for transportation and the fight in wars. So the trade of tea and horses can help ethnic minority groups to complement each other in resources and improve people’s living condition. Besides trade, cultural communication is also going on along the road. For example, Lamaism has been spread to the interior land of China while Shaanxi Opera and Chinese Opera have reached Tibet. This kind of exchanges enhance the friendly interaction between Han People and Zang People and have significant positive influence in the integration of nationalities in China. The most unique feature of the Ancient Tea Horse Road is that it’s located on plateau and mountains with the most complex terrain and topography, resulting in unimaginable hard transportation even in the world. A poet of Qing Dynasty wrote in his “Record of the Tibet” that “the mountains are covered by white because of ice and snow on steep slopes. If you look down to the bottom of a valley, you will be scared to death”.

    No wonder why the Ancient Tea Horse Road is so mysterious. The road has stopped being used for business a long time ago, but as a path of nationalities’ history, it can reflect light of attractive civilizations.

    “Silk Road in the north and Ancient Tea Horse Road in the south”. Just like the Silk Road, the Ancient Tea Horse Road has played an important role in the development of Chinese civilization, though it has been gradually buried in the dust of history with the development of modern civilization. However, the past and value of the road never fades. The Ancient Tea Horse Road is a vital passage for ancestors to move between Tibet, Sichuan province and Yunnan province and for ancient civilizations to communicate between these regions. Along the road stretching for more then 5000 kilometers are evidences of the diversity and original images of nationalities’ culture in southwest China.


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