Saturday, December 13, 2014
Along the Tea Horse Road in China
Today the route still includes remnant paths and roads, bridges of various sorts (arched, cantilever, and cable), caravanserais (madian 马店), market towns (large and small), staging posts, and shrines and temples (including mosques and even a few Christian churches)—all elements of what is now termed 'tangible cultural heritage'. As for the intangible cultural heritage of the route, it consists of a trading network that highlights the centrality of tea in the lives of the many ethnic groups in Yunnan (and beyond). The 'intangible' also refers to the rapid disappearance of the caravan itself, which for as long as recorded history, using a variety of 'beasts of burden' (oxen, horses, donkeys, mules, yaks and, at times, people), was the main conduit for the transportation of goods and ideas to and from Yunnan. The tea road was not only an important route for commercial activity (including the trade in tea, salt, medicinal products and luxury goods) but also for cultural exchange, especially between Tibet and Southwest China (it was another important entry point for Buddhism into China, in addition to the more well-known Silk Road).