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Yunnanyi Culture

The Tea and Horse Caravan Road

The Tea and Horse Caravan Road of Southwest China, aka the " Silk Road of Southwest China" – but called Chamagudao in Chinese (cha-ma-gu-dao = Tea-Horse-Ancient-Road) – is an old trade route that stretched east to west and south to north across southwest China, including present-day Tibet (Tibet Autonomous Region), and down into Nepal and India (see the stylized map below). This set of ancient trade routes eventually came to be renowned for the two main commodities for which the routes were named: tea and horses, though there were other important commodities such as sugar and salt – but curiously, not silk – that were traded along these routes.


Horse Caravan(Mabang)

When traveling in Yunnan, we hear a lot about the old Tea and Horse trade road.All of tea and other goods were carried by horse caravan,we call it Mabang in Chinese.

MaBang was the main carrying way in Yunnan province during the period of Republic of China because of the bad geographic and economical environment.As a special carrying and trade organization, in the long course of its operation, MaBang formed its own culture, including the organization forms, guild regulations and carrying routes.In the Republic Era, there was a close relationship between MaBang and the economy of Yunnan minorities, especially "Hui" and "Naxi" . These commercial organizations grew up gradually depending on the growth of MaBang. Meanwhile, they also stimulated the development of MaBang. During the period of Anti-Japanese War, Yunnan became the vital communication line of imports and exports day by day, and the carrying of MaBang get more and more important because of the serious lack of motorized transport. In order to cover the shortage of motorized transport capacity, the carrying of MaBang run by government was renewed under the encouragement of the Republic government and the direction of the Yunnan local government. During the wartime, it took part in the carrying of strategic materials and everyday goods, and showed the important logistics effects.At the same time, with the prosperity of the carrying, some relatingindustries developed, such as the horse inns and the making of gears. And the ideas of commerce and market were spread to the remote and backward areas of Yunnan. Moreover, the carrying of Yunnan MaBang strengthened the understanding and association among Yunnan minorities, especially strengthened the limited economical, cultural and political communication between the interior and Tibet.


From the Southern Silk Road to the Tea and Horse Road

Yunnanyi became an unavoidable stop for caravans transporting goods on the Tea and Horse Road between Yunnan and Tibet. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, horse caravans led by Yunnanese Muslims stopped at Yunnanyi. They were transporting Pu’er tea between south Yunnan to Lijiang, Zhongdian, or Deqin in the north of the province where Tibetan caravan leaders took over.


Yunnanyi is home to what is probably China’s best preserved horse caravan inn. It’s an inn with a stable where muleteers could feed their horses and let them rest overnight, exchange stories and tips about road conditions with other fellow caravan leaders. On the second floor of this “horse stable inn”, we can still see where the caravan leaders slept and where they pray to the gods : the gods of the roads, the gods of the mountains and the gods of the bridges.

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