For thousands of years, there was an ancient road treaded by human feet and horse hoofs in the mountains of Southwest China, bridging the Chinese hinterland and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Along the unpaved and often rugged road, tea, salt and sugar flowed into Tibet, while horses, cows, furs, musk and other local products came out. The ancient commercial passage, dubbed the "Ancient Tea and Horse Road", first appeared during theTang Dynasty(618-907), and lasted until the 1960s when Tibetan highways were constructed. Meanwhile, the road also promoted exchanges in culture, religion and ethnic migration, resembling the refulgence of theSilk Road.
The road stretched across more than 4,000 kilometers mainly in Southwest China'sSichuan andYunnanprovinces and theTibetan Autonomous Region. Just as the Silk Road, the Ancient Tea and Horse Road disappeared with the dawn of modern civilization, but both routes have played very important roles in the development of China. Different Chinese ethnic cultures, such as the Dai, Yi, Han, Bai, Naxi and Tibetans, have met, fused and developed along the historic road.
The road ran across the Hengduan Mountains and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau -- an area of the most complicated geological conditions and most diversified organisms. Besides its cultural and historic value, the road was also highly appreciated by adventurers and scientists.
Tea and horses blazed the way
According to Tibetan classics, people of the Tibetan ethnic group in western Sichuan Province and northwestern Yunnan Province had access to famous types of tea from the Central Plains during the Tang Dynasty. In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), people of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces exchanged tea for Tibetan horses.
On one hand, the effects of tea in promoting digestion and eliminating grease from eating too much meat lured many Tibetans. Not only the nobles, but also the general populace took delight in drinking tea. On the other hand, horses were also very important for the Han people. The result was the flourishing of the tea-horse trade.