Most of us are familiar with the "Silk Road", a network of land trading routes which connected northwestern China to Europe since the Han dynasty. With its recent popularity, you may have heard of the "Tea Horse Road" as well, another network of land trading routes that also connected China to various parts of Asia and Europe before seafaring became commonplace. Historically, the "Tea Horse Road" is no less important than the "Silk Road"; and because of their respective locations, the "Tea Horse Road" is sometimes referred to as the "Silk Road of the south".
The "Tea Horse Road" has obtained its name as Chinese tea and horses were the main products traded along the route (together with medicine, salt, cloth, and skins, mostly carried by mules).
Historians have traced the origins of the "Tea Horse Road" back to the Tang dynasty, when tea was being transported out of Yunnan to Beijing, Tibet, and other Southeast Asian countries. The "Tea Horse Road" was further developed during the Song and Ming dynasty, and remained a key trading route for Pu'er tea and other commodities until the Qing dynasty.
Like the "Silk Road", the "Tea Horse Road" was not a "road" per se, but a network of routes radiating out of Yunnan's Pu'er County.
Click here for a map of the Tea Horse Road
Among these routes were the:
- Guan Ma route, which ran from Pu'er, to Kunming, and further to other provinces within mainland China. It was used for transporting imperial tea to Beijing;
- Guan Zang route, which ran from Pu'er to Xiaguan, Lijiang, Shangri-la, and into Tibet; and from Tibet to Nepal and other countries.
- Jiang Lai route, which ran from Pu'er to Jiangcheng, in to Lai Chau of Vietnam, and on to Tibet and Europe;
- Dry Season route, which ran from Pu'er to Simao in Yunnan, and on to the Lancang River, Menglian, and Burma;
- Meng La route, which ran from Pu'er to Mengla in Yunnan, and on to northern Laos and Southeast Asia.
In its more than 1,200 years of history, the "Tea Horse Road" served not only as a trading route, but also a bridge connecting different races - such as Han and Tibet - politically, economically, and culturally.
Today, the "Tea Horse Road" is a hot spot for tourists. History aside, the "Tea Horse Road" is located near "The Third Pole of the Earth" and "The Roof of the Earth", and is where many minority groups are located; making it a spot of many attractions.