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History of Tea-horse Road

The Ancient Tea Horse Road is a commercial passage mainly for tea-horse trading between the inner land and Tibet. In the history, "The Ancient Tea-Horse Road"was almost across the western frontier of China.

Early Ancient Tea Horse Road

Sichuan is the original producing area of Chinese tea. As early as 2,000 years ago, tea, as a commodity, was traded in the Western Han Dynasty. The businessmen often exchanged the local products, such as tea for yaks, with the people who lived beyond Dadu River (a Tibetan area in Sichuan). The trade road at this time was called Yaks Road, the initial ancient Tea Horse Road. 

However, the habit of having tea had not yet developed widely in China and tea was used as a valuable medical material. Therefore, it was not commonly used by Tibetans. Consequently, tea to Tibetan areas sold in limited quantities during this period.

During the Tang and Song Dynasties

In the Tang Dynasty, the Tobo regime rose in the Qianghai-Tibet Plateau, absorbing a great deal of the advanced culture around it. After Princess Wencheng married Songtsan Gampo (松赞干布/the 33rd Tibetan emperor) and later, when Princess Jincheng married Chidaizhudan Mes-ag-tshoms (尺带珠丹/ Mes-ag-tshoms/the 36th Tibetan emperor), having tea habitually was introduced to the Tobo area (now Tibet), and gradually became popular with the upper class and monks.

However, at the beginning, tea was only served as a precious medical health product, not as a usual drink, used by the royal family.

According to history, the habit of having tea developed in the Kaiyuan period of Tang Xuanzong's reign of the Tang Dynasty. As the contact between the Tobo regime and Tang increased, especially as lots of Zen monks from the inland areas went to Tobo to preach, having tea was introduced to the Tibetans.

In the late Tang Dynasty, relations between the Tobo regime and Tang became stable, friendly and peaceful. Because of the destruction of agriculture in the inland areas which resulted from the An Lushan Rebellion, the Tang government needed horses and cows for a long period from Tibet to carry textiles and tea.

This activated the official and folk trade between the two parts, and thus a large amount of cheap tea flowed into Tibet, which made the tea available for common Tibetans. From then on, having tea as a custom which was shared by the people across the country gradually formed in the Tibetan area.

During the period of the Five Dynasties and the Song Dynasty, wars broke out frequently. The central government still needed to buy war horses from Tibet, moreover, the government wanted to strengthen the political relations with tribes in the Tibetan area through the tea trade. Therefore, the mutual 'tea-for-horse' trade was set up, which made transporting tea to Tibet become an important policy administrated by the government.

The policy guaranteed the sufficient supply of tea to Tibet, prompting the development of the habit of having tea among the Tibetans, and thus the ancient Tea Horse Road was greatly extended.  

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties

In the Yuan Dynasty, Tobo was officially controlled by the central government. In order to develop the transportation between Tibet and the inland areas, the Yuan government set up many stations in the Tibetan area, extending the Sichuan-Tibet Tea Horse Road considerably.  

In the Ming Dynasty, the government attached much importance to the tea supply in the Tibetan area. For this, a series of laws and regulations about tea used in the Tibetan area were made to keep the tea production, selling, trafficking, price and quality under their supervision and control, limiting the sales quantities and inhibiting speculation in the Tibetan area.  

In the Qing Dynasty, Sichuan played a more important role in ruling Tibet. The officials and soldiers were mostly detached by the Sichuan government who supported their foodstuff and pay. The closer relation promoted the 'tea-for-horse' trade between Sichuan and Tibet. Moreover, during this period, the trade was not only just a 'tea-for-horse' trade, but a comprehensive Han-Tibetan trade in which tea predominated and the local products and various goods were included.

In the 41st year of the Kangxi Emperor's reign (1702), the central government set up the Chaguan (Tea Pass) in Kangding, and made it the collection and distribution center of tea transportation to Tibet, and the important transportation center on the ancient Tea Horse Road.

After 1957

After 1957, Chinese government built Yunnan-Tibet and Zhong-Xiang motor ways. Materials and commodities have been transported to Tibet. That ended the out-of-date way of carrying cargos by man and horses on the Ancient Tea-Horse Road.

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