The Past and Present of the Ancient Tea Horse Road

The Ancient Tea Horse Road is an international trade passage in the southwestern region of China used for economic and cultural communications. Horses were the main means of transportation on the Tea Horse Road and the passage originated from the “Tea-Horse Trade” of the Tang and Song Dynasties. Due to cold climates in the high altitude regions of Tibet, people had to intake fats which are high in calories. Due to the lack of vegetables, dryness of the Zanba, and poor fat metabolism, the people of the area drank buttered tea on a daily basis. However, the Tibetan region did not produce tea. On the other hand, in the central regions of China, horses were in high demand with short supply. Tibet, Sichuan, and Yunnan were areas with high horse production. Thus, a transaction of tea for horse, termed “Tea-Horse Trade” was born1 . During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, in order to insure the safety of the frontier and promote unification, the government managed the three trade routes directly. These included the Shanxi-Gansu Ancient Tea Horse Road, Tibet Ancient Tea Horse Road, and Yunnan-Sichuan Ancient Tea Horse Road. Exchange existed between the three routes, forming a larger trade network which stretched across eight provinces and crossed with the silk road, the most influential trade path of ancient China2 .


In modern times, passage through the Ancient Tea Horse Road from Ya’an via Changdu to Lhasa depends on old roads and yaks. For an average person who can walk 30 or 40 kilometers per day, a trip to and fro would take one year. Furthermore, the passage is only open for four or five months per year. Thus, for thousands of years, Tibetans have used their traditional means to pray for the building of a highway between the mountains and a bridge across the rapid river. The construction of an highway has replaced the elementary function of the ancient Tea Horse Road3 . After 1957, the government constructed the Zhongxiang highway which connects Yunnan with Tibet. Thus, all kinds of goods, materials, and necessities of life such as cigarettes, teas, sugars, clothes among others can be transported from Changdu to Tibet, improving the conditions of the area4 . Nowadays the significance of the Ancient Tea Horse Road is different from that of before as it now embodies only a concept. In the tides of the developing socialist market economy, Changdu possesses the prime economic location, situating southeast of Tibet, northwest of Sichuan, and northwest of Yunnan, as an important junction in the triangular economic and cultural communications. Developments in tourism will play an active and important role in the promotion of economics and cultures within the area5 .


Written by Liu Yuan and Yuan Peiting.

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Cite this blog post
gdri (2016, June 22). The Past and Present of the Ancient Tea Horse Road. EurasiaTrajeco. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from

  1. Tea Horse Road: The Cultural Vein That Conquest the World. CCTV net. 2015-09-10. []
  2. Journal of Northwest University《Philosophy and Social Sciences Edition》, 2011, 04, Li Gang Li Wei, Theory in the History of the Three Tea Horse Road’s Contact and Historical Position. []
  3. Jun-Lin Ma 《Yunnan Modern Economic History Research Review 》(after 1980) [J]. 2007 (05) Academic Exploration. []
  4.  Mu Ji Hong. [1] 《The National Culture in the Tea-Horse Ancient Road》 [M]. Yunnan Nationalities Publishing House, 2003. []
  5. Li Xuzhu. Tea-Horse Road [M]. New Star Press, 2005. []

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