The Town of Shaxi
Shaxi is situated in Jianchuan county in Yunnan province (southwestern China). Prior to the 1950's, Shaxi served as a pivotal stop along the Ancient Tea Horse Road, facilitating trade between Yunnan, Tibet and beyond. Similar to the more highly acclaimed Silk Road of Inner Asia, the Ancient Tea Horse Road acted as a breeding ground for cultural exchange and fiscal barter between diverse ethnic groups residing along the eastern edge of the Himalayan massif. The strong influence of Buddhism can still be observed in the highly intact cave temples (grottoes) and distinct frescoes of Shibao Mountain, as well as the unique religious practices of the Bai ethnic minority group.
The town's main street, Sideng, is probably the only remaining waystation of the Ancient Tea Horse Road. The old market area and the historic centre of Sideng give testimony of the architecture created during the centuries of trade. The open air theatre, guest houses, shops and village temple made Sideng both a trading post and a religious centre for the entire valley and for the merchants passing through.
Several factors precipitated the decline of the Ancient Tea Horse Road in the mid-1900's, including the modernization of roads and transportation. Much of the original character and architecture were further destroyed in the latter half of the 20th century when an unstable political system and erratic social
climate introduced new values that condemned the past. However, the continued growth of China and development of tourism have inspired a resurgence of the trail and means for revival throughout the region. A local museum currently housed in the north and south wings of the Sideng Theater further elaborates upon the evolution of the Shaxi Valley and history of the trail.
Today, there are around 22000 people living in the Shaxi valley, and most of them work in agriculture. 80% of the population belongs to the Bai people, an ethnic minority group whose roots can be traced back to the eighth century, and who still maintain their own language and culture.
The Only Ancient Bazaar Left Along the Tea Horse Road
The only well-preserved bazaar on the Ancient Tea Horse Road, which was listed among the watch list of 101 world's most endangered sites released by the World Monuments Fund (WMF) in 2001, is located on the Sideng Street. The Jianchuan government signed a memorandum on the reconstruction of the site with the