By Zhang Yun
According to some records, all professional horse caravans before liberation had a rigorous organization including three grades of No.1 Guotou, No.2 Guotou and Guanshi. Daguotou (No.1 Guotou) was head of the whole caravan and was brave and resourceful, familiar with business information, folk customs and road posts, and could manage household and financial affairs such as managing housekeepers, beasts and property. The size of the horse caravans differed according to the number of beasts. Five beasts constituted a bundle, five bundles constituted a small caravan with a small Guotou in charge. One caravan had scores of beasts, and could have hundreds or even thousands. There was one driver to four mules and horses.
As the Tea Horse Road was long, dangerous and rough, people making the difficult journey on the ancient roads year in and year out showed fortitude and an adventurous spirit. But in their hearts was hidden some bitterness that could not be exposed to others. There was a saying in horse caravan business that "the money earned on this route can be enjoyed by nobody but parents."
During the period of World War II, when Japanese troops invaded China, the horse caravans and heads of tea houses on the Tea Horse Road made a great contribution.
After Burma (Myanmar) was occupied by the Japanese, in order to prevent the invasion of the Japanese army to the east of the Nu River, the Chinese army bombed Huitong Bridge to cut off the unique international road in the southwest area, the Yunnan-Myanmar Highway, and the Tea Horse Road took on new importance. The materials for the battle supported by overseas Chinese and allied forces including arms and ammunition were brought from India continuously to China by horse caravans. Members of the horse caravans came from the Tibetan, Naxi, Bai and Han ethnic groups. They were not only partners in business but also comrade-in-arms in the wartime. Many more horse drivers joined the army directly and became soldiers, being familiar with the terrain and roads, and able to shoot with accuracy and fight with great bravery. At that time there was a popular song, "Horse bells jingle all the way, and horse Guotou are full of mettle. Don't do business this year and carry guns to fight for the country."