Phase 1: Posing Real Questions

Updated 2 days 43 min ago

Before the winter break, I had finished Phase 0, where I chose my topic of the local antique trade and its interconnection with the Tea Horse Trail. Now, I will activate my prior knowledge of the subject and ask myself a few insightful questions that I am wondering about.

What do I already know (or think I know) about the subject?

Tea Horse Trail: The Tea Horse Trail, originated in the Tang dynasty in China, is the trade route between Tibet and Yunnan. This trading network received its name because of the Tibetans traded horses with the Chinese tea, produced in Yunnan. Many say that the Tea Horse Trail was the first time in history where Chinese distributed tea within various parts of China and spread the tea culture to other parts of Asia. In fact, during the Tang dynasty, Japanese embassies came to China to study about the cultivation and production of tea and brought their knowledge back to Japan. Ironically, Japan has respected the Chinese culture and developed types of green tea while the Chinese lost most of the tea culture during Yuan dynasty, where Mongolians became the rulers of China. 

Local Antiques: Antiques are ancient objects that contain a cultural or religious value. Yunnan may have many antiques related to horses because horses were crucial to the domestic and international trade in Yunnan. Without trade, Yunnan will have a surplus of tea and deficiency of other essential resources. When buying antiques, shop owners usually set the price much higher than the actual value of the antique. Bargaining can, therefore, be very helpful when buying antiques.

Where did I learn these things?

One place where I learned much of the historical context was from a series of Chinese history books, written by an author from HongKong. The author has many credentials, so the facts are very accurate. Another place I obtained the information was from my parents, who are very interested in tea and tea culture. They often have conversations with me, commenting on different types of tea and talking about their cultivation. For example, when my family and I were traveling to Taiwan in the summer, Mom told me an interesting story about how one type of Taiwanese tea was treated to produce the best taste: the tea leaves had to be partly eaten away by the pests. I also got information on the local antiques from alumni, since I am not so knowledgeable about the subject. I referred to Aniketh S. and Griffon H. about the types of antiques in Xizhou and the shop owners in antique shops.

What do I want to know about the topic?

I want to know what the antiques that Xizhou have an abundance of. I also wish to know how to identify antiques and see if there are any interesting stories about their origin or manufacturing process. In addition to that, I am intrigued by how the Tea Horse Trail influenced the local antique trade, the merchants, the economy in Xizhou, and even Linden Centre, where we are accommodating. I think the antiques might have been transported to or left in Xizhou along the Tea Horse Trail because Xizhou is an important stop on the trading route, but I need to make sure. I read a Phase 2 article by Griffon H. and discovered that there are many antique shops in Xizhou that may be able to help me understand how antique shops work and the quality and quantity of antiques in the shops.

From here, I began doing some additional background research. This is to help me understand my topic before I develop my Big Questions. The research results can be found in my Phase 3 webpage.

After the comprehensive research, I started to develop my big questions. The questions below are to facilitate my research in the village and help me focus on my topic in Xizhou, Yunnan. The big questions below are ordered and grouped to follow my thoughts: first antiques from the perspective of Xizhou residents, later to a broader vision of the antique business, and finally finding about the interconnection between antiques and the Tea Horse Road. I am aware that the questions may change as I go through multiple stages of the inquiry project research. Note: the sentences in italics are possible answers to my questions without further research.

Antique value/popularity:

1. What types of antiques are the most treasured/valuable in Xizhou?
The most valuable types might be Yunnan blue-and-white or imperial jade, since they are rare and difficult to manufacture.

2. What types of antiques are the most popular (aesthetically / historically / economically) in Xizhou?
The most popular type of antique might be regular porcelain, because it is both visually appealing and affordable.

Antique Business:

3. Where are antiques sold in Xizhou?
In Xizhou, antiques might be sold in local shops or traditional stores.

4. How are antiques distributed in Xizhou?
The antiques were probably excavated, transported to various parts of Yunnan, including Xizhou, and bought by local merchants. These antiques might go through a long process of being bought and sold before reaching its current owner.

5. How can owners and buyers distinguish between fake and real antiques?
They might examine the color or feel the texture of the antique.

6. Who purchases the antiques in Xizhou and why?
The people who buy antiques might be collectors of antiques or just members in the community who would like to have some embellishment in their dwellings.

7. Are duplicates or copies of antiques still being produced and sold in Xizhou?
There are probably duplicates of popular or famous antiques displayed and sold in shops, so that the antique business can maintain profits.

Connections between antiques and the Tea Horse Road

8. What types of antiques are the most abundant in Xizhou?
The most abundant antiques might be daily-life objects or things related to horses that the merchants traveling on the Tea Horse Road left behind.

9. How did most of the ancient antiques get to Xizhou?
Some might be bought by people and then brought to Xizhou, others might be left behind by previous residents.

10. What types of antiques reflect lifestyles for merchants on the Tea Horse Road?
Antiques like teacups, clothing, hats, or saddles can reveal the social status and travel conditions of the merchants.

Before going to Xizhou, I would like to further my understanding on these questions, especially the link between antiques and trade. One important aspect of this is what the Tea Horse Road brought to Xizhou, and how this can be reflected through the antiques. For example, I need to focus on specific excavations and interpret the political, cultural, and religious significance of the antiques.

From here, I am moving on to Phase 2, where I will be seeking helpful resources that can help me answer my big questions, and eventually find out more about my topic.

I am Clark W. and I am super excited about my adventure in Xizhou, Yunnan. I was born in Lancaster, Pennslyvania, but spent most of my life in Shanghai. My inquiry project will be focused on Local Antique Trade/Tea Horse Trail because I am passionate and curious about the history and stories behind antiques and the trade's effects on Xizhou. I hope that I could explore China outside the "bubble" and learn to be more independent throughout this amazing experience.