Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 6 months 3 weeks ago

This is Phase 3, where I will be collecting, interpreting, organizing data and facts from prior to and during the Microcampus trip. Previously, in Phase 0, I had selected my topic and looked at alumni advice. Then, in Phase 1, I referred to background knowledge and started putting forward some big questions. Recently, in Phase 2, I began searching for some helpful sources of information that can help me with my research.

Background Information (from Phase 1):

Yunnan geography:

The Yunnan province is on the Southwestern corner of China that borders many countries, including Vietnam, Laos and Burma [1, 7]. Yunnan is approximately 394,000 square kilometers in size and has a population around 45.7 million people [1]. The province of Yunnan is special in many ways, this includes having the largest plant diversity and being the most ethnically diverse. Due to the geographic features, Yunnan acts as the gateway from China to South East Asia, becoming the hub for some international conventions. Recently, railroad construction is taking place between Yunnan and Thailand, bringing the two countries closer and boosting the economic activities in both countries.

Yunnan economics:

Yunnan is, in fact, a relatively undeveloped province in China. In 1994, more than 7 million people in Yunnan lived below the poverty line of less than an annual average income of 300 yuan per capita [2]. Most lives under a financially supported life, with the help of the central government. However, geographic location of Yunnan has countless positive impacts economic growth. The abundance of resources determines the pillar industries at Yunnan: agriculture (including tea) , tobacco, mining, and hydroelectric power [2, 3]. In general, the natural resources in Yunnan became an indispensable component in the economy.


How to identify one thing as an antique is highly debatable. Some say that an antique is any object with considerable age, valued for its aesthetic or historical significance. In antique trade, antique refers to an object more than 100 years old [4, 5]. However, some dealers use 50 years as a baseline to consider something an antique. These are actually collectibles. Collectibles are defined as valuable objects less than 100 years old [5]. Then we have vintage. Vintage originally meant the year when a specific high quality bottle of wine was produced. However, now it is used to describe, in the antique field, an object less than 25 years old [5]. Note, that the labels antiques/collectibles/vintage has no direct connection to the value of the object. The value is always determined by the demand [5]. For example, a pot from Han Dynasty (206 BC- 220 AD) might be sold at a very low price because it is not aesthetically appealing and nobody wants it.


One of the most common type of antique is furniture. Furniture is categorized into 4 types: Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Suzhou [4, 14]. Beijing furniture has the most simplistic style, usually with none or very less decorative carvings. The Guangzhou category resemble western furniture, perhaps because of the influence from Canton, and . The Shanghai and Suzhou styles are comparatively more decorative, usually with elaborative wooden carvings or delicate patterns [4]. The classic furniture listed above are mainly constructed by the use of rosewood (or redwood). This sturdy material is easy to store, so furniture with a history of few centuries are ubiquitous in antique shops. Currently, furniture is often preserved by using artificial agents like paste wax. Paste wax is stable, long-lasting, and even provides protection from moisture and dust. [6]


Porcelain, or "china", is that of a white, vitrified, translucent ceramic, made from Kaolin clay, fired to a temperature of at least 1000 degrees celsius [4, 7, 8, 9, 13]. This delicate ornament was invented in China, perhaps as early as the seventh or eighth century AD, but advanced ci, the Chinese word used to describe porcelain, already appeared during Shang dynasty (16th - 11th century BC) near Zhengzhou, in Central China, in Henan Province. Chinese porcelain is categorized into 2 main groups: Northern porcelain and southern porcelain. The northern type were made of local clay rich in kaolin. The southern type was made mainly by porcelain stone. Jindezhen, in Jiangxi province, is famous for producing the best porcelain in China, with an unique underglaze blue and white decoration [4, 8, 13]. (This technique was further developed in Yunnan [7, 8, 13].) The difference between northern and southern porcelain is that the former is denser and compact, the latter appearing softer and more glassy [8, 13]. In Yunnan, the most famous porcelain is blue-and-white, with a green glaze [1, 4, 8, 13].


Chinese jade is a very fascinating aspect of Chinese decorative arts. The name "Jade" actually originated in Spain, it comes from the word piedra de hijada, meaning literally stones of the flank, or loin [10, 11]. The source of jade used in the earliest times remains unknown, but historians know that during the Chinese Warring States period (480-221 BC), the Chinese were importing nephrite jade [11, 15]. The ritual use of jade, however, can be dated back to Neolithic period. Different shaped jade were used at different times: the bi (a flat disc of jade with a hole in its centre) and cong (a hollow tube of cylindrical section enclosed by a rectangular body) were used respectively to worship Heaven and Earth [1, 11]. Jade may be in many different colors, including white, green, brown, purple, red and grey. The emerald green is the most prized color of jade, often known as imperial green [4, 11, 15].

Tea Horse Road (THR):

The Tea Horse Road has many honors: being one of the highest and precipitous roads, and being the longest trade route in the world [12]. The Tea Horse Trail originated from the "tea-horse trade markets", the traditional "tea-for-horse" between Han and Tibetan people. It all began with Tibetan interest in tea in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) [4, 12, 18]. Most historians believe that Tibetans first encountered tea during the 7th century when the Tubo Tibetan Kingdom conquered Dali, Lijiang, and other parts of Yunnan. If Tibetans began tea consumption at this time, it was strictly among the elite and remained inaccessible for the majority of society. During the Tibetan rule of Yunnan, a military route was forged to connect the Tibetan kingdom with these occupied areas, and came to be known as the Southwest Silk Road (Xinan Sichou-zhilu), or the Tea Horse Road (Cha Ma Dao). [18]

The content of trade can be inferred from the name of the trade route: horses and tea. The Han needed horses, especially trained war horses in order to protect their northern frontier. The Tibetans, on the other hand, wanted tea, as they figured out tea was essential in their nutrition and that tea can strengthen their bodies.On the way from Yunnan to Tibet,  the semi-permeable packaging also gave the Pu'er tea extra taste, as the tea fermented and oxidized along the way. In fact, the shu cha process is used now to imitate to process. [18, 28]

This trade connection promoted the flourishing of the cultures and the trade of natural resources. The route also acted as a migratory route for the monks, pilgrims, armies, and even entire communities seeking another place to live in. The leaders of those communities or the trading leaders were called Ma Guo Tou ("Head of Horses and Pots"). The order of which the Chinese characters are placed demonstrates the importance of trade eclipsing food itself. (Meanwhile, the secretary of the leader was called Er Guo Tou (Second Head of Pots), even though most refer to this phrase as a brand of white spirit nowadays.) Recently, discoveries show that this road might have an even more interesting background based on the archaeological evidence of tombs that date back to 4000-5000 years. These are found in Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet, and bear a striking resemblance to each other despite the distances separating them. [18] New evidence also suggests that the basis of the Tea horse Road was established as early as Qin dynasty, where people would pick up and drop off commodities along the posts.

By the Song Dynasty, some places like Sichuan (another country with significant influence on China located on the trade route) had a specialized government agency supervising and monitoring the trade. The Tea Horse Road was divided into two parts: the Yunnan-Tibet Road and the Sichuan-Tibet Road. The former is one I am investigating upon. Yunnan, being one of the most important stops on the Tea Horse road, was prominent because of its geographic location. This forced the muleteers to become skilled at crossing sparsely populated mountainous regions. Most of these muleteers were the Muslim Hui. After the Mongols had appointed the Hui ethnic minority group as the governors of Yunnan, the Hui dominated the trade route and successfully spread the Islam religion through the establishment of mosques along the trade route. [18]

As the Ming dynasty slowly deteriorated, the government can no longer generate sufficient revenue to support the military, causing a domestic outbreak. This led to the uprising of the Man ethnic minority group, and the emergence of the Qing dynasty. In the meantime, remnants of the Mongol community still control most of the Tea Horse Road. The Mongol caravans used the road to present tea and other valuable artifacts to the Dalai Lama. This infuriated Qing as they were determined to cut off all autonomous ties. The transition into philosophies of the Qing dynasty caused the political relationship between Tibetans and Han to shift, creating eminent merchant families. To control these growing individuals, the Tea control stations recorded personal information of tea trading merchants and would address death penalties if any export rules were broken. However, the control slowly decreased as individual power and involvement increased. [18]

The Tea Horse Road has been deserted since the 1930s, its last spark of trade happened before the outbreak of World War II. [18] Post the second World War, China officially began industrialization; its exponential growth helped develop railroads that provided efficient trade. However, the road's long-term effects definitely shaped Yunnan in many ways [4,12]. In 2015, there was an exhibition displaying 342 antiques unearthed near the Tea Horse Road [16]. The most famous ones are all pertinent to sculptures of horses, unicorns and merchants. This shows the importance of horses, as a content of trade and transportation, in the past.

Information from 3-to-5's:

The Tea Horse Road, in history, is not identified as one single route. Instead, it is the combination of many shorter and smaller trade routes. The Tea Horse Road is influential in many fields, including politics, economy and society. Yangzhuoran, the place we are staying in, was established by merchants who gained financially from the Tea Horse Road and later bought by the Yang family. (Side-note: the four biggest families in Xizhou are Yang, Dong, Yan, and Yin. Almost everyone a part of those families are descendants from the Tea Horse Road period.) [17]

Information from Local Contacts:

From here, I started having conversations with members of the Xizhou community to expand my understanding of my inquiry topic and connect with people in this wonderful village.

The first person I had a conversation with is called Mr.Du [19]. He is an old antique dealer in the area and has a great reputation for his honesty and kindness. One of the biggest reasons that I interviewed him first was that I wanted to know about the local antique business and the trading process, so that I can familiarize myself with the topic, perhaps even focus on one specific type of antique. During the talk, he was really friendly and showed me his wide-ranging antique collection in his courtyard.

  • Antiques arrived in this area mostly from natural disasters like floods. Others were deliberately preserved by educated people in the past and kept safe underground, only excavated by farmers in the region.
  • Antiques from the Ming Dynasty
    • are the most popular antiques, and they could be sold at the highest price.
    • had the best manufacturing techniques for the porcelain
  • Ming dynasty blue-and-whites have high demands from the international market, therefore sold at the highest cost
  • The development of antiques peaked at Ming and Qing dynasty, specifically during the Kangxi and Qianlong era.
  • Antiques can be analyzed through three aspects: the original design, the ware quality, and the enamel quality.
  • Antiques from the Tea Horse Road may be separated into physical types and cultural types.
    • ​Tea cups, horse bells, saddles, horse neck rings all came from the trading process.
    • The ink boxes and cigarette boxes are all finely preserved.
    • The yellowish white horse rings were only to be used by the wealthy or upper-middle-class; the lower classes could only use black horse rings.
  • Many cultural and superstitious items are common in Xizhou antique shops, especially those that are related to Buddhism or Hinduism.
    • ​Buddha statues, buddha pedestals, rings
  • The Chinese government categorizes anything before 1949 as antiques. (This is different from my background research about western antiques)
  • The antique business is not affected by the tourism business; however, tourists often buy antiques from Mr. Du as he is a famous antique dealer in the area.
  • The antique prices are often determined by the demand in the international market, lots of fluctuations are apparent.
  • Personally, Mr. Du does not keep any of his antique collection (he will sell immediately if at a reasonable price).
  • Trust between the customer and the seller is valued in the antique business etiquette.
  • He usually gets his antiques from the countryside, where farmers trade with him.

On the second day, I decided to visit the Yan Family Museum [20]. I wanted to know more about the antiques that came from Tea Horse Road and explore more on the Road itself. The first floor was rather commercialized for the tourists. Fortunately, the second floor was preserved well and gave me an idea of Xizhou traditional furniture and the Buddhism influence in Dali.

  • The Yan family became rich after the introduction of tea trade in Xizhou.
  • The practice of Buddhism and Hinduism came from India and Thailand, either from the trade route or when parts of India and Thailand were part of the Dali kingdom.
    • ​Buddhist statues were very important to the people living in Dali as most were Buddhists, others were Daoists or Confucianists.
  • Power of the Yan family stretched so far they could operate the trade depots in Asia and one other in Boston.
  • Most pieces of furniture have horse and wave patterns, others with birds and leaves.
  • Dali stone were really precious at the time, especially ones that have patterns that look like scenery, animals, or people.
  • Coin were sometimes used to
    • substitute trading materials or the gap between the official trade
    • put together in bundles made of rope.

The third day, I went to visit Mr. Yang and Ms. Ma's antique shop[21]. I chatted with Ms. Ma about the antique business. She was really knowledgable about the trading process, but not so much about the actual antiques or their history.

  • The antiques that could be sold for the highest price are the ones preserved the best or the oldest in history.
  • Recently, the antique business had been depressed because of the economy.
  • Most of the tourists coming to Xizhou are unwilling to buy antiques because of the inconvenience.
  • Most customers buy antiques for collection and for personal interest
  • The antiques from the Tang, Song, and Ming dynasties are the most treasurable.
  • Pottery or porcelain from the Tang and the Song sometimes contain images of horses or mules carrying loads of tea.
  • Her shop used to have antiques that are from the Tea Horse Road, including:
    • ​Tea cups, tea bags, cigarette boxes, ink boxes.
    • Saddles, horse bells.
  • One of the most intriguing antiques she had was an opium pipe, where the opium came from the British
    • Supposedly from the Tea Horse Road that extended to India (British colony).
  • Ways to spot the age of antiques:
    • When the ware design is better than the enamel design, the porcelain is most likely from the Tang dynasty
    • When the enamel design is better than the ware design, the porcelain is most likely from the Song dynasty.
    • This is because starting from Song, kilns and more advanced machinery came to Xizhou either through trade or through technological advancements.
  • Ms. Ma would sell whenever her family would earn profit from the selling.

Next, I visited LaoMao's antique shop to chat with Lao Mao [22] about the stories behind antiques. He had been doing the antique business for 10 years in Xizhou and collects all antiques from all over China, and even from international markets. He told me a lot about the antique trade and business and how antiques themselves determine the price. Unfortunately, all of his antiques from the Tea Horse Road had been sold.

  • The antique business is not influenced by tourism, since most tourists do not have technical knowledge of antiques
  • The price of one antique can be determined by its historical value, craftsmanship value, and the actual value.
    • ​Historical value is seen as the most important, because it covers the antique's background history and the usage of antiques.
      • ​When antiques tell stories of the past, their historical significance increases dramatically
    • The actual usage of antiques can weigh more than the history of the antique.
      • For example, Chairman Mao's hat can be nearly 1000 times more valuable than a hat used by a peasant in Tang dynasty.
    • The craftsmanship value helps the antique business win the most money, because the craftsmanship or skill is often lost through time.
      • The price of one of the silver balls from the Song dynasty that he has increases because of the loss of skill.
      • One mediocre quality silver ball may have increasing prices
    • Craftsmanship value is not seen in the products made by machinery.
      • Diamond, crystals, ​gold, silver, and metal produced nowadays do not have craftsmanship value because almost anyone can produce them with the right equipment.
      • Their prices are determined by actual value, or through the economy.
        • ​Commodities like gold have high price because of its rarity.
        • The design with this material has no significant value, it only serves as an added value that appeals to the customer.
      • Machine-made items' prices will most likely not change dramatically in the long run, because it is decided by the economy.
  • ​Antiques that came from the Tea Horse Road that used to be in his collection includes:
    • ​From Tibetan areas: Tibetan tea cups, saddles, horse bells, horse rings, hide.
    • From Han areas: Ancient coins, ink boxes, tea bag containers, tea cups, plates.
    • From Southeast Asian areas: Buddha statues.
  • Silverware is the most common in all antique stores from Xizhou.
  • Most people dislike ivory and other animal related antiques.
  • Lao Mao himself
    • designs a lot of the smoking pipes, most use animal femur bones or wood at the main branch, these are sold at a low cost.
    • sees no overall preference of one specific type of antique that is popular.
    • does not prefer the antique trade of duplicates.
    • started collecting antiques at young age
      • ​at first, since his family conditions were poor, he collected antiques based on their value and their historical significance.
      • later, as his antique business became self sufficient, he collected antiques that he personally liked.

Then, I decided to visit Mr. Yang [23], an antique dealer that lives and deals antiques next to the temple. He had dealt antiques in this area for more than 12 years and has a strong personal connection with wooden antiques. 

  • The most common antiques in almost every home in Xizhou is the Wan Juan Shu (The ten thousand scrolls of writing) and the Ba Xian Zhuo (A wooden square-shaped table).
    • Often placed either in front of the worshipping room or the living room as a traditional furniture set.
  • ​There is no definite most popular antique because everyone has different tastes and the customers often have different likes and dislikes.
  • He has a wide collection of wooden antiques like furniture or decorative shelves and screenings, as he is most experienced with the wooden antiques.
    • ​You examine wooden antiques by looking at the
      • layer of original tarnish
        • ​When the tarnish is thin, random, and broken apart, it probably dates back to a longer time period.
        • When the tarnish is equally thin and sharp on the edges, the antique is most probably a duplicate or a fake.
      • the level of decomposition
        • ​The holes or the crevice between the wood pieces can be forged by machinery.
        • When the antique has holes that have side openings or cracks inside the holes, it is most likely real.
  • In order to find out whether or not an antique is real, a lot of concentration and focus is needed.
  • All antiques have one designated price, often 10% - 30% above the original cost of buying the antique.
    • ​The final selling price may depend on the increasing age, the disappearing craftsmanship, or the closeness with the customer.
    • Often, the historical value is more important than the craftsmanship value, at least to his standards.
      • ​As Mr. Yang sees it, the craftsmanship is getting better and better since the introduction of machinery
        • a lot of the traditional manufacture processes can be re-introduced by careful programming on the computers.
        • yet most of the commodity-ornaments made right now are not increasing in value.
        • the older pieces of antiques are increasing in value.
      • The usage of the antique in the past can directly determine the price of the antique
        • ​a chair used by the emperor (Gong Yao) is at least 1,000,000 times more valuable than a chair used by a peasant (Min Yao) in the same time period.
  • The antique business can be influenced by the tourism business because
    • ​some customers understand antiques and they might bring up the economy.
    • to Mr. Yang, more people means more potential customers, which means more potential sales.
  • One huge reason why people want to buy antiques: their nostalgia
    • ​one may want to buy old coins or old containers and just look back to when they were poorer/in worse conditions
    • one may buy furniture antiques and place them in their houses for significance or a "look back".
  • Mr. Yang has many antiques from the Tea Horse Road
    • Pots and pans where the traders use to cook.
    • Horse bells
      • larger ones that are placed above their main bodies
      • smaller one that are tied around their hind legs
    • Coins that were used for trade.
    • Opium pipes, a product of trade.
  • The Dali kingdom originally worshipped Buddhism, and that the introduction of trade only brought other religious items
  • Mr. Yang personally
    • collects antiques from all places around Yunnan and rents a car to pull them back to Xizhou.
    • feels that the antique trading business is slowly declining after 2016, as the economy is going down.
    • would always buy and sell at a reasonable price.
    • believes that duplicates of antiques are no different from fakes.
    • uses the internet and social media to sell some of his antiques to people faraway or people who deem travel inconvenient.
      • ​Most of his sales still come from direct visits.
    • his interest in antiques came from an urge to protect and treasure history through physical forms.

After that, I chatted with Mr. Brian Linden [24]. He gave me a lot of information about the Tea Horse Road and his perspective towards the Tea Horse trade. He was the inspiration to my final product, because he led me into a interesting direction.

  • Most of the antiques from the Tea Horse Road are only classified as vernacular, or functional.
    • ​Merchants would not waste space for the bedecked antiques, instead maximizing space for the tea on mule or horse carrying capacity.
      • ​They also do not want anything valuable to be stolen or lost on the way.
    • ​The antiques that are left over are rare because most of the things on the trip are perishable.
    • Only metallic items are left.
  • The ideas and the religions passed along the trail can be deemed inside insignificant.
    • The Han culture itself had dominance in the early years and resisted outside influence, such as Burmaese, Dai, or other Southern Asian countries.
      • The Tea Horse Road cultural exchange may be highlighted, or even fabricated, for commercial purposes.
        • Looking at the two ends of the Tea Horse Road, hardly any similarities are present religion, culture, and idea-wise.
          • When Alexander the Great campaigned all the way to North Pakistan, in the past known as Persian empire, the greek influence to the earliest stages of Buddhism in Persia is apparent.
          • The Tibetan Buddhism iconology is dramatically different from those of Southern Yunnan.
            • May be due to the fact that Tibet is geographically isolated.
        • This sense of historical story and historical significance in Yunnan is an action of selling soft power.
          • Tourist attractions, sense of exploration of the exotic.
            • Tourists themselves do not care fore the economic impacts of the Tea Hose Road.
            • Tourist preferences show that they like to see tangible cultural impacts, like the influences on architecture or buddha statues.
          • To see the Han and the Tibetan culture in Yunnan.
        • The Tea Horse Road itself has many vague terms that can appear anywhere in China, regardless of where you are.
          • It is unfair to say that all horse-related items are associated with the Tea Horse Road.
  • The physical exchange is great and has huge impacts.
    • The Yunnan blue-and-white has Persian influence and similarities with early Vietnamnese vases.

On the next Thursday, I visited Mr. Zhu's "Old Antique Shop" [25] on the intersection next to Yangzhuoran. According to Ms. Mai, he has the widest collection of antiques related to the Tea Horse Road. Our initial conversation about the Tea Horse Road was extremely short, but the antiques incited extended conversations about trading lifestyle and others.

  • Mr. Zhu has a collection of antiques
    • ​Horse or mule related antiques:
      • Horse pedals, saddles, horse bells, horse rings, locks for horse pedals.
        • ​Most are fairly heavy, especially the decorative horse rings that have devil patterns on them.
      • Horse sticks and bronze coupons
        • ​Only the Ma Guo Tou (Head of Horses and Pots) could use the horse stick to control the horses
      • Horse figurines:
        • ​Metallic figurines are bigger and well-preserved; original paint has been dried and peeled off under harsh weather circumstances.
          • ​These horses have galloping actions and/or rising actions.
          • Resembling war horses which may be from the Tea Horse Road.
        • Jade figurines are generally preserved well, shade of green similar to original effect, metallic engravings sunken into the jade.
        • Porcelain pieces with horse figurines, mostly broken into pieces due to bad preservation.
        • Wood carving figurines are almost broken into halves, wood structures pretty much destroyed.
      • One specific type of antique: horse with monkey.
        • ​The monkey climbs on top of the horse, with the horse looking back at the monkey.
        • Claimed to be related to the Tea Horse Road.
          • ​Actually, it is related to a Chinese idiom of Ma Shang Feng Hou which means that one will soon become a mandarin.
    • Buddha related antiques:
      • ​Buddha figurines are mostly metallic, with an outline or entire body circled around with metal wires. The background may be dug hollow. Other metallic buddhas may have a sleeping pose or kneeling pose.
        • ​Most Han style buddhas are metallic, with a gold covering.
          • ​Traces of gold covering is present on buddhas; faces or legs.
          • The use of gold covering means that these were safely placed in homes. These buddhas would not have been brought around by traders.
            • Buddhism already existed in the Dali kingdom, there was only minor influence from India, Thailand, or Tibet.
      • Jade buddhas are rare, the craftsmanship is not as good, the figurines well-preserved.
      • Some buddhas have animal features, resembling Indian gods.
      • Coins with buddha images have extra value to the Tibetan traders.
      • Superstitious items that repel ghosts.
        • ​Turning stick with images where you sing with the rhythm it creates.
        • Bracelets that scare away demons.
        • Shakers that create a "majestic rhythm".
      • The difference between Han buddhas and Tibetan buddhas are their facial expressions, body structure and stories behind the buddha.
    • Han trade lifestyle related antiques:
      • ​Tea cups, tea pots, plates, chopsticks set, lighters, oil cartons, wine bottles, vases, warlord signs of recognition, pagoda figurines, etc.
      • Stone mosque figures that may represent the Han dependence on Hui for trading.
        • ​The Hui influence in the Tea Horse Trade flourished after the Yuan dynasty, controlled by the Mongols
          • ​Mongols assigned the Hui people, who are Muslims, to control parts of Yunnan and southwest China.
      • Opium pipes with dragon wood carving images.
        • ​Opium came later, from imports of British.
        • Opium pipes were still being traded after the Qing dynasty's attempts to ban opium trade and opium imports before the first opium war.
  • Mr. Zhu personally
    • feels like there are no direct relationships between the tourism business and the antique business.
      • ​However, he believes that during festivals and holidays, when people in Xizhou and the rest of China are free, the sales will increase overall.
      • People in Xizhou begin to buy antiques more and more.
    • collects antique from all over Yunnan, but no further.
      • ​Sometimes, he could not gather any antiques from one trip, thus losing a lot of his money.
      • He is unwilling to risk extra money to around China and search for antiques.
    • believes that there are no most popular or most common antique around Xizhou and that the customers buy because of interest and Yuan Fen (fate).
      • ​From observation, he has a lot of antiques that are silverware and made of copper.
    • visited many museums around Dali and Weishan about the Tea Horse Road.
    • does not sell duplicates, think of them as breaking an honor of trust.

During my weekend, I spent some of my downtime visiting a tourism site in the village of Fengyangyi [26]. The site preserved a part of the Tea Horse Road, but mainly for tourist attraction. It gave me a sense of people here using the "Tea Horse Road" as a label to entice tourists to come to the area and spend money on "experiencing the past" and "looking at cultural relics".

  • People working at the site does not know of the culture and the history behind the Tea Horse Road.
    • ​Top of the iceberg: traditions, religious practices, dresses, festivals, language...
    • Highly commercialized, earning money from horse riding experience, superficial understanding of the route
  • Lifestyle of the traders:
    • Praying to a buddha on top of the wall for luck and success, led by the Ma Guo Tou
    • Roads paved with stone pieces in the centre, guided horses
    • Ma Guo Tou controls almost all resources, including the trade content
      • Massive amounts of trust involved.
    • Houses along the way with walls made of stone and mud or shell pieces with mud
      • Traditional Bai culture housing and architecture, hardly seen in other completely commercialized villages like Xizhou or Dali Old Town.
    • Twin pool, legend about the founding father Shun escaping a murder from a twin pool. This is where the Ma Guo Tou collects the water for the group.
  • Staged bamboo weaving by the seniors, exploiting the tourists coming to the area.
    • sold for 2.4 RMB to the locals.
    • sold for 50 RMB to the tourists.

For my second to last, I visited an antique store North of Sifangjie, ran by Ms. Dong [27]. She has been doing the antique business for a significant portion of time, and owns a lot of wooden antiques.

  • Lately, the antique business is facing economic depression because not a lot of tourists are willing to spend money on antiques.
    • ​The antique business is relevant to tourism because tourism brings most of her sales.
    • Her sales may also come from people who are opening up tea shops or inns.
      • ​They use antique wooden frames or doors to bedeck the living places and to create a sense of value.
  • She has quite a lot of antiques related to the Tea Horse Road.
    • ​Wooden saddles with two sides available for hanging tea bags.
    • Metallic bowls and pots in order to store eggs, food, and cigarettes.
    • Horse bells and horse rings that can be hung around for recognition.
  • The most popular antiques may be the decorative wood pieces.
    • ​People buy those wood pieces for collection, display, or for further wood carving.
    • These wood pieces have already been oxidized chemically, for better appearance.
      • ​90% of these were taken down from old houses or old wooden buildings, mediocre quality, not to the highest standards.

During my last field research, I decided to visit Mr. Yang and Ms. Ma's antique shop [29] again. This time Mr. Yang, an experienced antique dealer, is here and I asked him a few questions about the antique business and basic antique economy. Something very interesting is that he recently purchased a set of oxidized wood pieces, something Mr. Yang claims to be very popular this month.

  • Mr. Yang has many antiques related to the tea horse road that he recently purchased
    • ​Oil lamp, bamboo weaved water bottles, wooden saddles both small and medium
  • The antique business interconnects with tourism through the provision of more potential customers.
    • ​It also connects with the international market interest.
    • The international market choices lead to public interest, creating huge demand and increasing prices of a specific subtype of antique.
    • Currently, the most popular type of antique is oxidized wood.
      • Many people establishing inns and hotels want a sense of nostalgia, thus implementing old wooden pieces to create a deep sense of sadness.
  • There is no specific price for any piece of antique, the historical value, craftsmanship value and actual value does not matter when interest comes into play.
    • ​Customer interest may turn something worth 100 dollars to 100 thousand dollars.
    • The fluctuation between prices highly depend on how much attention is placed on a type of antique by customers.
    • Negotiation of price becomes unimportant when customer interest reaches one of the extremes.
  • The sustainability of an antique store depends on antique store owner interest and perseverance.
    • ​"San nian cai kai zhang, kai zhang chi san nian" (三年才开张 开张持三年) is a phrase to describe how the profit from one gain or one sale can support the family for a long time, as long as the money is wisely spent.
    • However, there will be occasions where one sale loses money for the family.
      • ​If one antique was bought at a high price then the actual value dropped, the best scenario is where the antique store owner sells at the highest price possible.

Answers to Previous Questions (from Phase 1):

Now that I have a lot of information, I can start to answer my Big Questions. I have combined my question 3 and 7 from back in Phase 1 and created a new question that explores more deeply about figurative trade: language, religion, cultures, and the physical trade that goes with it. I decided to do this because I wanted to understand more about the long-lasting socio-cultural impacts that the Tea Horse Road brought to Xizhou, and not only the physical antiques.

Another change I made to my Big Questions was my question 10. I feel like the original question was too vague, and that my field work in Xizhou cannot support me to find a response that logically and fully answers to the question. Instead, I was influenced by the talk I had with Mr. Brian Linden and explored a present theory about the insignificance of the Tea Horse Road cultural exchange and its interconnection with tourism, the biggest industry in Yunnan. To answer this question, I will have to gather evidence from multiple antique shops and use background information and logical reasoning to support my response.

Antique value/popularity:

1. What types of antiques are the most treasured/valuable in Xizhou?

There are many views on this question:

  1. The most valuable antiques are the ones with the most historical significance. This view states that the oldest antiques, antiques that have cultural/religious relevance, and the antiques that have stories behind them can be sold at the highest price. For instance, the stone drums in the national museum in Taiwan has immeasurable value because of the sanskrits engraved on them and their ancient history. Another example is Chairman Mao's shoes. Shoes themselves do not have much value, but the historical significance is added upon the shoes and this builds its total value. [22, 23]
  2. The most valuable antiques are the ones with the best craftsmanship. This view states that the antiques that are the most aesthetically appealing can be sold at the highest price. For example, the blue-and-white from Jingdezhen could be sold for the highest price because of the magnificent ware and enamel design. On the other hand, the Yunnan blue-and-white are inferior in enamel quality compared to the ones produced in Jingdezhen, thus often overlooked and sold cheaper. [21]
  3. There is no single valuable antique because of the different tastes of antique collectors and antique dealers. One may really like furnitures, thus selling it at a higher price. Another may be extremely interested in antiques that connect with the Tea Horse Road. The supply and demand cycle is random when it comes to antiques. However, in general, it is highly dependent on the international market and the international collectors' likes and dislikes. [19, 21, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29]

Personally, I feel like the answer is a combination of 1 and 3. Although the antique business has a lot of randomness involved, a main trend still exists. Antiques that are the oldest and has historical meaning are always more expensive and valuable than those that are not. The Stone Drums mentioned above looks like any piece of round rock, yet its historical meanings allowed it to sit in the Imperial Palace in Beijing. They are considered one of the nine most important national treasures in China. Compared to the best Jingdezhen porcelain ever made, the Stone Drums have much more to offer.

2. What types of antiques are the most popular (aesthetically / historically / economically) in Xizhou?

By antique dealing standards, the most popular antiques are the antiques with the most international demand. According to a few antique dealers, in the last few decades, the international market seek the Ming dynasty blue-and-whites. Most of these were manufactured during the Kangxi and Qianling periods at Jingdezhen, the eminent "porcelain village". The place had the best kilns and the best burning techniques, thus producing the porcelain with the best quality and design. On the contrary, the Yunnan traditional blue-and-whites are inferior in quality and sold at a much lower cost. [19, 20, 21, 28, 29]

Looking away from the international market, one of the most popular antiques right now are the oxidized wood or wooden frames and furniture. People use these items to bedeck their living rooms, bedrooms, and other parts of their living space. The wood, according to Chinese culture, diffuses a sense of nostalgia and sadness, symbolizing when one becomes old and rusted from the combats with reality. Some people use the wooden frames to decorate inns and hotels to imitate an old fashioned style present in many old buildings now in Yunnan. In fact, the Lijiang Inn has many stylistic features that came from the use of antiques. [27, 29]

According to most antique dealers in Xizhou, however, sales do not show a dominant trend of antique popularity. Most believe that all customers, be it tourists or people in the Xizhou community, has their own likes and dislikes and that sales highly depend on luck, chance, and Yuan Fen (fate). Perhaps the only thing the antique dealers can control in their business is negotiation of price. However, based on observations in various antique stores, I think the antiques related to the Tea Horse Road are fairly popular. Antique stores often run out of antiques related to the Tea Horse Road when I visit them, while other antique dealers claim that they have a huge load of antiques like saddles and horse rings. Altogether, this means that there is a large demand and a large supply, which balances out the pricing. This is reasonable because tourists coming to this area are mostly interested in the Tea Horse culture, especially when the cultural aspect of the Road is slowly coming into the Chinese media and becoming the focus of the protection of Chinese cultural heritage. [18, 24, 25, 28]


Antique Business:

3. How did most of the antiques get to Xizhou and how were they distributed?
三、大多数的古董是怎样来到喜洲的, 又是怎么在喜洲镇流动的?

Most of the antiques arrived in Xizhou through floods, fires, and other natural disasters, where people fled with their belongings, which would eventually become antiques. Others that are preserved well were carefully protected by knowledgable and educated individuals in the past, later sold for money. The antiques excavated by farmers are bought by antique dealers in the area, later bought again by antique store owners. Customers then purchase the antiques and most stay in their homes either for collection or display. [19, 22, 23, 27, 29]

4. How can buyers and sellers distinguish between fake and real antiques?

Throughout my field research, I only figured out how to distinguish between fake and real porcelain and furnitures (wooden). 

For porcelain, the analysis begins at the original ware design, or the patterns on the porcelain. We look at how clear the original design is, and whether or not there are approval stamps on the bottom of the ceramic ware. Then we look at the enamel quality. Real enamel has many characteristics: thin, rough, and glares yellow under the sunlight. [19, 21]

For furniture, the analysis focuses on the layer of original tarnish. When the tarnish is thin, random, and broken apart, it probably dates back to a longer time period. When the tarnish is equally thin and sharp on the edges, the antique is most probably a duplicate or a fake. If the antique has conflicting results, one can also look at the level of decomposition. Unfortunately, the holes or the crevice between the wood pieces can already be forged by machinery. The way professionals look at antiques is figure out whether or not the antique has holes that have side openings or cracks inside the holes. When it does, it is most likely real. [23]

5. Are duplicates or copies of antiques still being produced and sold in Xizhou?

Duplicates of antiques are often sold at a regular price and is deemed as a "fake". These are very rare in Xizhou as the most important guideline in Xizhou antique dealing is honesty. [19, 21, 22, 23, 25]


 (Possible) Connections between antiques and the Tea Horse Road

6. What types of antiques are the most abundant in Xizhou?

Although most antique shop owners say that there are no antique considered the most abundant in Xizhou, I noticed that almost all the antique stores I went to have silverware and metallic antiques. [19, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 29] This is most probably because these are the most resistant to external factors like natural disasters. One interesting fact about the Tea Horse Road and merchant lifestyle may be able to explain why silverware is very common in Xizhou. The Naxi people, one of the most active trading groups on the Tea Horse Road has a concrete tradition about the "Three Silver Items". They would bring a silver bracelet for protection, a pair of silver chopsticks for meals and a silver bowl for butter tea. They chose to use silver because silver can also help distinguish poisonous foods from others; silver substance will turn black or brown when the substance it has contact with is noxious. [18]

7. Which specific types of antiques reflect religions and ideas that were expanded through trade?

Antique dealers present conflicting evidence when it comes to the antiques that reflect Buddhism. Some say that the buddha statues came from the Tibetan side or the Indian side of the Tea Horse Road, since both of these nations had Buddhist influence. [19, 22] They provide the evidence that the temples were built along the way from the traders, with the oldest towards Tibet and the youngest towards the Dali kingdom. Others say, however, that the Dali kingdom originally had the Buddhism religion embedded in their culture. [24, 25] The only reason why the Tibetan temples were old was because of the Persian empire's influence in early stages. In addition to that, there is a lack of similarities between Tibetan buddhas and Han buddhas, even though it might be due to Tibet's geographic isolation.

Another type of antique reflects the Islam religion. There are miniature mosque buildings made of copper and bronze, and others that have the Hui ethnic minority group symbol. This is reasonable because the Hui ethnic minority was the most active trading group during the Yuan and Ming dynasties, when the Mongols allowed them to occupy and govern the area. Mosques were established throughout the whole route for worshipping purposes. [18, 23, 25, 28]

8. Which specific types of antiques reflect lifestyles for merchants on the Tea Horse Road?

Most of the antiques from the Tea Horse trade are not decorative, only for functional uses. This includes horse rings, horse bells, saddles, ink boxes, cigarette cases, pedals, coins, tea cups, plates, tea pots, tea bags, pots and pans, locks, suitcases, etc. [19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 28] We can see from a series of antiques available in Xizhou that merchants and traders (muleteers) do not bring items for leisure and entertainment, rather saving the space for mules to carry as much tea as possible (carrying capacity). They also do not want anything valuable to be stolen or lost along the way. This contradicts with the previous viewpoint, where buddha statues were brought in via the Tea Horse Road. It would be unreasonable for people back then to carry buddha statues around when they are conquering mountainous regions.


Impacts and looking outwards

9. How did the Tea Horse Road trade affect Xizhou commerce?

The Tea Horse trade affected the Xizhou commerce socially and economically, having a positive impact as a whole. Socially, Xizhou received outside influence, both from Tibet and other southeastern Asia countries. This brought new perspectives, new languages, and supposedly new religions and cultures. The Hui ethnic minority group, for example, had a long-term impact. Their participation in the Tea Horse trade Even now, Xizhou has a mosque east of Sifangjie and countless Muslim restaurants. Some shops even adhere to the Islam principles. Economically, the wealth from trading around the trading route benefited the four big families: Yang, Dong, Yan, and Yin here in Xizhou. The difference in cost between the tea and horse were then later spent on public services and community benefits, which improved the Xizhou living conditions. As Xizhou is an important stop in Dali, the private or family owned businesses also boomed: inns, hotels, and shops had extra income, in which they spend on commodities, sold by other businesses. The wealth circulated around Xizhou, creating more room for leisure and comfort for the people in the community.  [17, 18, 24, 28] 

10. What are the relationships between the Tea Horse Trade and the tourism industry?

The Tea Horse Road has complicated connections with the tourism industry. According to Sigley, Deng Xiaoping's theory of "fazhan cai shi ying daoli" (发展才是硬道理) promoted the development in China, regardless of the loss of cultural heritage. This later turned into "cultural heritage preservation that sit very uneasily next to, or indeed beneath, the commercial imperative to develop the economy and, to put it bluntly, turn a profit." The truth is, other than the intrinsic benefits of preserving cultural heritage, one of the key motivating factors leading to preservation efforts across China is the potential to develop tourism. Mass tourism of this kind tends to lead to crass commercialization and distortion of local cultural traditions rather than "preservation" as the locals reshape and repackage their traditions to suit the consumptive desires and gaze of the inbound tourist. Even worse, the local community does not benefit from the economic development coming from tourism. Local governments and the tourism branch would rather work directly with the tourism developers than losing money through a series of contracts and trades that interact with the local communities. All the revenue went to the company and the state, with hardly any going to the people of the community. [20,24,26,28]

All of this has been seen with the Tea Horse Road. It has been used as a label to entice tourists and consumers to explore the Yunnan region, specifically Kunming and Dali. The physical exchange, seen from historical records and the antiques available in Xizhou, cannot be doubted. However, the cultural exchange may be exaggerated or even fabricated for commercial purposes and the creation of an "exotic experience". Along the trading route, tourism developers exploited this opportunity to win fast money, to use the "seemingly different" ethnic minority groups in China to promote domestic travel within the nation. Thus, the Tea Horse Road is a perfect example demonstrating the oxymoron of the real preservation of cultural heritages and tourism development. [22, 28]



1. Microcampus site: S., Aniketh. Antiques in Xizhou,, accessed 12 January 2018.
2. Online: Yunnan Adventure Travel: Yunnan Economy, accessed 13 January 2018.
3. Online: Responsible Tourism: Yunnan Economy, accessed 13 January 2018.
4. Microcampus site: H., Griffon. Antiques that connect to the Tea Horse Road, accessed 13 January 2018.
5. Online: Antique HQ, accessed 13 January 2018.
6. Online: Furniture care tips, accessed 13 January 2018.
7. Online: Gotheborg: Yunnan blue and white, accessed 13 January 2018.
8. Online: Gotheborg: Chinese Porcelain, accessed 13 January 2018.
9. Microcampus site: S., Max. Antiques in Xizhou,, accessed 13, January 2018.
10. Online: Asian art: Old Chinese Jades: Real or Fake?, accessed 13, January 2018.
11. Online: Gotheberg: Jade, accessed 13, January 2018.
12. Online: China Highlights: The Ancient Tea Horse Road,, accessed 14, January 2018.
13. Wikipedia (used only to assess): Porcelain, accessed 14, January 2018.
14. Wikipedia (used only to assess): Chinese Furniture, accessed 14, January 2018.
15. Wikipedia (used only to assess): Chinese Jade, accessed 14, January 2018.
16. Online: English CCTV: Ancient Tea Horse Route Antiques on display in NE China,, accessed 16, January 2018.
17. Mr. T 3-5 conversation, 13, March 2018
18. Book: Tea Horse Road: China's ancient trade road to Tibet by Selena Ahmed. Photos taken by Michael Freeman. Access throughout Microcampus trip 12, March 2018 to 5, April 2018.
19. Conversation with Mr. Du at Mr. Du's home. 03/14/2018
20. Yan Family Museum visit 03/15/2018
21. Conversation with Ms. Ma at Mr. Yang and Ms. Ma's antique shop. 03/16/2018
22. Conversation with Lao Mao at Lao Mao's antique shop. 03/19/2018
23. Conversation with Mr. Yang at Mr. Yang's antique shop next to the temple. 03/20/2018
24. Conversation with Mr. Brian Linden at the Linden Centre. 03/21/2018
25. Conversation with Mr. Zhu at Old Antique Shop. 03/22/2018
26. Fengyangyi village visit. 03/25/2018
27. Conversation with Ms. Dong at Ms. Dong's antique shop. 03/26/2018
28. Article: Cultural Heritage Tourism and Tea Horse Road by Gary Sigley. Access throughout Microcampus trip 22, March 2018 to 27, March 2018.
29. Conversation with Mr. Yang at 
Mr. Yang and Ms. Ma's antique shop. 03/27/2018

I think now I am ready to move onto the next stage, where I will prepare for my final product, because I have enough information to deliver. Moreover, I recently had a walk and talk with Mr. T about how I will categorize information and come up with a thesis in my Phase 4. Please follow up in my journey!


Hi Clark!

Hi Clark!

Mr. Venema and I have been reading everything you're up to just now and you look like you are having an amazing time and gaining a lot of great experiences! We miss your music in class but look forward to seeing you again soon after Spring Break!

Hey I am Clark! Microcampus has been a spectacular experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. This experience transformed me and taught me many life lessons. Now that I am in Shanghai, I miss the clear skies, the amazing food, and all the loving memories the Voyagers crew had together. To future Microcampus students: cherish your time in Xizhou and always listen to Mr. T and Ms. Mai, as they are trying to stop a problem before it becomes one.