China’s Ancient Tea Horse Road

Many have heard of or read about the Silk Road between China and Europe, but I think few have heard of the ancient Tea Horse Road, which I first read about in the May 2010 issue of National Geographic (NG).

Legend says that tea from China arrived in Tibet as early as the Tang Dynasty (618- 906 A.D.). After that, the Chinese traded tea for horses, as many as 25,000 horses annually.

But that isn’t what struck me the most about the NG piece. It’s the example that demonstrated why the peasants loved and possibly worshiped Mao Tse-Tung.

From May 2010 National Geographic Magazine, page 103

For more than a thousand years, men fed their families by carrying hundreds of pounds of tea on their backs across the rugged mountains into Lhasa. Some froze to death in blizzards. Others fell to their deaths from the narrow switchbacks that climbed into the clouds.

This all ended in 1949 when Mao had a road built to Tibet and farmland was redistributed from the wealthy to the poor.

“It was the happiest day of my life,” said Luo Yong Fu, a 92-year-old dressed in a black beret and a blue Mao jacket, whom the author of the National Geographic piece met in the village of Changheba.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.


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2 Responses to China’s Ancient Tea Horse Road

  1. That’s SO interesting and I did not know it. Thank you for increasing my knowledge. The tea horse road through the Himalayas. Wow.

    • You’re welcome.

      Imagine the strength of those men. I’ve hiked a few miles in a day and at most with a 5,000 foot elevation gain with only a small backpack. These guys climbed miles into the sky over hundreds of miles to the Roof of the World. Amazing. I agree with Wow!

      This went on for centuries!

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