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Mongols, Marco Polo, and Pu'er Tea: China's Southwest Silk Road as a Gateway to Southeast Asia

Anderson Poster
Wednesday, November 01, 2017
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
James Anderson
Wednesdays at the Center

In the northeast corner of Dali Prefecture in modern-day Yunnan one finds "Stone Gate Pass (shimen guan)" in a steep mountain valley along the ancient Southwestern Silk Road. Located in the southern region of modern-day Yanjin county on the southern foot hills of Dali Mountain (Dalishan), the pass is located on a mountain section of the trade route which runs along the western bank of the Guan River (Guanhe). The pass and this trade route, known as the "Five Foot Road (wuchi dao)" in the Qin period and the "Ancient Bo Road" in the Han, mark the site of imperial expansion and local resistance through the era of Mongol conquest. The first Qin emperor and Han emperor Wudi both fought in vain to conquer the pass and gain control over their empires' southwestern frontiers. In 794 Tang authorities marked their reentry into the region through an alliance with the Nanzhao kingdom by leaving a cliff face inscription on Stone Gate Pass. Following the fall of the Dali kingdom, Marco Polo reportedly traveled through the pass with his Mongol escorts during his excursion into Southwest China. Trade through this region began in early times. Trade of pu'er tea may date back to the Tang period. Stronger evidence for the sustained trade with central China begins with the period of Ming conquest in the Southwest. The Shimen Pass is important locally as the primary point of trade contact between the indigenous peoples of the Guizhou and Yunnan regions.