Shaxi Market Area
The Shaxi Market Area in China’s Yunnan Province is the most complete surviving example of a trading center along the historic Tea and Horse Caravan Trail, which linked Tibet with Southeast Asia. Founded by an early Tibetan Buddhist sect, it includes an intact theater, guesthouses for merchants, and a temple precinct. Impressive defensive gates surround the complex. A Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) mural of a female Buddha within the complex offers insight into the cultural and social makeup and suggests Shaxi was a matriarchal society, with a multiethnic population. Following the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, trade between Tibet and Yunnan ceased and the market area fell into decline. At present, the mountainous region is primarily inhabited by the Bai, a Sino-Tibetan ethnic group which once dominated large parts of Yunnan Province. The area has become increasingly poverty-stricken, since the 1960s, and the traditions of the Bai have steadily faded.
Restoration of the theater stage and museum
In 2002 the Shaxi Market Area was included on the World Monuments Watch. A multi-phased project was established, the first phase including restoration of the two most prominent buildings on the town’s market square: the theater stage and the museum. The second phase, completed in July 2003, involved restoration of the contiguous Xingjia Temple district. Surrounding historic commercial buildings and guesthouses, all within the town’s impressive defensive gates, benefited. From the fourteenth to nineteenth centuries similar sites would have been common. These marketplaces served a variety of functions for travelers along the route, including trading outposts, shelter areas, entertainment, and houses of worship. Restoration of Shaxi Market Area allows increased understanding of the area’s cultural, ethnic, and religious traditions.