When my colleagues and I first spied the Shaxi Valley from atop a mountain ridge in 1999, we were struck by its scenic beauty. We desperately wanted to explore the valley, but, unfortunately, Shaxi was not on the official itinerary provided by our host, the government of Jianchuan County, which had invited us to this remote region in the Himalayan foothills to discuss a variety of development opportunities. Our hosts considered Shaxi of little interest to the outside world, being no more than a patchwork of farms with a dilapidated old market town in its center. With a little cajoling, however, our guides agreed to take us down into the valley, along worn narrow horse paths, to scope it out. Upon our arrival in town, we were greeted by local representatives, eager to show us Shaxi’s historic center and beautifully proportioned old market square. Although it had been more than two decades since the last transactions took place in the square and its buildings were in a most desperate state of disrepair, we were fascinated by what we saw. The square was carefully paved with local red sandstone slabs, surrounded by shops with exquisitely carved woodwork, with intact protecting gates, an open-air theater, a merchants’ guesthouse, and an extensive Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) temple district. With its unique combination of economic, social, religious, and cultural facilities, we knew such a magnificentplace must have been far more than just an ordinary rural market in years past.