Yunnan · Dali · Jianchuan
Shaxi 沙溪

Shaxi is the best preserved caravan-time trading post in Yunnan and has undergone an award-winning restoration.
Picture: Religious ceremony in the old square on the eve of the Prince Festival.
Shaxi: Religious ceremony in the old square on the eve of the Prince Festival.

Charming Shaxi is one of the last complete ensembles of an old market town from the beginning of the 20th century. Then caravans that were heading from Baoshan, the old Yongshang, towards Tibet, could bypass Dali by travelling up the Heihui River that runs from north of Shaxi past Qiaohou and Yangbi. While Shaxi is generally billed as a town on the 'Tea Horse Road', the main trade passing thorugh was salt, which was carried through town from the salt mines at Qiaohou and Nuodeng up to Tibet. In its heydays market was held three times a week in Shaxi, generally after nightfall when the caravans had arrived and made their quarters for the night.

The market square, just to the east of the modern road through town, has on its western side a well-preserved three story stage with a small Benzhu temple on the top floor, where Bai opera is still performed on festival days by a troupe from Shilong village near Shibaoshan. Similar stages could once be found in all market towns and even villages.

Facing the stage on the other side of the market square, with its two ancient shade trees, the large Xingjiao Temple is dating back to 1415. Most interesting are the old murals on the main building just below its roof. These show a female Buddha and also scenes from the court of the Dali Kingdom. Old shop-houses, today disused as trade happens on the modern street, line the other sides. On the northern side of the square an old caravan inn has been transformed into an upmarket hotel.

A small path leads through the eastern gate to the river, where a bit further south an old stone bridge crosses the river. To the west of the market, along the small street leading down to the market square, is the Ouyang Residence, dubbed the town's five star caravan inn, where many of the traders stayed overnight. Watch out for the wooden bunk beds with storage for valuables underneath and the lattice windows next to them: they allowed the guests to keep an eye on their horses and goods.

Restoration work on the old market square was conducted from about 2003 under the guidance of Swiss architect Jacques Feiner who ensured that any restoration was done with traditional materials using traditional techniques. But more recently, the old primary school just west of the temple has been torn down in favour of a new hotel development by a Chinese real estate investment company.

Kiss of Life for an Old Caravan Market

Until the middle of last century, Shaxi was a flourishing village on the caravan road to Tibet. The following decades made it a place that history forgot. Now Shaxi is undergoing an award-winning restoration.


Travel Notes

Plenty of guesthouses in Shaxi ranging from cheap to expensive. Easy transport by minibus to Jianchuan and Shibaoshan. There is a forest track connecting Shaxi to Niujie north of Eryuan, but there is not transport on that road. A few busses run south towards Qiaohou and Yangbi.


Shibaoshan Songfest 27 Aug 2019

Bai Opera 29 Jan 2020

Prince Festival 01 Mar 2020

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