The research programme “Territories, Communities and Exchanges in the Sino-Tibetan Kham Borderlands (China)” has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration, European Research Council (ERC), Support for frontier research (SP2-Ideas), Starting grant n° 283870.

It is hosted by the Centre d'études Himalayennes, at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)

For further information and any questions, please contact the Principal Investigator, Stéphane Gros

CEH - UPR 299
7 rue Guy Môquet
94800 Villejuif CEDEX
Tél : 01 49 58 37 36
Fax : 01 49 58 37 28

Home > Aims and Themes > Theme 1 - Trade and commerce

Trade routes

During his fellowship, Paddy Booz’s research has concentrated on the theme of trade routes and communication corridors that linked the Chinese border counties with Tibetan areas of Kham, Gyarong and Ngawa (Aba), and the human encounters that occurred among various ethnic groups in the multi-cultural zones that make up the Sino-Tibetan frontier regions and overlapping landscapes.

Furtherance of the work to investigate trade flows and commerce, commodities and human participants has yielded valuable resource materials and identified on-going questions that touch on a number of the social sciences. Although his work has concentrated on geographic, strategic and economic elements that determined the maintenance of old trade routes and the creation of new routes to link China to Tibet, and the frequently un-named and under-appreciated zones between the two great polities, his research has also enquired into political and religious forces that penetrated sovereign spaces for influence, gain and aggrandizement. Other disciplines, in particular linguistics, anthropology, history, political science and sociology, also become drawn into the discussion because of the particularly rich field of topics that emerge from Border Studies.

Up and down Tibet’s long eastern interface, we see the melding of Tibetan areas with non-Tibetan and Han neighbours; these points of contact extend from northern Burma nearly to Inner Mongolia. Importantly, all sectors of these borderlands needed paths, trails, horse-roads and routes of various descriptions to enable economic exchange, and social, political and even religious interaction. Good examples of these modes of contact come to light in the central zone of Sichuan province, where the counties and municipalities of Shimian, Hanyuan, Yingjing, Tianquan, Baoshan, Guanxian, Wenchuan, Maoxian, Beichuan, Pingwu and Songpan (and others) rise up to a barrier range of rugged terrain and high mountains that formed the de facto frontier area. The same phenomena occurred to the north and south of these mentioned names, though to a lesser extent. This extremely complicated topography, with an equally diverse ethnic make-up, has acted as a platform of departure for investigating trade and commodities in the frontier.

The exchange of goods between Tibet and China engaged different routes during different periods. From the 10th to 16th centuries, these exchanges occurred primarily along the borders of Amdo (Tib. A mdo), where Tibetan regions approached or met the northern Chinese provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu. Slowly, for political, economic and practical reasons, such exchanges became more limited geographically, and eventually focused along the Sichuan–Kham/Ngawa border. The towns of Zungchu (Songpan) and Dartsedo (Kangding) evolved as sites of distribution, where rich opportunities for trade and a strictly limiting transport geography made them centres of “locational funneling”, entrepôts that evolved into hybrid centres of prosperity.

During his fellowship, Paddy Booz has made seven research trips into East Tibet and the border areas, frequently on foot. This allowed me to document first-hand the land and geography, conduct interviews and identify place-names. In addition, inscriptions, steles, historical markers and historical remnants exist in out-of-the-way places that can only be reached by walking. Travelling on foot is the only way to accurately re-discover or re-construct old trade routes.