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The Distant Sound of Mule Caravan Bells

Interview with Mr Li Zhengxiong, 19 August 2003 at Sanyi North Village, Heqing County, Yunnan

Ma Cunzhao

Sanyi consists of two villages, a northern and a southern one. In the Republican period (1912–1949) there was a “cauldron boss”1 in charge of the “northern caravan” by the name of Tenth Sister, who hailed from Sanyi North. Th e author came to the village to meet Mr Li Zhengxiong (Bai nationality, 78 years old), a grandnephew of Tenth Sister. Th e following is Mr Li’s account:

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The Mule Caravans of Western Yunnan

An Oral History of the Muleteers of Zhaozhou

Ma Jianxiong and Ma Cunzhao

Mule caravans established a network across physical, political, and ethnic boundaries that integrated Southwest China, Southeast Asia, and Tibet. This article is a first exploration of this little-known mobile network. Based mainly on oral history, it focuses on the mule caravans based in Zhaozhou in western Yunnan from the late Qing to the 1940s, when the first motor roads were constructed. The investigation assembles horse and mule technologies and trade organization in detail in order to reconstruct the role and standing of transporters and their networks in local society, in the regional setting, in a volatile political environment, and in the face of challenging natural conditions.