University of Wyoming writer-in-residence and National Geographic contributor Mark Jenkins is planning to talk about the relationship between China and Tibet during a slideshow and presentation next week.
“Tea, Trade and Tyranny: Tibet and China Over Time” is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the UW Arts and Sciences Auditorium. The presentation is part of the UW Center for Global Studies World to Wyoming Tour, during which Jenkins will visit five other Wyoming communities during coming weeks. The presentation is free to the public.
Jenkins first visited China and Tibet in 1984 and has made almost a dozen trips to the region since then. During his travels, he learned about the Tea Horse Trail, an ancient 1,400-mile route connecting Ya’an, the tea-growing capital of Sichuan province, with Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.
The route facilitated a thousand years of trade between the two groups.
“The Chinese wanted war horses for their constant feudal battles, and the Tibetans wanted tea for their yak butter tea, so they traded,” Jenkins said.
Tea couldn’t be grown on the 12,000-foot-high Tibetan plateau, while the Chinese developed some of the great tea plantations in the world in the wetter, low-elevation Sichuan region.
“The Chinese are extremely sophisticated tea drinkers,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins described Tibetans as cowboys, living in an area of tall mountains and dry plains and breeding sturdy, rugged ponies for thousands of years.
“It was this very natural trade because each side wanted something the other was pretty good a producing,” he said.
To complete the trade, Chinese men carried hundreds of pounds of tea over mountain passes to the edge of Tibet, and it was dangerous, backbreaking work.
The trail stopped being a trade highway after the 1950s because of construction of a road, and the relationship between Tibet and China has since ceased to be one of trade partners, as China invaded Tibet in 1950.
Jenkins said China regards Tibet as a resource-rich frontier as well as open space for Han Chinese settlers.
Tibet still views itself as its own country, but there are 6 million Tibetans compared to 1.4 billion Chinese.
“Tibet will not get its freedom,” he said. “That will never happen.”
Jenkins is scheduled to take the presentation to Gillette, Sheridan, Powell, Cody and Jackson. He said the goal of the tour is to share what he’s learned during his travels with the rest of the state.
“I’ve had such incredible opportunities working for National Geographic to see the world and to return to many places and develop a deeper knowledge,” he said. “It’s my opportunity to bring back what I’ve learned.”
Jenkins has won numerous writing awards, has written four books and has appeared in dozens of national and international magazines. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UW.