As a pu erh tea drinker, you may have come across the Xiaguan tea factory's different tea series/brands such as Bao Yan, Song He, and Nan Zhao. For the latter, we've recently launched both the ripe and raw tuocha:
The trademark Nan Zhao, registered in 1991, is used for Xiaguan's high-end teas because of the historical weight of its name. In this post, we'll take a deep dive into the history of the Nan Zhao kingdom.
Nan Zhao Kingdom
Nanzhao, meaning "Southern Princedom," was a formidable Tai kingdom that emerged in the 8th century in western Yunnan province, southern China. The Tai people, who had occupied the region for centuries, trace their origin to this kingdom.
Comprising six smaller Tai kingdoms, Nanzhao was unified in 729 by Piluoge, the leader of one of the tribal states. With the help of China, which needed an ally against the Tibetans, Piluoge established Nanzhao's capital near Lake Er, a location that proved impregnable to Chinese attacks in 751 and 754.
Nanzhao dominated the East-West trade routes from China and Tongking through Myanmar to India, becoming an imperialistic state by the 9th century. Nanzhao's artisans mastered the weaving of cotton and silk gauze, while resources such as salt and gold were mined throughout the kingdom. A complex system of government and administration was developed, contributing to Nanzhao's cultural sophistication.
Despite its prosperity, Nanzhao declined in the late 9th century and eventually fell in 902 when a rebel official killed its last emperor. The Mongols later conquered the area in 1253.
Dragon's Tail Gate
As cities grow and prosper, towering buildings emerge and the past can fade away under the progress of urbanisation. Despite this, some cultural landmarks endure and remain as a testament to history. Longwei Gate in Xiaguan, Dali, Yunnan Province is one such place. Its rich heritage has been well-preserved, standing strong and unchanged amidst a landscape of progress.
Longwei town boasts a rich history as the site of the ancient Nan Zhao Kingdom (738-902), which emerged from Yunnan in the eighth century. The town's name, Longwei, translates to 'Dragon's Tail', paying homage to the Cang Mountain that runs like the tail of a wandering dragon from north to south. The south gate, aptly named 'Longwei Gate', boasts battlements that stretch southwest to 'Tiansheng Gate' at Jiangfeng Temple and northeast to 'Zhushui Pavilion'. The four-kilometre-long terrain features stunning scenery, but it has also been the site of military battles throughout history.
As the southern gate of the Nan Zhao Kingdom, most of the Longwei Gate has been destroyed; what remains is the Shoukang Building and a 100-metre section of the wall in the west, the remnants of which are less than 1 metre high and were declared a key cultural relic protection unit by the Dali Prefecture People's Government in 1987.
As you journey up Longwei Street, opposite the Hei Long Bridge in Xiaguan, you'll be transported back in time. Lined with ancient houses and courtyards boasting old-fashioned architecture, this area is home to many longstanding residents whose ancestors have called this place their own for generations.
But that's just the start of the historical significance of this area. The fortress of Longwei Gate was constructed by Ge Luofeng, the fifth king of the Nan Zhao Kingdom, to fend against attacks. Longwei Gate was not only a vital transport route - as an ancient tea and horse route that ran all the way to Tibet - but also a crucial city pass where merchants would gather and distribute their supplies.
Today, Longwei Gate serves as an ode to ancient times and is home to countless historical and cultural relics, including ancient courtyards, wells, and trees. Talented locals call this place their abode, and visitors can revel in the richness of this area's history and culture.
Shoukang Slope: Once a Bustling Trade and Distribution Centre on Tea Horse Road
Longwei's main street is called the Shoukang Slope. This street was named after the elderly people who lived here for their longevity and health. In the past, Shoukang Slope served as a bustling hub for trade and distribution, with stone pavilions still standing on both sides of the street, inscribed with past phrases such as "Money Exchange, No Deception."
Shoukang Slope was an essential route along the ancient tea and horse route from Xiaguan to Dali, where a multitude of large and small horse shops once thrived. It was the biggest center for material exchange, boasting a lively trade area illuminated by bright lights at night. Today, the Shoukang Building, formerly known as the Yu'er Tobacco Company, serves as the Dali Cigarette Factory, producing the famous Erhai brand of cigarettes.
While Shoukang Slope played a vital role in trade and commerce, it was also home to two legendary families of Chinese medicine practitioners: Dade Clinic and Songhe Clinic, who were responsible for the hygiene and healthcare of the surrounding residents. During WWII, Cholera broke out in nearby Xiaguan, and Dade Clinic developed their medicine to fend off this disease and distributed it to everybody in need. Additionally, Songhe Clinic had been established since the 13th year of the Tongzhi era of the Qing Dynasty, whose founder's teacher, Zhou Xia, served as the personal doctor of the Japanese Emperor. They used to give medication to the villagers annually during the Dragon Boat Festival, where they spent their time taking care of low-income patients without charging them any fees.
Today, the courtyards of these medical dynasties are still being preserved, listed, and protected as a symbol of their dedication to the community's well-being.
Dali Longwei Ancient City Preservation Association
The Dali Longwei Ancient City Preservation Association is a team formed by a group of retired people who love the ancient city of Longwei. Through years of visits and investigations, and with the support of the authorities at all levels, they have compiled and edited and published three valuable books of cultural and historical materials: "Dali Longwei Gate Historical and Cultural Poetry Monuments", "Dali Longwei Gate Historical and Cultural Courtyards" and "Dali Longwei Gate Historical and Cultural Remains", leaving historical materials for 28 historical and cultural courtyards and listing them for protection.