Shaxi once played an important role as a bustling trade station on the Tea and Horse Caravan Road, an important branch of the Silk Road. Just over one thousand years ago, this ancient trade route connected Tibet with Eastern China. In exchange for teas from Yunnan, Tibetans traded their famous breed of horse to Song Dynasty officials in eastern China, who were busy defending their territory from invaders from the north. Thus the Tea and Horse Caravan was born. Shaxi became the main trade station along this route.
Though today Tibet and China don’t trade along this route, Shaxi still has that border-town feel. Old cobble-stoned alleyways still look like they did a thousand years ago. And different minorities, including the Yi and Bai, still clash every Friday during the Sideng Market when mountain villagers come down from the hills to trade their goods. The World Monuments Fund has listed Shaxi as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world; therefore, Shaxi has recently undergone massive efforts to preserve ancient architecture and culture.
The Sideng Friday market in Shaxi is one of Yunnan’s finest. On this day, minority peoples of the Yi and Bai come down from their mountain villages dressed in their finest attire. The market serves as both a meeting place for friends and family as well as a place to trade for goods hard to come by in the mountains. The animal market is one of the most interesting features. Pigs, cows, goats, sheep, ducks, and chickens are traded openly in a large field adjacent to the main road.