Tea time adventure with Mark Jenkins

(Photo courtesy of Mark Jenkins)

From the first time Mark Jenkins visited Tibet in 1984, he would go back 10 times in a thirty year period.

“I spent over a year in my life in expeditions in Tibet and China,” Jenkins said, when adding all the time up.

Jenkins, a writer in residence at UW and National Geographic journalist, will be speaking tonight as a part of the UW Center for Global Studies “World to Wyoming Tour.”

“Tea, Trade, & Tyranny: Tibet & China Over Time” will focus on the difficult relationship China and Tibet have had throughout the years. Jenkins traces this relationship through the Tea Horse Trail.

“One of the assignments I did for National Geographic was to go retrace the Tea Horse Trail,” Jenkins said. “The Tea Horse Trail is this fascinating 14,000-mile trail that connects Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to Ya’an, the tea growing capital of China.”

Since Tibet is known for its horses and China for its tea, the two were able to form a trade relationship based on tea and horses, hence the name. The route was used up until the 1940s.

“For almost a thousand years, the Chinese wanted horses for their feudal warfare and Tibet has been breading horses 3,000 years and the Chinese have been growing tea for 3,000 years,” Jenkins said. “The Tea Horse Trail [was] functional until the end of the 1940s.”

Since China needed the horses for war, Tibet needed the tea for a staple in their diet.

“The Tibetans wanted tea because they use it in their yak butter tea, which is one of their staple forms of diet,” Jenkins said.

The main workers along the road were called tea porters. Jenkins was able to find these men while on assignment and ask them about their lives working on the trail.

“There were still tea porters, guys who would weight 100 pounds and carry 200 pounds of tea on their backs,” Jenkins said. “I found and interviewed some of these guys, who are in their 80s and 90s.”

Jenkins explained how the trade worked.

A tea porter who used to trade tea and horses on the Tea Horse Trail connecting Tibet and China. Mark Jenkins presentation “Tea, Trade and Tyranny: Tibet and China Over Time” will be tonight at 7 in the A&S auditorium. (Photo courtesy of Mark Jenkins)

“The tea porters would get into the mountains of Tibet, then the horses would come down and they would swap the tea for a horse,” Jenkins said. “Each horse was worth 130 pounds of tea.”

The trade relationship is only one part of the Tibetan and Chinese affair. One of the difficulties in the relationship is the fact that Tibet is not recognized as its own country but instead as a part of China.

Although Tibetans see themselves as a free nation, it does not fit into the Chinese political debate.

“Tibet is not its own country. It is a part of China and will always be a part of China,” Jenkins said. “I have a line in my show ‘China will set Tibet free the same year we set Colorado free.’ It’s just a joke. It’s never going to happen.”

Jenkins said he sees this presentation as an attempt to educate but also entertain. Adventures will be drawn to this show because of what Jenkins experienced from climbing to riding motorcycles across the high plains.

“It’s a combination of entertainment and education,” Jenkins said. “It’s adventure plus an attempt of describing the relationship between Tibet and China.”

He hopes to clear up any misconceptions about the relationship between Tibet and China. Jenkins also wants to inspire people to get out into the world.

“I want them to have a more realistic understanding about the relationship between China and Tibet,” Jenkins said. “I want them to be inspired to travel, to get out of Wyoming, out of the US, out of the continent. Go someplace else.”

“Tea, Trade and Tyranny: Tibet and China Over Time,” will be at 7 tonight in the Arts and Sciences Auditorium. Jenkins will take his presentation on the road beginning in March.

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