lotus east: the horse gang village

Half an hour outside Weishan, Lotus East Village (莲花东村) stands apart from the surrounding villages, both historically and culturally. Unlike mountain villages, like those around Lushi, which cultivated Yunnan Red (滇红茶), Lotus East once supplied the horses and guards for the caravans that moved tea and other goods along the Tea and Horse Route (茶马道). Although small, the village was powerful and relatively wealthy. In fact, during the Nationalist era, the clan heads – brothers Ma Shiji, Ma Shiqi, and Ma Shixiang – were aligned with Long Yun, the former Party Secretary of Yunnan Province.

Culturally, the residents were and remain Muslims, who elegantly synthesized elements of Han and Bai traditions within the context of Islam. The couplet that graces the entrance to the village mosque exemplifies the hybrid cultures of Southwestern China. In Mandarin, the word for “mosque” is literally “clear truth temple (清真寺)”.  The author has taken those two characters and used them as the opening characters of a Mandarin style couplet:

清升浊沉万教终归一统

真诚不二宇宙同赞阿拉

The pure rises, the polluted sinks, ultimately 10,000 teachings return to one

Truth and piety are not different, the entire universe praises Allah

Today, the Mosque and former homestead of the Ma brothers are open to the public, as is a small museum that introduces horse caravan culture (马帮文化 – literally “horse gang culture”) and the cross cultural breadth of China’s southwestern trade in tea, horses, and other luxury items. Impressions, below:

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