Text by Wu Heng Photographs by He Jiang and Lu Shiyou
Tengchong, a western Yunnan Province border county, rests about 200 kilometers from Myitkyina, Myanmar, and 600 kilometers from Ledo, India. The area has been a key link between China and South Asian countries since the development of the Southern Silk Road some 2,000 years ago. The ancient transnational trade trail, which passed Tengchong before forking off to what is now Myanmar and India, helped create the economic hub and caused a boom resulting in Tengchong’s age-old nickname, “First Town on the Frontier.”
Tengchong’s magnificence is a combination of its enduring history, splendid culture, and spectacular geography characterized by dormant volcanoes and sizzling hot springs dotting its peripherals. Historically, the county not only nurtured prosperity and culture, but also endured the destruction of war. Today, those fleeting moments, whether beautiful or devastating, have been deeply etched in the footnotes of the border town’s chronicle.
At the southern entrance of Tengchong’s modest county seat stands a statue of Xu Xiake (1587-1641), a famous traveler of the Ming Dynasty. Xu spent more than a month touring Tengchong, which was then a prosperous border city known as Tengyue. His Travel Diaries in Yunnan immortalized the town, but ultimately Tengyue was decimated during wartime, and following the Second World War, a new city sprouted from the ashes and developed into what we see today.
As an ancient Southern Silk Road hub, Tengchong flourished in terms of both industry and commerce, its pinnacle stretching from the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to the early Republic of China period (1912-1949), when merchants flooded the area and dozens of domestic and transnational companies established local branches there. Today, a major highway links Tengchong with Myanmar’s Myitkyina, and Houqiao National First-Class Port serves as a crucial channel of Sino-Myanmar trade.