Asia’s historic trade routes were a tremendous ground for social interaction and interethnic dialogues, thus promoting intercultural exchange, but also creating and transmitting knowledge and skills. Their legacy, as it is the case with the Silk Road, is today observable well beyond the Asian borders. This Tea Road started in China (18th-19th), acrossed the Mongolian steppes and ended in St. Petersburg, from where tea reached Europe.
The idea commonly accepted in most historical research about Shanxi Merchant’s escorting activities (Northern China) is that, through their unarmed and armed fighting skills, local peasants were able to protect traders and their goods from brigand’s attacks. From this point of view, it can be argued that without martial arts, there would not be any formal escort profession. Nonetheless, in order to explore new lines of inquiry with a view to extending debate and reflection, this presentation would like to discuss the idea that fighting skills were less important than communication competence. Indeed, the efforts undertaken by escorts to pacify relationships with brigands were a guarantee to the safety of convoys, and the escort’s defensive art rarely had to be put into practice against the brigands.
This process of relational exchanges between escorts and brigands was based on the implementation of a communicative competence, a form of common “secret language”, devoid of written tradition and coming from marginal social groups.
This peaceful means of exchange was to encourage the dynamism of trade activities and increase the lucrative nature of escort activities in Northern China.