Yunnan, China Brief History

China, on the surface larger than the whole of Europe, offers many varied nature and cultural experiences due to the different types of nature that exist within the country’s borders and its ethnic diversity. With about 1.3 billion inhabitants, China has the world’s largest population, of which about 92% are Han Chinese. The rest of the population belongs to one of the 55 different minority peoples who also live within the country’s borders.

In the southwestern part of the country is the province of Yunnan, which means “The Land Behind the Clouds”, once closed and isolated but today accessible to tourists. 26 of these live in Yunnan. The minority peoples are, among other things, related to the people of Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

China is a country in rapid revolution, but ancient culture and ancient lifestyles still remain. In Yunnan, perhaps the traditional China is best preserved.

Yunnan Province

According to, Yunnan is probably one of China’s most exciting and interesting provinces to visit. The area has been a border area with the countries Vietnam, Burma and Laos for centuries. The proximity to the “Golden Triangle” in Thailand has long affected the opium trade. There were major trade routes through Yunnan that influenced everyday life and cultures in the province.

Yunnan history in brief

Yunnan has an interesting history and has over time been employed by various attackers.

In the 13th century, the Mongols came here. Their descendants still live today in small villages where they still live according to ancient Mongolian traditions. During this time, the capital Kunming was founded.

During the Ming period, the influx of Han Chinese, who were expected to have greater loyalty to the Chinese emperor, was encouraged. That did not happen, however, but Yunnan’s story is full of bloody revolts against the imperial power.

Minority groups have also created unrest. During the years 1857-72, Muslim groups rose up against Chinese supremacy.

The relatively large group of Muslims living in Yunnan are descendants of the Muslims who came to China in connection with the Mongol invasion in the 13th century. Other Muslims came to China mainly through trade with Arab merchants.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the British and the French competed for power in the area. They forced trade rights and in 1908 they opened Kunming for foreign trade. During the years 1906-10, the French built a railway between Kunming and Hanoi in order to exploit the province’s copper deposits. During World War II, Kunming was the end of “The Burma Road”.

Yunnan population

Yunnan’s population is just over 40 million, most of them Han Chinese. About 20 minority people also live within the region’s borders, which is almost half of China’s ethnic groups, mainly mountain people. The largest minority groups are the Bai, Naxi, Yi, Dai and Hani peoples. The Dai people live mainly in the Xishuangbanna, an autonomous region on the border of Burma and Laos. Their capital, Jinghong, is located on the mighty Mekong River.

Yunnan nature

In large parts of Yunnan, there are dramatic landscapes with high mountains and mighty rivers, which contributed to the province having to wait longer for the economic development that other parts of China had to experience more quickly.

The mountain peaks stretch from an altitude of 2,000 meters to over 6,000 meters and a large part of Yunnan is located on a high plateau between 1,500 and 2,000 meters altitude.

Western Yunnan is located within the monsoon area and thus has high rainfall, mainly during the period May – October

Yunnan geography

Yunnan’s area amounts to 394,000 square kilometers, ie slightly less than Sweden. The population amounts to just over 40 million inhabitants. The regional capital Kunming, with about 3.5 million inhabitants, is now a major industrial city. It is also called the “City of Eternal Spring”.

Ancient traditions in Yunnan

Legend narrator

If you visit the so-called “People’s Square” in some of the larger cities, you can still, if you are lucky, get to experience encounters with the legends, men or women who carry on old storytelling traditions.

Through lively facial expressions, narrative movements, song and stories, they reproduce old stories. They are usually accompanied to music on ancient Chinese musical instruments. Even though you do not understand their stories, you have a great benefit from listening to them. The Chinese-speaking audience lives in the stories with great delight and laughs often and heartily.

Lotus feet

Women with “lotus feet” are still encountered, ie they, as little girls, had their feet laced and thus deformed for life. This was an ideal of beauty that was abolished in the rest of China in 1912, but had to survive until the end of the 1940s in Yunnan until Mao Tse Tung banned the custom.

A trip to Yunnan and Xishuangbanna is a visit to a different China that offers very beautiful natural scenery, meetings with interesting minority people and insight into old cultural traditions. Yunnan is, so far, visited by relatively few Westerners.

Yunnan, China

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