Yunnan History

Last updated by peggie at 2014/10/30

Yunnan Province is believed to be one of the areas of present-day China inhabited by the earliest human forms (genus Homo). Anthropologists believe that there were several successive waves of migrations of early humanoid and human forms out of Africa and westward to the Indian subcontinent, then northward into present-day Tibet and from there, eastward into China, one of the first areas of settlement inside present-day China being the area of present-day Yunnan Province. By the Neolithic (New Stone Age) period, human settlements were widespread in the area. Several finds in the Lake Dian area near the present-day city of Kunming, which belongs to the Spring and Autumn (BCE 770-476) Period of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty, have been uncovered. The Dian Kingdom, as it was known, is believed to have spoken a language belonging to the Tibeto-Burman family of languages (many of the 15 indigenous ethnic minorities of Yunnan Province have Burmese roots). They buried their dead in vertical pit graves. The province is rich in mountains, rivers and lakes, which would have provided sustenance to many of the animals and plants on which early humans would have depended.


The earliest trace of the genus Homo (species erectus, the second-oldest species of Homo, the oldest being habilis) found in present-day China stem from an important geological find in Yunnan Province. Fossil remains of Yuanmou Man, discovered in a series of caves in 1965 near the village of Danawu, Yuanmou County, Yunnan Province, were dated to be 1.7 million years old, i.e., from the Paleolithic, or Old Stone Age, period. It is not surprising that the earliest human forms in China would be found in precisely Yunnan Province, given the province's warm climate, which is related to its topography and its subtropical latitude on the Tropic of Capricorn.

Of course, the climate of the province may have changed in the interim, though it is quite likely that the area was not significantly less warm than it is today (it may even have been warmer), as early man would surely have lived in a climate that was rich in flora and fauna, on which he, as a hunter-gatherer, would have depended for his nourishment, a climate not dissimilar to that in which the Upper Paleolithic (the most recent Paleolithic period) Cro-Magnon (genus Homo sapiens sapiens) cave dwellers of south central France lived (viz. the Lascaux caves discovered near the present-day Dordogne village of Montignac). Prior to the find of the fossil remains of Yuanmou Man in Yunnan Province, the oldest known Chinese exemplar of the genus Homo was Peking Man - unearthed in 1921 - and also a member of Homo erectus (subspecies pekingensis). Peking Man was dated to be somewhere between 300 and 500 thousand years old.

The fossil remains of Yuanmou Man were, as is so often the case, discovered accidentally, when engineers and surveyors arrived in the area to plan the laying of the Kunming-Chengdu railway line. The construction crew learned from an old shepherd from the village of Yuanmou, which lies about 100 kilometers northwest of Kunming, as the crow flies, that the villagers of Yuanmou had for ages ground up "dragon bones" (i.e., fossil remains, which could be either animal or human) to use as preventive medicine. In a gully near the village, in which were situated several natural caves, surveyors from the railway construction crew were shown the "dragon bones". A selection of these were collected and sent to Beijing to be analyzed. This brought a team of geologists to the area, where a young member of the team unearthed what later turned out to be two teeth from Homo erectus yuanmouensis. Further excavations established that there had been groups of Homo erectus yuanmouensis living in the caves, as evidenced from ash remains.

Yading Landscape in Ganzi

Note that Homo erectus yuanmouensis is sometimes referred to as Pithecanthropus erectus (Greek for "upright ape-man"), originally believed to be the much sought after missing link (half ape, half human) - and classified as such - though today the term is used to mean Homo erectus. The exemplar of Pithecanthropus that had originally originally inspired paleontologists to believe Pithecanthropus to be the missing link is better known as Java Man, discovered on the Indonesian island of Java. Like Homo erectus yuanmouensis, Java Man belonged to the erectus species: Homo erectus. In fact, Java man doesn't even rate a subspecies name today, he is simply considered a generic erectus species.


According to the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji, in Chinese), a history written between BCE 109-91 by the Herodotus of China, Sima Qian, a Chu general by the name of Zhuang Qiao (alternatively Zhuang Jiao or Zhuangjiao) of the Chu State of the Warring States (BCE 475-221) Period of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty was despatched with an army to the area of present-day Yunnan Province in order to subdue the various peoples who lived there, ethnic tribes that were rebellious and not generally amenable to being ruled by any single leader, much less by an outsider (Chu State, or Kingdom, was a very large state that straddled parts of the following present-day Chinese provinces: Hubei, Hunan, Henan, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Sichuan - mainly the part corresponding to present-day Chongqing). The tribes who lived in the area of present-day Yunnan Province were rather backward compared to the more organized, more advanced society of the Han Chinese. The general managed to subdue the local populace in BCE 286 and set himself up as their king, forming the Dian Kingdom.

The King of Dian introduced many Han Chinese practices to the area, including the art and science of advanced agriculture. This had a beneficial effect on society, increasing the wealth of the local populace and cementing relations between China and Yunnan. The negative side of the Dian Kingdom is that it incorporated elements of a slaveholder society (though slavery in China was on the decline during the period (one of the most vociferous opponents of slavery had been Confucius (BCE 551-479)), the Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty later made use of it in order to keep the warring states that had been subdued and unified into China's first Imperial dynasty under control... it is tempting to believe that Zhuang Jiao, faced with the numerous staunchly independent and unruly tribes of Yunnan Province was motivated by the same thinking that Emperor Qin would later practice).


In CE 221, shortly after Emperor Shi Huang Di (aka Emperor Qin) had unified China in establishing the Qin Dynasty (to keep contol over the kings and princes of the many Warring States Period kingdoms he had subdued, Emperor Qin made them slaves!), the emperor established a system of counties in Yunnan Province and sent officials there to oversee their administration. As part of the drive to develop and maintain control over the area, a road was built from the city of Yibing in Sichuan Province to Qujing in Yunnan Province. The road was 5 chi in width, or about 1 meter (a chi, during the period of the Qin Dynasty (the measurement varied in length from era to era), was equal to 0.226 meter), which would qualify as a path or a narrow sidewalk today, but was more than adequate for the period, for what counted most was that it was a route that could be easily traversed by foot (eg., a marching column of soldiers), by horse or by cart (an old Chinese saying goes "To get rich, first build a road"). From its width of 5 chis, the road, the first to be built in Yunnan Province, was named the "Five-Chi Road". It symbolized the beginning of formal Imperial rule in Yunnan Province.


In the second year (in CE 109) of the Yuanfeng (BCE 110-105) Reign of Emperor Wu Di (aka Emperor Wu of Han, also referred to as Emperor Hanwudi) of the Western Han (BCE 206 - CE 009) Dynasty, the emperor sent General Guochang to Sichuan to lead troops from Ba and Shu on a mission to invade Yunnan in order to set up Yizhou County as the new province's administrative center, along with 24 subordinate counties, in the western part of the province. Ba and Shu were two of the ancient states of the Warring States Period which had been conquered by the Qin State cum Qin Dynasty; Ba lay in the Three-Gorges area of present-day Sichuan, while Shu lay in the Sichuan Basin area. The Yunnan Province of the period was under the rule of remnants of the former Chu State who, under General Zhuang Qiao, had set up the Dian Kingdom.

The Eastern Han (CE 25-220) Dynasty followed suit by establishing Yongchang County at the site of present-day Baoshan, thereby strengthening Imperial China's domination over Yunnan Province. At this point in history, Chinese influence and power in western Yunnan Province had become firmly entrenched. During the Qin and Western Han Dynasties, copper and tin, which form the basis ingredients of bronze - the core metal of the period - had been widely extracted in Yunnan Province, greatly contributing to the development of the province's economy. Over 2000 bronze artifacts have been excavated in the area of Jiangchuan and Jinning, as well as in the Lijia Mountain and Shizhai Mountain areas. In addition, the area of Zhuti (present-day Zhaotong and Ludian) and Tanglang (present-day Dongchuan, Huize and Qiaojia) in northeastern Yunnan Province had become famous throughout China for the smelting and manufacture of copper and silver.

In the westernmost districts of Yunnan Province, in contrast, the main source of the province's wealth rested on the production of silk, hemp and cotton, and the fabrics made of these. Together with the greatly developed trade between the various parts and provinces of China, the economic resources of Yunnan Province helped as well to promote trade and cultural exchange between southwestern China and neighboring countries in Southwestern Asia, especially Burma and India. This highly productive and enlightened period in Yunnan history (Emperor Wu Di was famous for two things: greatly expanding the boundaries of Imperial China, and establishing well-organized government and a civil society based on Confucian precepts), in spite of the good governance of Emperor Wu Di, became known as "Emperor Hanwudi Exploiting Dian" (some critics are never pleased, eh? :) ).


During the Three Kingdoms (CE 220-280 ) Period, the eastern part of present-day Yunnan Province, the western part of Guizhou Province and the southern part of Sichuan Province consisted of Nanman tribes ("southern barbarians") who were known under the name of Nanzhong. Nanzhong was a loose alliance of rebellious tribes of the area in question who resisted all attempts at bringing them within the orbit of one or the other of the ruling kingdoms of the Three Kingdoms Period. But just as the Hundred Years' War (Guerre de Cent Ans - CE 1337-1453) between England and a number of loosely allied French principalities tended to strengthen the alliance among these French principalities (some historians believe that this is when France first became a real nation), the conflict between the Han Chinese forces of the Shu Kingdom and the Nanman rebels solidified the power of the Nanzhong leader, Meng Huo.

Finally, in CE 225, Zhuge Liang, the prime minister of Shu Kingdom, personally led three contingents of troops into battle in the region around present-day Lake Erhai in western Yunnan, where he eventually quashed the rebels, who, like the Confederate Army of the southern US states during the American Civil War (1861-1865), had a great deal to lose, since the local economy rested on the work contribution of slaves. Meng Huo, who came from a reputable family, was captured (and released, as was the gentlemanly custom as regards persons of high social standing) no less than seven times by the forces of Zhuge Liang. After his seventh capture, Meng Huo vowed to his captors, who were tiring of releasing him, given the fact that he only returned to the battlefield, swore to never take up arms against Zhuge Liang/ the Shu Kingdom. While Meng Huo kept his word, a later rebellious group of Nanmen would resist Imperial Chinese forces with the formation of the State of Nanzhao (see below).


In CE 317, Sima Rui (aka Emperor Yuan of Jin) proclaimed himself emperor and established the Eastern Jin (CE 317-420) Dynasty. The rulers of the Jin (CE 265-420) Dynasty were not of Han Chinese ethnic origin, but of Jürchen ethnic origin, a member of the Turkic ethnic family. This caused a good deal of unrest among the region's Han Chinese, mainly because of the cultural differences and the contrasting style of rule (which, to many Han Chinese who had embraced a merit-based civil service system espoused by Confucius, was a step backward as it awarded government positions based on feudalistic, hereditary linkages), many of whom fled south to areas of China not under Jürchen rule.

It was during the early years of the Eastern Jin Dynasty that the powerful Cuan family relocated to Yunnan, establishing themselves there, gradually strengthening their position of power. Finally, Cuan Chen set himself up as king of the local region, calling it Dianchi (or Dian Chi, though more often referred to as Kunchuan or Kunsa), which was ruled by the Cuan family for the next 500 years, spanning the Jin, Southern & Northern (CE 386-588) and Sui (CE 581-617) Dynasties, and into the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty, but where the Cuan rulers established good ties with the subsequent Han Chinese rulers of Imperial China, especially during the Sui and Tang Dynasties, where the economic and cultural ties were further strengthened.


The Nanmen tribes of the area around Lake Erhai made a comeback. The Shu Kingdom had long since disappeared - Han Chinese rulers had come and gone, then Jürchen rulers, then Han Chinese rulers again appeared. In CE 649 a Nanmen chieftain had established a small kingdom for himself in the Erhai region. Several other small Nanmen kingdoms appeared in the area, in all six of them. In CE 738, with the blessings of the Tang Dynasty ruler, a Nanmen chieftain by the name of Pi Luoge undertook to bring each of the six Nanmen kingdoms, or states (zhao), under unified rule, the result of which was the creation of the Nanzhao Kingdom, based in the Lake Erhai region, and with Pi Luoge as its "king".

Between the creation of the original six Nanmen kingdoms beginning in CE 649 and their consolidation into a single kingdom in CE 738, the Nanmen kingdoms had been under the indirect rule of the neighboring Tibetans. The Tang Dynasty move, in which the individual Nanmen kingdoms were unified, was a deliberate effort to wrest the area from Tibetan control. The Tang emperor was aware of Nanmen discontent with their Tibetan "overlords", and therefore the Tang emperor promised a future Nanzhao Kingdom extended autonomy in exchange for a rebellion against the Tibetans. The strategy worked: the Nanzhao Kingdom emerged, and continued for another 200 years.


In CE 937, the Nanzhao Kingdom, which had apparently become corrupt, was toppled. There is an interesting and morally appealing legend concerning how this came about...

Toward the end of the Nanzhao Kingdom, in CE 902, a greedy Nanzhao Kingdom minister by the name of Yang Ganzen staged a coup and overthrew the Nanzhao Kingdom in AC 902. Yang proved himself to be not only greedy, but also cruel and ferocious toward perceived opponents. His regime bred corruption, his ministers and officials extorted high taxes and demanded bribes for every imaginable government service. Not surprisingly, the social fabric of the kingdom deteriorated, the people lost confidence in the government of their country. The economy suffered too, since the corruption and abuse of office served as a disincentive to the entrepreneurial spirit of the people.

A generation later, an honest government official by the name of Duan Siping became disgusted with the corruption, seeing the deleterious effect that it was having on his country and his countrymen. Duan organized a revolt with the purpose of cleaning up the country. With popular, widespread support, the revolt was a success, and in CE 937 the Kingdom of Dali was founded, the "da" of Dali meaning "big" or "complete", and "li" meaning "to clean up".

The Kingdom of Dali would stand until CE 1253, spawning 22 kings, when the kingdom was overrun by a Mongol horde under the command of Borjigin Kublai. As an indication of the degree of honesty among the Dali kings (they were all members of the Duan family, descendants of Duan Siping), 10 of them abdicated and became monks. Not all was perfect in the Kingdom of Dali, however. In fact, from the end of the 11th century and until the arrival of the Mongols, the Kingdom of Dali would be ruled by the Duan family only in name.

In CE 1095, Gao Shengtai, a member of a powerful Dali family, forced the then-serving king, Duan Zhengming, to abdicate and become a monk, while he, Gao, usurped the throne, renaming the kingdom Dazhong. Gao arranged for the throne to revert back to the Duan family upon his death, but the real power would continue to be in the hands of the Gao family. To whitewash the new regime, now nominally again in the hands of the Duan family (the new king was Duan Zhengchun), but in reality in the hands of the Gao family, the Kingdom of Dazhong was renamed the Kingdom of Houli, where "hou" means "the later" and "li", as above, means "to clean up".

According to legend, the Mongol invaders only succeeded in their attempt to take Erhai Valley - which was so strategically situated, it was claimed, that a handful of defenders could keep an entire army at bay - by means of treachery, namely, by bribing a government official (a traitor) who helped them gain access to Erhai Valley. The more likely scenario is that the "traitor", wishing to rid his country of the corrupt and shambolic system whereby the Gao family ruled the country for their own purposes, using the Duan family as a deceptive facade, invited the Mongols in, believing that this could not be worse than the existing rule (and I note that the Mongols had long since established a reputation for honest government).


In CE 1253, a young Borjigin Kublai, who would later be raised to the rank of khan like his grandfather, Genghis Khan, and who, later still, would become Emperor Shizu, the first Yuan (1279-1368) Dynasty emperor, crossed into Yunnan with his army at the Tibetan village of Genang, near Jomda, which lies about 400 kilometers, as the crow flies, north of present-day Shangri-La (Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture). Having penetrated the Dali defenses, the Mongol horde made short shrift of the Dali defenders.

Seven years later, in CE 1260, Borjigin Kublai cum Kublai Khan cum Emperor Shizu had an administrative entity set up to administer the former Kingdom of Dali. In CE 1267, Emperor Shizu sent his fifth son to Yunnan to serve as the Prince of Yunnan (Yunnanwang), the post of prince having existed in Yunnan since the Tang Dynasty period. "Prince Yunnan", as the emperor's son was called, was murdered (poisoned) by two high-ranking Mongol officials, and a rebellion ensued. It was because of the tensions between the competing, high-ranking Mongol figures, both military and civilian, that Emperor Shizu would eventually turn to an outsider for help in keeping a lid on Yunnan.

In 1273, Emperor Shizu appointed an ethnic Turkmen (alternatively, Turkoman), Sayyid 'Ajall Shams al-Din (whose Dali-cized name was Sai Dianci, a nod to the ancient Dian Kingdom), to organize all of the area into a province - to be called Yunnan ("south of the Nan Mountain Range") - and to be the province's first governor. Sai Dianci's official title as governor of the province to be was Pingzhang Zhengshi, or "The Minister in Charge of Government Affairs". This title was well chosen, for the Pingzhang Zhengshi would have to rely on the military might of the Mongol armies, meaning that he would not only have to get along well with the individual Mongol generals, but would have to prevent internal squabbling among the generals. By all reckoning, Sai Dianci succeeded admirably in both endeavors.

In order to rule the people of the former Kingdom of Dali, the Mongols needed to engage the Duan family. Just as the powerful Gao family had made use of the Duans in order to control the citizens of Dali, the Mongols discovered that engaging the aid of the Duans was essential to governing the former Dali Kingdom. The difference, of course, was that the Mongols were honest in their governmental dealings, and they ruled openly, not behind the scenes - as puppeteers - as had the Gao family.

Most of the western part of the the area corresponding to the new province had long since been absorbed into Imperial China, now the rest followed, and from this point onward, Yunnan Province would remain an official part of China proper, though changes in the Imperial dynasties, with all of the cultural and social upheaval they spawned, meant that Yunnan Province had not seen the last of war.


In the 14th year of the Reign (CE 1368-1398) of Emperor Taizu, i.e., in 1381, the emperor, who was the first emperor of the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty, despatched three generals, Fu Youde, Lan Yu and Mu Ying, to capture the capital of Yunnan, Kunming, and to take command of all of the province, ousting the regime set up in Yunnan by the Mongols. This was a pattern that had been implemented in many other parts of the empire, where the Han Chinese Ming Dynasty seemed bent on erasing as much Mongol influence as possible. The next year, in 1382, the Ming Dynasty set up a Buzhengshi Si (the Ming designation for a provincial government) and a Duzhihui Si (the Ming designation for a provincial military command). On the military side, an immediate expansion was necessary in order to maintain control over the province, since the various local groups could not be trusted to implement the policies of the central government - they would readily agree to whatever was required of them, but the moment the central authority turned its back, they rebelled.

In the meantime the main armies of Fu Youde and Lan Yu had been sent back "to barracks" in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, which was their main base. Mu Ying, who was also the adopted son of Emperor Taizu, was left in charge of the military forces in Yunnan. Due to the lack of loyalty of the local populace, Mu had to increase the Ming military presence in Yunnan, after which the rebellions were definitively put down. The emperor was justly proud, and kept his adopted son as his "right hand man" in Yunnan, where the Mu family flourished over the next 270 years, producing a string of princes, marquis, earls, dukes and provincial military governors.

During his own lifetime, Mu Ying, in the capacity of zongbing ("commander in chief"), served the province as the head of the Duzhihui Si. Unfortunately, the hereditary Mu family would become as corrupt as one might expect, given the family's special, privileged status. There were many conflicts down the years between members of the Mu family and local government officials. The Mu family in Yunnan had become to the Ming Dynasty as the Duan family had been to the Yuan Dynasty: something of a yoke around its neck. Though the Mu family held an almost untouchable position of status in the province, they never, after the demise of Mu Ying, held positions of official power thereafter.


Though the end of the Ming Dynasty is often fixed at 1644, the Ming Dynasty actually continued on in some parts of the empire, overlapping with the successor dynasty, the Qing (1644-1911) Dynasty, just as the accepted beginning of the Qing Dynasty, 1644, did not apply everywhere (the Qing began to lop off pieces of the Ming Dynasty, beginning in 1616). The Southern Ming Dynasty, as it is called, existed parallel with the Qing Dynasty for almost two decades beyond 1644, when it was put down once and for all in 1662. One of the places where the Southern Ming Dynasty thrived - its last bastion, in fact - was Yunnan Province.

The Ming Dynasty rulers were of Han Chinese ethnic origin; the Qing Dynasty leaders of Manchu ethnic origin (the Manchus were in fact "rehabilitated", or "revived" Jürchens, the rulers of the 3rd-5th century Jin Dynasty). That itself was reason enough to continue the fight against the "usurpers" (the Ming Dynasty, riddled with corruption and ineffectualness, lost its mandate, as it were, among the people, though not in all corners of the empire - the new rulers would have to dislodge them with considerable force, especially in the southern part of the empire). The emperor of the Southern Ming Dynasty, as it had set itself up following the overthrow of Emperor Chongzhen, the Ming Dynasty emperor farther to the north, was Emperor Yongli, more commonly known as the Prince of Gui, who served from 1646 to 1662. The Prince of Gui was the grandson of the the Wanli emperor, Emperor Shenzong, whose reign had been from 1572 to 1620.

The main opponent to Qing rule in Yunnan was Li Dingguo, a famous military general and strategist who was also an ardent supporter of the Prince of Gui. General Li - whose ability as a battlefield commander was so respected and feared that when General Li and his troops entered the city of Guilin to do battle with the Qing forces ranged against them, the Qing general, Kong Youde, chose to commit suicide - headed up an army consisting of Daxi (the Daxi were very populous in the Three Gorges region of Yunnan). In spite of General Li's heroic efforts with his Daxi army, a Qing general by the name of Wu Sangui managed to launch a ferocious attack against the Ming holdouts in Yunnan Province in 1659, the 16th year of the reign (1643-1661) of the Qing Emperor Shunzi. The attack was aimed specifically at killing or driving out the Ming leader, "Emperor Yongli".

The Qing general, General Wu Sangui, forced the Prince of Gui on the retreat and over the border into present-day Burma. It was there where a returning General Wu, in 1662, captured Emperor Yongli and his son, and brought the two back to Yunnan, where they were hanged in Jinchan Temple in the city of Kunming, signalling the end of Ming resistance in the empire. Three years earlier, in 1659, the famous Ming general, General Li, had suffered a massive and humiliating defeat at the hands of General Wu Sangui near the city of Yunnanfu. General Li managed to escape, but was finished as a military commander, as he could no longer muster troops to follow him in battle. He died, sick, broken and disillusioned, soon after the execution of Emperor Yongli and his son in Jinchan Temple, Kunming.

The Qing Dynasty would solidify its grip on Yunnan Province in the following years, but would run into more widespread trouble all across the country, as the yearning for an end to Imperial rule was gaining ground, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, discontent, especially among the Han Chinese, over the ineptness of the Manchu-led Qing government was spreading like a wild fire throughout the empire. Curiously, General Wu, himself Han Chinese, would later lead a revolt against his Manchu masters, during the reign (1661-1722) of Emperor Kangxi (the "Three Vassals Revolt", a reference to the revolt of three loyal vassals, among them General Wu), becoming a double traitor, as it were.

General Wu, who had been richly rewarded with land and titles in southwestern China for his part in crushing the Southern Ming Dynasty, resisted when Emperor Kangxi demanded that the three vassals move from their perch in southwestern China to Manchuria, the "Manchu" part of China that stretched northwestward from the Korean Peninsula. General Wu had used his wealth and power - and relative isolation in southwestern China - to strengthen his forces and fortify his positions, in preparation for an attack on the Qing Dynasty, since the Manchu were a small ethnic minority that was trying to impose its will on the vastly larger Han Chinese majority. Emperor Kangxi saw it coming, one might say.

The Three Vassals Revolt lasted for 8 years, from 1673-1680. General Wu himself died, albeit not in battle but of natural causes, in 1678. Emperor Kangxi had the general's bones pulverized and spread out over all of southern China, as an insult of sorts, though today one might tend to interpret this as its opposite: an honor of the highest caliber. One of the general's sons took up his father's mantle, but was defeated in battle, captured, and beheaded. Though the Three Vassals Revolt was eventually put down, the stir it caused, and the humiliations that China was suffering at the hands of foreign influences (see the next section) only fuelled the flames of resentment against the Qing Dynasty.


A neutral observed is tempted to conclude that the Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860) and the humiliation that they spawned in the form of the so-called Unequal Treaties, whereby the Qing government was forced to accept humiliating trade and territorial concessions to a string of outside powers, including Japan and Russia as well as countries in Europe and North America, was preventable, had the Qing government been more amenable to finding ways to address the problem of the increasing trade imbalance between China and the outside world, where, at the time, the only "solution" that the Qing government would accept was for the foreign powers in question to continue pay up in ever larger amounts of silver, a precious commodity which China was amassing at an alarming rate, given the demand for Chinese goods abroad and the practically non-existent demand for foreign goods in China - helped along by the Qing government's efforts to undermine the consumption of foreign produced goods among the Chinese people. Many social problems, including many grave conflicts between ethnic and/or religious communities (Northern Ireland comes to mind), have their roots, alas, in economic imbalances.

In the UK during this period, trade in and the use of opium was not forbidden, while it was in China. Because the British could not find a better way to plug the drain on their reserves of silver to China, they began trafficking opium into China from present-day Bangladesh, which was the British colony of Bengal at the time. This flagrant violation of Chinese law brought the British Crown into conflict with the Qing government, and, together with the problem of increasing and widespread abuse of opium among the Chinese people, which began to reverse the flow of silver, it so outraged the Qing emperor that the result was the two Opium Wars. The Qing government ended up, however, in a worse position than it was before this economic conflict got out of hand, for not only did the odious opium trade continue, and with a continued reversal of the silver flow, but China lost territory to the foreign powers (the so-called Unequal Treaties), and all of these events only added to the mounting discontent among the Chinese people with their Manchu rulers - but also with Imperial rule in general, for outside trade had begun to introduce the Chinese people to other methods of social organization.

The only direct connection between anti-Qing sentiment during the period in question and events in Yunnan Province was a separatist movement of the Hui ethnic minority, the so-called Panthay Rebellion led by Du Wenxiu, directly related to what the Hui felt was discrimination against them, and indirectly related to the increasing dissatisfaction with the Qing government's inability to protect the interests of the Chinese people, the latter of which was not restricted to Yunnan Province. Du Wenxiu and his Hui Muslim compatriots captured the city of Dali in western Yunnan, where Du set himself up as the Sultan of Dali, declaring the captured territory the "Pacified Southern Nation" (Pingnan Guo). Du's rebellion was popular with the Hui, and Du managed to besiege even the capital city of Kunming on several occasions between 1857 and 1868. During a siege of the city in 1863, Du's rebels took the city for a brief period before being driven out by superior Qing forces. Ironically, after 1868, when the tide began to turn against Du and his separatist rebels and Du appealed to the British Crown for protection against the Qing government, he was turned down. The rebellion was eventually put down, the "sultan" was captured and beheaded, while many of Du's Hui rebels fled to the neighboring countries.

In addition to the Panthay Rebellion directed against the Qing government (the Hui Muslims also went on a rampage where they pillaged and destroyed many Buddhist holy sites in the area), Yunnan was the venue for widespread violence directed at France, when France, in connection with the building of the Kunming-Haiphong Railway (between Kunming, China and Haiphong, Vietnam), in response to an uprising over inhumane working conditions, responded by shipping arms to the railway's administrators. The strikes and riots resulted in the deaths of upwards of 300 thousand railway workers, many of them Chinese laborers from Yunnan. French Indochina included Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, the latter of which the French only parted with after being defeated by the Vietnamese during the 1954 siege of Dien Bien Phu. The Kunming-Haiphong Railway was part of France's colonial plans to secure resources for its colonies in Indochina.


The Xinhai Revolution was the culmination of the utter contempt with which the Chinese people held the Qing government, partly for its excesses and partly because it represented an ethnic minority (the Manchus) that was trying to impose its will on a much larger ethnic majority (the Han Chinese), but mostly for the ineptness that the Qing government had demonstrated in its dealings with foreign powers. The Qing government took a protective, almost xenophobic, stance toward the outside world which was not dissimilar to the same attitude that Imperial Japan took toward the outside world during WWII and which resulted in hostilities that could easily have been avoided had a different approach been taken. No one would have expected a complete "abdication" to the foreign influences, but no one - except the Qing government - felt that its opposite, a complete rejection of foreign influence, was the proper solution to increased contact between different peoples. The bungled relations with the foreign powers had led to humiliation not only for the Qing government but also for the Chinese people. In matters of science as well, China clearly lagged behind the rest of the world, and this hurt Han Chinese pride especially.

The straw that broke the camel's back, to use the familiar metaphor, was the Qing government's overreaction to this discontent. Instead of accommodating the people's dissatisfaction with the mistakes that the government had made - the Qing government could have admitted its errors and pledged to work with the people to improve the situation - the Qing government reacted by cracking down hard on any expression of discontent. This only hardened the resolve of the people. The Wuchang Uprising on October 10, 1911, though it failed, accelerated the impetus to rebel in other regions of the empire, and wave after wave of open rebellion was hurled in the face of the Qing government, until Emperor Puyi was forced to abdicate on February 12, 1912.

Between October 10, 1911 and February 12, 1912 there were almost daily mutinies and rebellions in one part or another of the empire. China's Imperial era was racing to a close. These were popular rebellions, not directly coordinated, but one would naturally have eventually heard about the rebellions elsewhere in the country, and at the right moment, the anger spilled over in random places here and there throughout the empire, and just kept spilling over, so deep and widespread was the discontent with the Manchu rule.

The events that took place in Yunnan Province were not dissimilar to what happened elsewhere in the country: the local arm of the Qing government was toppled and a revolutionary government was put in its place. In Yunnan, a nationwide movement - the Tongmenghui (the "Chinese Revolutionary Alliance"), led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen - had long been under way to establish a resistance force against the Qing government. On October 30, 1911, twenty days after the Wuchang Uprising had been launched, Li Genyuan of the Yunnan chapter of the Tongmenghui, together with Cai E, Ruo Peijing, Tang Jiyao, and other key members of the Tongmenghui brought their volunteers together to launch a rebellion. Within 24 hours, Kunming was in the hands of the Tongmenghui, which established the Yunnan Military Government with Cai E as its leader.


The Yunnan chapter of the Chinese Communist Party came into being in 1926. The party had been founded in Shanghai in 1920. It was not until the end of WWII in the Pacific theatre that Communist-inspired events again began to whir in Yunnan. The city of Kunming had earlier been prepared as a National Redoubt (an emergency, underground headquarters) during WWII in the event that Chongqing, which was serving as the capital of Free China (i.e., the part of China not occupied by Japanese forces), should be overrun. Kunming also served as a base for a squadron of American Flying Tigers (essentially, a group of mercenaries) to transport supplies over the Himalayas from British bases in India to the Chinese insurgents in southern China (the resistance movement, including the training of the Chinese recruits, was being coordinated by US General Joseph Stilwell, who was much liked by his Chinese officers and who did not feel that the leader of the Kuomintang, General Chiang Kai-shek, was particularly helpful to the cause) whenever the Japanese occupiers in Southeast Asia temporarily made the primary supply route, the Burma Road, impassible (the Chinese insurgents would quickly repair the road).

Kunming, given that it had already been prepared as a National Redoubt, was slated to serve as an emergency headquarters for the Kuomintang should the Nationalists have need of it in their fight with the Communists, but the leader of the Nationalists in Yunnan and his troops decided in the end to cast their lot with the Communists, so Yunnan went quietly over to the Communist side without a single shot being fired.


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