Kunming History

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Clockwise from top: Kunming’s Skyline, Kunming Railway Station, Dian Lake, and Yuantong Temple

Kunming (Mand. pronunciation [kʰu̯ə́n.mǐŋ]; Chinese: 昆明; pinyin: Kūnmíng) is the capital and largest city in Yunnan Province, Southwest China. Known as Yunnan-Fu (云南府, Yúnnánfǔ) until the 1920s, today it is a prefecture-level city and the political, economic, communications and cultural centre of the province as well as the seat of the provincial government. Kunming is also called the Spring city due to its weather. The headquarters of many of Yunnan’s large businesses are in Kunming. It was important during World War II as a Chinese military center, American air base, and transport terminus for the Burma Road. Located in the middle of the Yunnan–Guizhou Plateau, Kunming is located at an altitude of 1,900 metres (6,234 feet) above sea level and at a latitude just north of the Tropic of Cancer. Kunming has as of 2014 a population of 6,626,000 with an urban population of 4,575,000, and is located at the northern edge of the large Lake Dian, surrounded by temples and lake-and-limestone hill landscapes.

Kunming consists of an old, previously walled city, a modern commercial district, residential and university areas. The city has an astronomical observatory, and its institutions of higher learning include Yunnan University, Yunnan Normal University and a medical college. On the outskirts is a famed bronze temple, dating from the Ming dynasty.

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Location in ChinaCoordinates: 25°04′N 102°41′E

Its economic importance derives from its geographical position. Positioned near the border with Southeastern Asian countries, serving as a transportation hub in Southwest China, linking by rail to Vietnam and by road to Burma and Laos. This positioning also makes it an important trade center in this region of the nation. It also houses some manufacturing, chiefly copper, though some other chemicals, machinery, textiles, paper and cement take key. Though having a nearly 2,400 year history, its modern prosperity dates only from 1910, when the railway from Hanoi was built. The city has continued to develop rapidly under China’s modernization efforts. Kunming’s streets have widened while office buildings and housing projects develop at a fast pace. Kunming has been designated a special tourism center and as such sports a proliferation of high-rises and luxury hotels.

Kunming will be the hub and terminus for the “Pan Asia High Speed Network” using high speed trains to connect China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore.

Because of the establishment of National Southwestern Associated University (国立西南联合大学), Kunming was usually regarded as the bulwark of modern China democracy during The Second Sino-Japanese War.

History

Early history

Kunming long profited from its position on the caravan roads through to South-East Asia, India and Tibet. Early townships in the southern edge of Lake Dianchi (outside the contemporary city perimeter) can be dated back to 279 BC, although they have been long lost to history. Early settlements in the area around Lake Dian date back to Neolithic times. The Dian Kingdom, whose original language was likely related to Tibeto-Burman languageswas also established near the area.

Dian was subjugated by the Chinese Han dynasty under the reign of Emperor Wu of Han in 109 BC. The Han dynasty incorporated the territory of the Dian Kingdom into their Yizhou Commandery, but left the King of Dian as the local ruler.

The Han dynasty (205 BC–AD 220), seeking control over the Southern Silk Road running to Burma and India, brought small parts of Yunnan into China’s orbit, though subsequent dynasties could do little to tame what was then a remote and wild borderland. During the Sui dynasty (581–618), two military expeditions were launched against the area, and it was renamed Kunzhou in Chinese sources.

Medieval China

Founded in 765, Kunming was known to the Chinese as Tuodong (拓东) city in the Kingdom of Nanzhao (737–902) during the 8th and 9th centuries. Tuodong later became part of the successor Kingdom of Dali (937–1253). Eventually this changed when Tuodong came under the control of the Yuan dynasty invasion of the southwest in 1252–1253. In 1276 it was founded by the Mongol rulers as Kunming County and became the provincial capital of Yunnan. The city grew as a trading center between the southwest and the rest of China. It is considered by scholars to have been the city of Yachi Fu (Duck Pond Town) where people had used cowries as cash and ate their meat raw, as described by the 13th-century Venetian traveler Marco Polo who traveled to the area and wrote about his fascination with the place.

Ming and Qing dynasties

In the 14th century, Kunming was retaken when the Ming dynasty defeated the Mongols, who built a wall surrounding present-day Kunming. Ming General Wu Sangui defected to Manchu invaders 300 years later and held the city until his death in 1678, long after the rest of China had fallen under Manchu rule. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, it was the seat of the superior prefecture of Yunnan.

The area was first dubbed Kunming in the period towards the decline of the Yuan dynasty and later still in 1832, the beginnings of a real city were acknowledged within the city walls and significant structures within their confines. Founding of the city can, therefore be said to have been a predominantly 19th century affair. It was also in this century that the city grew to become the major market and transport centre for the region.

Kunming suffered at the hands of rebel leader Du Wenxiu, the Sultan of Dali, who attacked and besieged the city several times between 1858 and 1868. Little of the city’s wealth survived the 1856 Panthay Rebellion, when most of the Buddhist sites in the capital were razed. Decades later, Kunming began to be influenced by the West, especially from the French Empire. In the 1890s, an uprising against working conditions on the Kunming–Haiphong rail line saw many laborers executed after France shipped in weapons to suppress the revolt. The meter-gauge rail line, only completed by around 1911, was designed by the French so that they could tap Yunnan’s mineral resources for their colonies in Indochina.

Kunming was a communications center in early times and a junction of two major trading routes, one westward via Dali and Tengchong County into Myanmar, the other southward through Mengzi County to the Red River in Indochina. Eastward, a difficult mountain route led to Guiyang in Guizhou province and thence to Hunan province. To the northeast was a well-established trade trail to Yibin in Sichuan province on the Yangtze River. But these trails were all extremely difficult, passable only by mule trains or pack-carrying porters.

After Qing dynast

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Old Kunming quarter, containing the narrow and curved Sister Buildings (姊妹楼) behind the Victory Monument on Guanghua Jie, located across the street to the north of the old Bird and Flower Market

“In the late 1800s, the French started to build the Kunming-Haiphong railway for trade and shipping of weapons”.

Kunming reverted to county status in 1912, under the name Kunming, and became a municipality in 1935. The opening of the Kunming area began in earnest with the completion in 1906–1910 of theYunnan-Vietnam Railway to Haiphong in north Vietnam (part of French Indochina).

After becoming a treaty port (in 1908)

Kunming became a treaty port opening to foreign trade in 1908 and soon became a commercial center.

A university was set up in 1922. In the 1930s the first highways were built, linking Kunming with Chongqing in Sichuan and Guiyang in Guizhou to the east. Kunming was transformed into a modern city as a result of the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 when the invading Japanese forces caused a great number of east-coast Chinese refugees, some of whom were wealthy, to flood into the southwest of China. They brought with them dismantled industrial plants, which were then re-erected beyond the range of Japanese bombers. In addition, a number of universities and institutes of higher education were evacuated there. The increased money and expertise quickly established Kunming as an industrial and manufacturing base for the wartime government in Chongqing.

As China’s military forces and civilians retreated outside the reach of the Japanese military forces a year prior to the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe, Kunming became a new training hub for the battered but regrouped Chinese Air Force in which Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault took command of cadet training duties in the summer of 1938. During the Second World War the city of Kunming was prepared as a National Redoubt in case the temporary capital in Chongqing fell, an elaborate system of underground caves to serve as offices, barracks and factories was prepared but never utilised. Kunming was to have served again in this role during the ensuing Chinese Civil War, but the Nationalist garrison switched sides and joined the Communists. Instead Taiwan would become the last redoubt and home of the Chinese Nationalist government, a role it fulfills to this day.

When the Japanese occupied French Indochina in 1940, the links between Kunming and the west grew increasingly vital as Allied forces provided essential support by importing materials from Burma. By this time, Kunming acted as an Allied military command center, which grouped the Chinese, American, British and French forces together for operations in Southeast Asia. The Office of Strategic Services’ Service Unit Detachment 101(predecessor to the 1st Special Forces Group) was also headquartered in Kunming and whose mission was to divert and disrupt Japanese combat operations in Burma.

Later in the war, Kunming was targeted by the Imperial Japanese Air Force during its bombing campaigns, and when the Burma Road was lost to the Japanese, the American Volunteer Group, known as the “Flying Tigers”, used Kunming as a base in 1941 and 1942 to fly in supplies over the Himalayas from British bases in India in defiance of Japanese assaults. They also were tasked with defending China’s lifeline to the outside world, the Burma Roadand the Ledo Road, which had Kunming as a northern terminus.

Further information: Battle of Yunnan-Burma Road

Industry became important in Kunming during World War II. The large state-owned Central Machine Works was transferred there from Hunan, while the manufacture of electrical products, copper, cement, steel, paper, and textiles expanded.

After World War II

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The Flying Tigers and P-40 Warhawk in Kunming Air Base, 1944

Until 1952, Kunming was a walled city. The city government in 1952 ordered hundreds of young people to tear down the wall and use its bricks to make a new road running north-south. To show its appreciation for the young people that demolished the east wall, the city government named the new street after them. Their existence still echoes today in place names like Xiao Ximen (小西门, ‘Lesser west gate’) and Beimen Jie (北门街, ‘North gate Street’). There are also less obvious connections to the wall, such as Qingnian Lu (青年路, ‘Youth Road’), which was once Kunming’s east wall.

After 1949, Kunming developed rapidly into an industrial metropolis with the construction of large iron and steel and chemical complexes, along with Chongqing, Chengdu and Guiyang in the southwest. A Minorities’ Institute was set up in the 1950s to promote mutual understanding and access to university education among Yunnan’s multiethnic population. The city consolidated its position as a supply depot during the Vietnam War and subsequent border clashes. Until Mao Zedong’s death, Kunming was still generally thought in much of the rest of the country as a remote frontier settlement and so it acted as a place up to then for the government to exile people who had fallen politically out of favor, especially during the Cultural Revolution.

In 1957, Kunming’s rail link to Hanoi was re-opened (after being cut during World War II). It was cut again in 1979.

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An old wooden house and a modern skyscraper in the background

Since the economic reforms of the mid-1980s, Kunming has enjoyed increased tourism and foreign investment, for instance investors from Thailand trace their ancestries back to Yunnan. Several Thai Chinese banks have offices in Kunming, for example, Kasikorn Bank and Krung Thai Bank. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand has visited Kunming many times to study Chinese culture and promote friendly relations.

Rail link to Vietnam re-opened again in 1996.

In July 2005, the second Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Summit was held in Kunming, with government leaders from China, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam participating. There, China agreed to lend its neighbors more than $1 billion for a series of projects. China was then promoting GMS cooperation as a first step toward building an eventual China-ASEAN Free Trade Area.

Infrastructure improvements have been underway to improve links between Kunming and Southeast Asia in time for the 2010 China-ASEAN Free Trade Area. The FTA is expected to make Kunming a trade and financial center for Southeast Asia. In addition to physical improvements to enhance Kunming’s trade with Southeast Asia, the central and provincial governments have made financial preparations to assist the city’s emergence. At the end of 2004, the central government approved Kunming to be one of the 18 mainland cities in which foreign banks could conduct business in renminbi.

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Kunming night

In the 1980s and 1990s, the city center was rebuilt, with Swiss help, in its current ‘modern’ style to impress visitors attending the 1999 World Horticultural Exposition. It was primarily during 1997 and 1998 that much of the city’s roads, bridges and high rises were built.

The World Horticultural Expo was widely regarded as a public relations success for Kunming. Today the after-effects of the Expo are apparent in more than just the physical improvements to the city—it was the Expo that made the outside world take notice of Kunming, which was relatively unknown at the time.

In July 2006, talks at the ASEAN Regional Forum, China, Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma) agreed to construct a highway from Kunming to Chittagong through Mandalay for trade and development.

On 1 March 2014, 29 people died, and more than 130 were injured at Kunming Railway Station in what the Chinese Xinhua News Agency described as a terrorist attack.

Posted in Kunming.

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