Historic Highlights of Yunnan
Yunnan is one of the most important origins of human beings, and it is the starting point of Chinese history. The fossils of the “Yuanmou Man” who lived in Yunnan as early as 1.7 million years ago proved that Yunnan was inhabited before any other areas in China and Asia. According to archeologists, ancient ape fossils were found in Asia, Africa, and Europe. China is an important area in Asia that the fossils are located. While in China, the fossils are mainly in Yunnan.
Kingdom of Dian
In 279 BC, a general named Zhuanqiao from inland China was sent to explore Yunnan. In 277 BC, when the general was trying to return and report to his King, his rivals blocked the road. So Zhuanqiao and his entourage were forced to stay in Yunnan. They then assimilated themselves; meanwhile, general Zhuanqiao set himself up as king and established the Kingdom of Dian. For two centuries his descendants ruled the kingdom which was completely cut off from China.
The Southern Silk Road
In 139 BC, an envoy was dispatched by the Han Emperor to China's western neighboring countries to promote trade and establish friendly relationships. In 122 BC, the envoy came back and reported to the emperor that there was a road linking western China and India. In fact, the road (named Shushengdu) was there as early as 400 BC, and it started in Yunnan's adjoining province of Sichuan. Because of Sichuan's long history of silkworm-breeding, and silk production, the Shushengdu Road was renamed The Southern Silk Road. The Southern Silk Road is divided into four different routes which all started in Sichuan and passed through Yunnan.
Yunnan has a long history of bronze-casting, and the period between warring state (475 BC-221BC) and Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) was the heyday of Yunnan's bronze culture. Thousands of pieces of bronze relics have been excavated on more than 160 sites in Yunnan. Among the bronze relics of ax, sickle, knife, etc, bronze drums excavated in Chuxiong, Yunnan, are the oldest bronze drums in the world, which date back to 600 BC, and a bronze coffin in the form a traditional Chinese house which weighs 257 kilograms, is a wonder both in Yunnan and even in China.
Kingdom of Nanzhao
Between 7th century and 8th century, there were 6 big tribes inhabited around Erhai Lake in Dali, Yunnan, among them, Nanzhao was the most ambitious and the strongest tribe. With the support of the Tang Empire in inland China, the Nanzhao tribe gradually unified the other tribes. In 738 AD, the chieftain of Nanzhao was appointed as king of Yunnan, which marked the founding of the kingdom of Nanzhao. For five centuries, the Nanzhao Kingdom and its successor, the Kingdom of Dali, remained strong and independent.
The Ancient Tea Road
The Ancient Tea Road took its shape gradually since Tang dynasty (618 AD-907 AD). The road stretched across more than 4300 kilometers linking Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet. It took caravans 80 to 90 days to finish a one-way trip. The Tea Road was a commercial passage for trading tea and other necessities, and it is a road for packhorse caravans. The Tea Road started in south Yunnan, the tea production center, and then went toward northwest Yunnan, at last reached Tibet. According to recent researches, the Tea Road comprised as many as 6 different routes, which reached inland China and abroad.
The Coming of Kublai Khan
In 1253, a Mongol named Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, came to Yunnan with a troop of 100 thousand soldiers. In 1254, the Mongols conquered the kingdom of Dali. With the success of Kublai Khan, 500 years of local warlords' sovereignties in Yunnan came to an end. Meanwhile, in 1271, the great Khan brought southern China under his sway, and established the Yuan dynasty. In 1276, Yunnan was officially set up as a province of Yuan Empire. Since then the term of“Yunnan”has been used to denote a province, and the political capital was moved from Dali to Kunming.
Zheng He (Cheng Ho) and His 7 Voyages Overseas
Zheng He, a Muslim navigator who is well-known both in China and around the world, was born in the year of 1371 in Yunnan. At the age of 10, he was recruited as a servant for the imperial family, and later, he got promoted. Between 1405 and 1433, he was appointed as admiral to lead a huge fleet of ships and explore the world. Zheng He's first fleet had 317 ships with 27,870 men on board,and the crew was made up of sailors, clerks, interpreters, soldiers, artisans, medical staff, meteorologists, etc. Meanwhile,the fleet carried large quantities of cargo including silk products, porcelain, gold and silverware, copper utensils, iron implements, etc. Zheng He organized a total of 7 voyages with large-scale fleets. The voyages covered more than 30 countries in Asia and Africa and were made over half a century before Columbus's first exploration to America.
In 1856, the Yunnan authority launched a campaign to repress Muslims in west Yunnan. The Muslims took up uprisings with other rebellion forces joined in. Led by a Muslim, the joint forces occupied Dali, at the same time, set up their own government there. The uprising troops thwarted 6 attacks launched by the Chinese troops, and conquered more than 20 counties, until the year of 1872 when the rebellion was finally crushed by the Chinese troops.
After anti-Japanese war broke out in 1937, the Japanese blocked Chinese coastal access to the outside world. So the building of a road between Kunming (capital of Yunnan) and Yangon (capital of Burma) was on the agenda. The road was 1164 kilometers long. 80% of the road was on the rugged mountains with hundreds of turns. After it was finished in 1938, the Yunnan-Burma Road became China's only access to the outside world.
“Flying Tigers” (American Volunteer Group)
In May, 1942, the Japanese invaded western Yunnan after they occupied Burma, and Yunnan-Burma Road was cut off. Then the China-India (or the Hump) air route was opened. The Chiang Kai-shek's government approached Captain Claire L. Chennault seeking his help to train the demoralized Chinese Air Force. In the summer of 1941, Chennault organized the American Volunteer Group or "Flying Tigers". Besides defending Kunming and the Yunnan-Burma Road, they transported supplies to China over “the Hump”, which got its name from the hump-like Himalaya mountain range. The air route between Assam, India and Kunming, was China's only link to the outside world in 1941, and the “Flying Tigers” played a significant role in promoting China-US friendship.