Yunnan province has perhaps one of the longest and most fascinating histories of any province in China. In fact, settlements have been dated as far back as a million years from human ancestor remains discovered during the building of the Chengdu-Kunming railway in 1965. Its modern population includes 25 ethnic minorities and demonstrates a cultural richness and diversity that rivals any destination, a result of centuries of conflict and cooperation with its neighbors.
The first evidence of sophisticated culture was discovered in 1955, when 48 untouched tombs and countless artifacts from the Bronze Age (1200 BC) were discovered in present-day Kunming. These artifacts depicted the daily life of the people as slave-owners and headhunters who practiced an advanced form of agriculture for the time.
The Chinese first invaded the region in 339 BC in an attempt to conquer the “southwest barbarians.” The invasion lasted 10 years when the Chinese general found himself isolated, and set himself up as the “King of Dian.”
A second Han invasion of Yunnan was motivated by its strategic location on the silk trade route, aided by the King of Dian aided the Chinese. As a result, the Dian Kingdom was recognized as a tributary state to the Han Chinese Empire, but when that dynasty collapsed they simply carried on as before.
The kingdom eventually weakened, and by the 6th Century six princes ruled the region. In 732, the most ambitious prince invited the others to a banquet only to set the banquet hall on fire, killing the other princes and allowing him to seize their territory. He named himself “Nanzhao,” or “Prince of the South,” establishing the Nanzhao kingdom which remained independent for 500 years.
In 1253, Kublai Khan, the famous Mongol, invaded Yunnan, which became a strategic location for his plan to invade the Song Dynasty from the north, the west and the south. During this time, most of the population fled and Yunnan became a land of foreigners under Muslim and Mongol rule. Eventually, the Ming dynasty overthrew the Mongols, and Yunnan was then ruled as a colony, separate from China but serving as a place of exile for criminals. It was during this time that the region adopted many traditional traits from Chinese language, architecture and customs.
In 1911, the region once again fell to local warlords as fighting around China was widespread, and it was not until 1949 when it was realized that Yunnan’s best interests lie with China. There was little resistance to Mao’s Liberation Forces and Yunnan was officially recognized as a province of China.