Yunnan, on China’s southwest flank, has been a frontier province for centuries and a place of exile for disgraced offidals. Over half of China’s minority races are represented in the province, but none of them is as numerous as the large minorities in, say, neighbouring Guangxi – the Zhuang people – or the Uighur people in Xinjiang. The minority people of Yunnan, mostly very poor mountain tribes, add a touch of exotica and colour to the province.In 1977 and 1978, about 200000 refugees from Vietnam flooded across the border into Yunnan and Guangxi provinces, placing a huge burden on the local administrations. Most of the refugees were of Chinese origin, and had been forced out by the Vietnamese government apparently as part of a coordinated plan to rid the country of its Chinese minority. They have largely been settled on state farms in Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong (see Hainan Island, p.117) with some help from the United Nations. China went to war against Vietnam in early 1979, in what was called a ‘Self-Defence Counter-Attack’, and temporarily seized a strip of Vietnamese territory several miles deep along the border, at a reportedly huge cost in casualties. The border remains tense, and both sides regularly report armed clashes of a minor nature.
Yunnan also shares a frontier with Laos and Burma, and is very close to the famous ‘Golden Triangle’ region which produces a large proportion of the world’s opium supplies. The Communists wiped out virtually all drug addiction and trafficking in China when they came to power, but there has been an upsurge in both during the past few years, although to exactly what extent is not known. All that is certain is that the Yunnan Daily occasionally attacks people that it says are engaged in drug-taking and drug4rafficking.
During the dvil war in the late 1940s, the Nationalist armies in southeast China proved to be particularly tenacious, and the Communists succeeded only in driving them into the remote mountainous areas of eastern Burma and Thailand, where they survive in a drastically altered form even today. Some of the Nationalist soldiers elected to stay in the jungles rather than accept re-settlement in Taiwan, and have become an important link in the opium trade.
In the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s, Yunnan became a stronghold of the Maoist radicals, and the provincial leadership allegedly planned an uprising in co-ordination with the radicals in shanghai after the so-called ‘Gang of Four’ leaders were seized in Peking. But for reasons never satisfactorily explained, the uprising never took place.
Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, is known as the ‘city of eternal spring’ because of its cool, pleasant climate all year round. The large number of pre-1949 buildings makes it a nice city to walk round, particularly the lanes on either side of Dongfeng Dong Lu (Dongfeng Road East) to the west of the Panlong River. Kunming has quite a large community of Muslims, and their MOSQUE is worth visiting (on Zhengyi Lu, just north of the main roundabout on Dongfeng Dong Lu). The city also has many TEAHOUSES along its streets, an old Chinese institution which has been snuffed out in most cities, and a cup of tea in one of them is a ‘must’. Some of the better ones offer musical entertainment or story-telling. The KUNMING CULTURAL CENTRE also features snake shows every day with snake charmers doing tricks with deadly cobras, entrance fee 10 fen.Another point of interest is the DAGUANLOU (tower of great vistas) in the southwest of the city on the shores of the Dianchi Lake, the sixthargest freshwater lake in China. (Take a No.4 bus heading west to its terminus.) From the lake take the No. 4bus to the terminus at the other end of the route to visit the YUANTONG THMPLE, the largest in Kunming. The local zoo and a good free market are in the same area.
The best excursion close to Kunming is to the WEST HILL (Xishan), a couple of miles to the southwest. There is a path up the forested slopes to the summit which passes by a number of Buddhist temples, some damaged in the Cultural Revolution, but now restored as tourist attractions. To get there, make your way to the No.6 bus terminus in Kunming. There are two No.6 bus routes: the first goes to Gaoyao near the foot of the West Hill and the second to NIE ER MU – the grave of Nie Er, a famous composer – about an hour’s walk further up. There is also another bus which operates between the two points. From Nie Er’s grave, climb up to the DRAGON’S GATE at the summit which was carved out of the rock by a Taoist monk and his assistants over a period of nearly 30 years from the beginning of the nineteenth century. Below, is a Taoist temple called SNQINGGE (Hall of the Three Purifies) dating from the Yuan dynasty. Further down are the TAIHUA TEMPLE and the HUATING THMPLE, 19th built during the fourteenth century.
1 Yuantong Temple
2 Kunming Arts and Crafts Factory
3 Vunnan Pro’ince Antiques Store
4 Tuodong Stadium
S Dongfeng Department Store
6 Vunnan Province Museum
7 Grand View Mansion (Daguanlou)
8Agricultural Exhibition Hall
9Industry and Communications Exhibition Hall
10 Green Lake (Cui Hu)
Most visitors to Kunming also go to see SHILIN (the stone forest), one of the most extraordinary sights in China – literally a forest of fantastically shaped stones jutting out of the ground. The stone forest is in Lunan County, about 60 miles (96 kilometres) southeast of Kunming. (Take a No.2 bus to the terminus in the western part of Kunming from where the No.17 bus leaves for Shilin. It is best to go to the terminus the day before and buy a ticket (3.50 yuan) to be sure of a seat. The bus leaves at 7.15 a.m. The local CTS office also operates tourist buses to the stone forest and back for ten yuan a head. Bus leaves at 7.00 a. m. and leaves Shilin at 3.00 p.m. Avoid going on Sundays if you want to miss the crowds.)
It is possible to stay overnight at Shilin. There is a good hotel with rooms renting for 12 to i6 yuan each. In the evening, there are minority dancing displays at the hotel, arranged by CTS for the tourists.
There is also a small village in the ‘forest’ where the local minority people live, which is well worth visiting.
Yunnan’s main specialities in food are Yunnan ham, famed throughout China, Yunnan duck and Guo Qiao Mian (‘crossing the bridge noodles’). The Chuncheng Restaurant (Dongfeng Xi Lu) is supposed to be good and cheap, and also try the Beijing Restaurant (Xin Xiangyun Ji) and the Shanghai Restaurant (Dongfeng Xi Lu).
The Kunming Public Security Bureau has the reputation of being very helpful with travel permits and visa extensions.
How to get there and where to stay
Kunming is on the national rail network on the line between Guiyang and Chengdu. There are also flights to and from Canton, Guilin, Nanning and Guiyang, as well as to and from Hong Kong, and Rangoon in Burma.
Most foreigners stay at the Kunming Hotel (145 Dongfeng Dong Lu; take a No.23 bus from the station, get off at the third stop, walk south to main road and then east for 10 minutes or so. Alternatively, take a motorised pedicel). The hotel has pleasant double rooms, and dormitory beds too, and is close to the city centre.
Other hotels are the Kunhu (44 Beijing Lu; take a pedi-cab or a No.3 bus from the railway station, get off at the first stop. The dormitory is room 629), and the Cuihu (green lake) Hotel (6 Cuihu Nan Lu; take a No.2 bus from the station, and get off at the seventh stop).
This region of Yunnan Province close to Laos and Burma is most famous for the Water-splashing Ceremony which the local Dai people hold as part of their own New Year’s celebrations. Visitors stay in JINGHONG, the main town of the district, only i8 miles (30 kilometres) from the Burmese border. It is situated on the Lancang River which further down becomes the Mekong, and the whole area is green, tropical and very beautiful. There are still huge expanses of virgin forests in Xishuang Banna, although indiscriminate deforestation has taken its toll. A number of rare animal and bird species live in the jungle, including helmet-crowned hornbills, black gibbons, wild boar and elephants. The area is also famous for its flowers.
Ten minority races live in the Xishuang Banna area, of whom the most numerous are the Dai, a race related to the Thai people. Another race is distinguished by their long, pendulous earlobes which they cultivate by hanging weighty objects from their ears. Officials will tell you that, under the ‘Gang of Four’, the minority peoples were maltreated, but that now relations between the Han Chinese and the local tribes are excellent.The New Year’s celebrations of the Dai people usually take place in mid-April although the dates vary slightly each year. Traditionally, the festival should last three days. On the first day, there is a large market, and on the second, dragon-boat races are held on the river. On the third day, everybody throws buckets of water at each other with wild abandon, a tradition said to stem from a baftle against a fire demon in the legendary past.The Dais, who are Buddhists, become totally wrapped-up in the celebrations, which also involve a large amount of eating and drink-ing. Buffaloes are slaughtered in a highly ritualistic fashion, and there is dancing and singing which gets wilder and fiercer as the celebrations progress. There are Dai villages near Jinghong which can be visited under the eye of an official guide, and also a Tropical Plant Research Unit in the jungle.
Everyone who goes to Xishuang Banna remarks on the beautiful scenery and the relaxed atrnosphere.
How to get there and where to stay
Foreigners have to take a plane from Kunming to Simao, about 200 miles (320 kilometres) southwest. There is a local bus which goes from there to Jinghong, a bumpy, scenic drive of about five hours. Simao has a nice hotel if you have to stay the night there.
The hotel in Jinghong is spartan but pleasant, with the cheapest beds costing four yuan a night.
The local Public Security Bureau apparently has a rule that foreigners are allowed to stay in Jinghong for only five days maximum, the only ‘open’ place in China known to have such a rule.