Historical illustration from an edition of The Travels of Marco Polo. The original caption reads: “Ho-nhi and other Tribes in the Department of Lin-ngan in S. Yun-nan (supposed to be the Anin country of Marco Polo).”

Covering an area about the size of the state of California, Yunnan Province in the south of China is a mountainous region whose climate ranges from temperate to subtropical to tropical. About a third of its over 45 million people belong to one of China’s fifty-five officially recognized minority groups; twenty-two minority groups are represented, with the Yi being the largest.

The southern province of Yunnan (Yun nan, the cloudy south) borders in the west on Myanmar (Burma) and the Tibet (Xizang) Autonomous Region, in the north on Sichuan Province, in the east on Guizhou Province and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and in the south on Vietnam and Laos. The province covers 394,000 square kilometers (152,124 square miles) of mountains and plateaus. The northwestern section features the Hengduan mountain range, traversed by several big rivers and with peaks reaching over 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). The eastern and southeastern sections form a lower plateau. The diversity of Yunnan’s topography means there are three climate zones: temperate in the mountains and subtropic and tropic to the south. The rainy season between May and October accounts for about 80 percent of the annual precipitation, which averages above 1,000 millimeters (39 inches).

Yunnan has a population of over 45 million, of which about a third belong to twenty-two officially recognized minority peoples, the Yi being the largest. The Han Chinese, who constitute about 70 percent of the population, are mainly concentrated on the eastern plateau, where the capital, Kunming (2007 est. pop. 6.19 million), is located.

Yunnan was loosely incorporated into the Chinese Empire during the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE). It was the center of the independent Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries and was reincorporated as a Chinese frontier area under the Yuan dynasty (1267–1368). During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), the Chinese government encouraged Chinese immigration into Yunnan, and during the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) the province was repeatedly the seat of rebellion against the Manchu government. In the nineteenth century British and French colonial powers in Southeast Asia extended their activities into Yunnan, and the French built a railway connecting Kunming with Vietnam. During the Japanese occupation of eastern China, the Chinese Nationalist Party (Guomindang) moved the government and various industries to the western provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan, and Yunnan became a stronghold against further Japanese advance.

Kunming developed into an important industrial center in the southwest, a position it still retains. Yunnan has one of the largest reserves of tin in the world, and the principal industries are tin and copper mining. Heavy industry, such as iron and steel works, is concentrated in the area around Kunming. The province is an important manufacturer of textiles, chemicals, processed foods, and various light industrial products, and a major producer of tea, cigarettes, and sugar.

Further Reading

Arvidsson, S. S. (2001). Ethnicity and economic development in Yunnan. Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala University Department of Economic History.

Hall, J. C. S. (1976). The Yunnan provincial faction, 1927-1937. Canberra: Australian National University Department of Far Eastern History.

Hansen, M. H. (1999). Lessons in being Chinese: Minority education and ethnic identity in southwest China. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Sutton, D. S. (1980). Provincial militarism and the Chinese republic: The Yunnan army, 1905-25. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Wang Jianping. (1996). Concord and conflict: The Hui communities of Yunnan society in a historical perspective. Lund, Sweden: Lund Studies in African and Asian Religions.

Source: Nielsen, Bent. (2009). Yunnan Province. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2611–2613. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Yunnan Province (Yúnnán Sh?ng ?? ?)|Yúnnán Sh?ng ?? ? (Yunnan Province)

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