Kūnmíng 昆明

Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” from its winter-less climate, the provincial capital of Yunnan is one of China’s most laid-back cities. Minorities from all over the country’s most ethnically diverse province regularly play music in the park, put on shows in their elaborately decorated traditional dress, and enjoy a leisurely life. It’s often said that if you ask a Kunminger what the most stressful part of their day is they’ll laugh and ask what the meaning of stress is. Indeed, despite the city-wide renovations to put in more modern luxury, the city has lost none of its breezy appeal.

Originally established in 765 AD as Tuodong (拓东) the city was ruled by the Kingdom of Nanzhao and then followed by the Kingdom of Dali – before becoming part of the Yuan dynasty empire around the middle of the 13th century. Towards the end of the century the Mongol rulers developed the city and it gained a reputation as a key trading hub, as documented by an inspired and admirable Marco Polo.

As the Ming dynasty swept to power, they erected a wall around the city. This kept things firmly under Ming control for at least a few hundred years until a Ming general called Wu Sangui switched sides to join the Mancu invaders from the Qing dynasties.

Initially taking its current name circa 1832 – in the following few decades, the townsfolk were harassed on at least two occasions by the Sultan of Dali, and most of the city’s riches were destroyed during the Panthay Rebellion.

There’s plenty of history, parks and temples here to keep you happy during a few days’ visit. You can also hit up the Yunnan University campus, one of the prettiest in China. Just outside the city are some great daytrips as well, so make sure you give Kunming the time it deserves before venturing further into one of China’s most incredible provinces.

 

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