YUNNAN, SOUTH OF THE CLOUDS
THE VANISHING WORLDS OF CHINA
YUNNAN, SOUTH OF THE CLOUDS - CHINA’s VANISHING WORLDS
None of the provinces of China has as much diversity
and as many attractions, physical, cultural and
ethnic, as the South Western province of Yunnan.
A legend says that when a prince of Dali visited
the Tang-dynasty court (618) he told the Emperor
that his land was south of the rainy weather. The
Chinese Emperor then named that territory Yunnan,
-meaning South of the Clouds.
The title refers to the fact that rapid change in China
is destroying forever aspects of rural life in China that
should be loved and cherished. With all the news
about China’s rise to global power, most people in
the West are barely aware of the fascinating tapestry
of small rural communities in the different parts of
that huge country.
Chinese in many rural areas are trying to revive local
cultural practices including theater, dance, song,
puppetry, local arts and crafts that had even been
suppressed under the Cultural Revolution. In many
cases this is difficult, because funding is not available,
younger people do not want to learn the old
ways, and many artifacts have been lost or destroyed.
Still encouraging progress in rural revival can often
be noted. In different regions there are distinctive
architectural forms which often reflect the local
building materials, climate, weather, customs and
lifestyles. These fascinating old buildings are often
symbols of the past, like archaeological treasures.
Especially temples fallen into disuse offer insights
into the past.
For centuries the outside world has yearned to
understand the mysterious land of China. Since the
late 1970’s-when China again opened her doors to
foreign tourists and businessmen- millions of visitors
have flocked into the “Middle Kingdom,” sampling
her sumptuous food, photographing her scenic
beauties, and experiencing her bustling marketplaces.
Few, however, have been fortunate enough
to experience the “hidden” China.
Woven into the mosaic of the largest population
on earth is a rich thread. China’s ethnic minorities,
though numbering more than 100 million people,
are largely lost amid the vast ocean of 1.2 billion
Han Chinese. Although numerically the minorities
of China account for only 6.7% of China’s population,
they live in 62.5% of China’s territory.
Within Yunnan’s single province and dwelling among
a stew of border markets, mountains, jungles, lakes,
temples, modern political intrigue and remains
of vanished kingdoms, are 28 recognized ethnic
groups, the greatest number in any province. These
ethnic minorities live together over vast areas in the
region while some live in individual concentrated
communities in small areas. The residences of the
ethnic minorities are various and characteristic;
their clothes are colorful and distinctive; some of
them have their own languages and writings. Each
of these tribes carries on several thousand-yearold
traditions, handing down festivals, languages,
beliefs ranging from animist to Islamic, folklore,
ethnic handcrafts, hundreds of varieties of colorful
dress, and food.
Yunnan’s cultural life is one of striking contrasts.
Archaeologists have discovered sepulchral mounds
containing magnificent bronzes at Jinning, south of
Kunming, dating to the Han dynasty (206 BC–220
BC). At Zhaotong, in the northeastern part of the
province, frescoes belonging to the Dong (Eastern)
Jin dynasty (317–420 CE) have also been uncovered.
Other historical landmarks of Han Chinese culture
in subsequent ages abound. At the same time,
the cultural traditions of Yunnan’s non-Han ethnic
minorities also are very much alive.
The cultures of these peoples remained virtually
unchanged until the mid-20 th century. Although
some minority practices were abolished, such as
slaveholding by the Yi and headhunting among the
Wa, the post-Mao Zedong policy that has encouraged
the expression of minority identity has permitted
many local customs and festivals to flourish again.
In contrast to the period of the Cultural Revolution
(1966–76), when religious practices were repressed,
Yunnan has come to tolerate and even celebrate its
Mountain ranges dominate nearly every part and
are home to a great variety of plants and animals. It
is bounded by the Tibet Autonomous Region to the
northwest, the provinces of Sichuan to the north and
Guizhou to the east, and the Zhuang Autonomous
Region of Guangxi to the southeast. To the south
and southeast it adjoins Laos and Vietnam, and to
the southwest and west it shares a long border with
Myanmar (Burma). The provincial capital is Kunming,
in the northeast-central part of Yunnan. Although
richly endowed with natural resources, Yunnan
remained an underdeveloped region until relatively
recent times; for centuries the ethnic, religious, and
political separatism of the province posed obstacles
to the efforts of a central government to control it.
Yunnan has numerous famous mountains, lakes,
rivers and cultural relics, and tourism has flourished
in the province since the late 1990s. The historical old
town section of Lijiang, which embraces a mixture
of several cultural traditions, was designated a
UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. The watersheds
of the three major rivers of western Yunnan were
collectively named a World Heritage site in 2003.
Other national-level tourist spots include Lake Dian
at Kunming, the Shilin (“Stone Forest”) karst landscape
at Lunan Chongsheng Temple (with its three
pagodas) and Lake Erhai at Dali, the volcanic and
scenic landscape around Tengchong, and the natural
landscape and access to the Dai culture centered on
Jinghong in the Xishuangbanna region.
According to the Han historian Sima Qian, the
Chinese warrior prince Zhuang Qiao founded the
pastoral Dian Kingdom in eastern Yunnan during
the third century BC. The Dian were a slave society,
who vividly recorded their daily life and ceremonies
involving human sacrifice in sometimes gruesome
bronze models, which have been unearthed from
their tombs. In 109 AD the kingdom was acknowledged
by China: the emperor Wu, hoping to control
the Southern Silk Road through to India, sent its
ruler military aid and a golden seal. However, the
collapse of the Han Empire in 204 AD was followed
by the dissolution of Dian into private small states.
The Dali and Nanzhao kingdoms
In the 8 th century, an aspiring Yunnanese prince
named Piluoge, favoring Dali for its location near
trade routes between central and southeastern
Asia, invited all his rivals to dinner in the town,
then set fire to the tent with them inside. Subsequently
he established the Nanzhao Kingdom in
Dali, which later expanded to include much of
modern Burma, Thailand and Vietnam. In 937, the
Bai warlord Duan Siping toppled the Nanzhao and
set up a smaller Dali Kingdom, which survived until
Kublai Khan and his Mongol hordes descended
The Muslim Uprising
Directly controlled by China for the first time, Yunnan
served for a while as a remote dumping ground for
political troublemakers, thereby escaping the population
explosions, wars and migrations that plagued
central China. However, the Mongol invasion had
introduced a large Muslim population to the province,
who, angered by their deteriorating status
under the Chinese, staged the Muslim Uprising in
1856. Under the warlord Du Wenxiu, the rebellion
laid waste to Kunming and founded an Islamic state
in Dali before the Qing armies ended it with the
wholesale massacre of Yunnan’s Muslims in 1873,
leaving a wasted Yunnan to local bandits and private
armies for the following half-century.Modern times
Strangely, it was the Japanese invasion of China
during the 1930’s that sparked a resurgence of
Blockaded into southwestern China, the Guomindang
government initiated great programs of railand-road
building through the region, though it’s
only recently that Yunnan has finally benefited from
its forced association with the rest of the country.
Never agriculturally rich – only a tenth of the land
is considered arable – the province looks to mineral
resources, tourism and its potential as a future
conduit between China and the much discussed, but
as yet unformed, trading bloc of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand
and Burma. Should these countries ever form
an unrestricted economic alliance, the amount of
trade passing through Yunnan would be immense,
and highways, rail and air services have already been
planned for the day the borders open freely.
Yunnan’s population is noted for the great
complexity of its ethnolinguistic groups. Out of the
total population, the Han (Chinese) form the bulk of
both the city dwellers and the agricultural population
on the plains and valleys devoted to rice cultivation.
Descendants of the conquering armies and
immigrants who arrived through the centuries, have
both pushed the non-Han peoples into remote areas
and intermarried with them.
There are a large number of Hui (Chinese Muslims),
the descendants of the immigrants sent in by China’s
rulers to help govern the province after the 13 th
century. The non-Han population of Yunnan remains
substantial; in addition to the Hui, it comprises
more than 50 recognized ethnic minority groups,
accounting for more than one-third of Yunnan’s
population. In distribution, these groups are highly
intermixed; not one county is inhabited by a single
minority. The Yi are the largest minority group.
Once the rulers of large parts of Yunnan, the Yi are a
hill people with subsistence agriculture and proud
warrior traditions. Linguistically, they belong to the
Tibeto-Burman group. Second largest in population
are the Bai, in northwestern Yunnan. Long Sinicized,
the Bai are rice cultivators who are among the original
inhabitants of the region. Other peoples in the
Tibeto-Burman linguistic family are the Hani, Lisu,
and Lahu of the Yi sub-group; the Naxi, who are a
branch of the Xifan subgroup; the Tibetans, who
inhabit the far northwest corner of the province and
practice Tibetan Buddhism; and the Jingpo, who
speak the same language as the Kachin of Myanmar.
A second major linguistic family represented in
Yunnan is the Tai group. Most of the Tai (in China,
called Dai) peoples inhabit the semitropical
lowlands, raise paddy (wet-field) rice, and practice
Buddhism; they are ethnically related to the Shan
tribes of Myanmar and the Thai (Siamese) of Thailand.
Another important linguistic group is the Mon-
Khmer, represented by the Wa, former headhunters
who inhabit several counties along the border with
Myanmar. The Hmong (called Miao in China) and
Mien (called Yao in China) peoples of southeastern
Yunnan make up a separate linguistic group; they
are hill dwellers whose traditional shifting method
of clearing land for cultivation has been replaced
by more sedentary farming practices. The Miao
until relatively recently had no written language.
Finally, a significant number of Zhuang inhabit the
southeastern part of Yunnan, adjacent to Guangxi.
Yunnan’s topography is determined by a series of
high mountain chains that, starting close together,
branch out from the Tibetan border southeastward
across the province in fanlike fashion.
The province consists of two distinct regions separated
by the Ailao Mountains—the canyon region
to the west of it and the Yunnan-Guizhou (Yungui)
Plateau region to the east. In the canyon region
the great mountains descend from an elevation
exceeding 5,500 meters above sea level in the north
to about 1,830 meters in the south. Flowing through
the deep V-shaped valleys between these mountains
are the three major rivers of the province: the
Salween (Nu; the Mekong) and the Black.
The eastern Yungui Plateau region is separated
from Sichuan by the Yangtze River. Yunnan has the
greatest variety of biological resources among the
Chinese provinces, and it includes plants from tropical,
subtropical, temperate, and alpine growing
zones. Of some 30,000 species of plants found in
China, more than half are in Yunnan. These include
more than 6,000 species of medicinal herbs and
some 2,500 species of endemic flowers and ornamental
plants. About half of Yunnan’s total area is
The gorgeous colors of azaleas, camellias, roses, and
fairy primroses make the mountain meadow country
a gigantic flower garden and a popular destination
for botanists and other researchers. Yunnan is also
foremost among the Chinese provinces in its variety
of animals, with some 250 species of mammals,
360 of fish, 140 of reptiles, 90 of amphibians, and
780 of birds. In the tropical forests of the south,
mammals—including monkeys, bears, elephants,
and porcupines—are found in large numbers.
THE CAPITAL OF YUNNAN
KUNMING, THE CAPITAL OF YUNNAN
Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, is known as
‘the City of Eternal Spring’ for its pleasant climate
and flowers that bloom all year long. With a history
of more than 2,400 years, it was the gateway to
the celebrated Silk Road that facilitated trade with
Tibet, Sichuan, Myanmar, India and beyond. Today
it is the provincial political, economic and cultural
center of Yunnan, as well as the most popular tourist
destination in southwest China. The city is also the
focal point of Yunnan minority culture.
Kunming boasts a long history. As early as 30,000
years ago, ancient tribes inhabited the area around
Dian Lake. During the 3rd century BC, Zhuangqiao
of the Chu (in the middle reaches of the Yangtze
River led his men to the area around Lake Dian and
established the Dian Kingdom. In 109 BC, during
the reign (141–87 BC) of the Xi (Western) Han
emperor Wudi, the Dian Kingdom became part of
the Han territory and was named Yizhou prefecture,
with Dianchi county as its seat. It was then an
important traffic center, connecting China’s hinterland
with the southern branch of the ancient Silk
Road to the west. Via Yunnan, it also connected
present-day Sichuan to Vietnam. During the Sui
dynasty (581–618), it was renamed Kunzhou.
From the 8th century onward, it was known to the
Chinese as Tuodong city in the independent states
of Nanzhao and Dali. It then came under the control
of the Chinese central government with the Yuan
(Mongol) invasion of the southwest in 1253. In 1276
it was founded as Kunming county and became the
provincial capital of Yunnan.
It is considered by scholars to have been the city
of Yachi, described by the 13th-century Venetian
traveler Marco Polo. During the Ming (1368–1644)
and Qing (1644–1911/12) dynasties, it was the seat
of the superior prefecture of Yunnan. It reverted to
county status in 1912, under the name Kunming,
and became a municipality in 1928.
Kunming’s transformation into a modern city
resulted from the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese
War in 1937. In the face of the advancing Japanese
forces, great numbers of Chinese flooded into
southwestern China and took with them dismantled
industrial plants, which were then re-erected
beyond the range of Japanese bombers. In addition,
a number of universities and institutes of
higher education were evacuated there. When the
Japanese occupied French Indochina in 1940, the
links of Kunming with the west, both via the newly
constructed Burma Road and by air, grew increasingly
vital. Industry became important in Kunming
during World War II. The large state-owned Central
Machine Works was transferred there from Hunan,
while the manufacture of electrical products,
copper, cement, steel, paper and textiles expanded.
After 1949, Kunming developed rapidly into an
industrial metropolis and remained a major cultural
In the western suburbs of Kunming lies Western
Hills. They are also called ‘Sleeping Buddha Hills’,
for looked at from a distance, they have the appearance
of a giant sleeping Buddha. Here, there are
wonderful scenic spots such as Huating Temple,
Taihua Temple, Sanqing Pavilion, and Dragon Gate.
Huating Temple is one of the largest Buddhist
temples in Yunnan Province.
Daxiong Baodian Hall, Tianwang Hall and Kwan-yin
Hall are some of the features in the temple. In the
temple you can see three golden Buddha figures
with kindly expressions, 500 life-like arhats which
are vivid just like real people, and golden figures
of Laughing Buddha. Besides, there are abundant
colored clay figures depicting vividly various images
of mythical animals. Taihua Temple gained its name
for it is located on Taihua Hill. Originally built in the
Yuan Dynasty (1206 - 1368), the temple is the oldest
one in Western Hills. Daxiong Baodian Hall, Piaomiao
Pavilion, Sizhao Hall are in the temple. The
temple is famous for the beautiful rare flowers on
There is a saying - ‘If you do not visit Western Hills,
you haven’t visited Kunming; if you do not come
to Dragon Gate, you haven’t been to Western Hills.’
Being the outstanding scenic place in Western Hills,
Dragon Gate is a big exquisite stone carved edifice.
The stone paths, stone rooms, stone grottos, and
stone Buddhist figures are all carved with excellent
craftsmanship on a large natural rock. Like Sanqing
Pavilion, Dragon Gate was also built on cliff. You can
stand on the edge of the cliff holding the railing,
looking downward to experience the steepness of
the hill and enjoy the spectacle of Dianchi Lake.
“YUNNAN IMPRESSIONS SHOW” ALSO CALLED
AND “DYNAMIC YUNNAN”
A grand and original ethnic dance musical. It fuses
the beauty of Yunnan’s ethnic minority dances
and songs with the power of modern stage exhibition.
Chinese folk dance first appeared over 5000
years ago and is a by-product of long historical
development and profound artistic culture. All the
performers are genuine Yunnan ethnic minorities
who left their villages to participate in the theater
and all the costumes are real. It tells audience about
the universe, nature, culture, and the pursuit for
the origins of life, the praise of life and the wish for
The performance captures the essence of original
rural songs and classical folk dances by means of
the artistic director’s reorganization and recreation,
combining beauty of Yunnan ethnic minorities
dance and songs with the power of modern stage
exhibition. Therefore the richness of the culture of
Yunnan minorities is born again on stage with startling
This is the first production produced, directed and
choreographed by the famous dancer, Yang Liping,
one of China’s best-known dancers. Twenty years
ago, Yang Liping won first prize in a national dance
competition by performing her solo dance “The
Spirit of the Peacock”. She gathered over 60 highly
capable aboriginal dancers and singers from the
lost corners of the world over several years.
These aboriginal performers dance for life. They use
the enthusiasm from their hearts, dances from the
union of their bodies with nature and natural vigor
for celebration to create a powerful artistic force.
Yuantong Temple is at the foot of Yuantong Hill
in the northern part of Kunming. With a history
of more than 1,200 years, it is one of the grandest
as well as the most important Buddhist temple in
Yunnan Province. King Yimouxun of the Nanzhao
Kingdom built it during the late eighth century as
a continuation of Putuoluo Temple, and the restorations
performed from the Qing Dynasty onward
had not changed its unique mixed architectural
style of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties.
Unlike all other Buddhist temples, which are built
on an ascendant, you enter Yuantong Temple from
above and descend along a gently sloping garden
path. The view before you starting your peaceful
walk beneath the gigantic cypress trees that line the
garden path to the temple with its extensive array
of flowers and foliage is deeply restful and impressive.
A memorial archway with four Chinese characters
-Yuantong Shengjing (Yuantong Wonderland)-
is standing on the halfway; you can see the entire
temple from here.
The temple complex is built around Yuantong Hall
(Mahavira Hall), which is known as the Fane on the
Water for it is surrounded by a very large pond filled
with limpid water and fish.
A delicate stone bridge which has an elegant
octagonal pavilion stands in the center connects
Mahavira Hall and the temple entrance. The pavilion
is connected to the rest of the complex by various
bridges and walkways.
Sakymuni, Amitabha and the Medicine Buddha,
all Yuan Dynasty statues, are found in the main
hall. The surrounding 500 Buddhist Arhats who are
carved in the walls are rare treasures noted for their
perfect proportions and lively appearances.
Also in this hall are two ten meter high pillars from
the Ming Dynasty that are each engraved with
a dragon - one yellow and one green - who are
trying to extend their bodies and claws into the
air as if they are ready to fly. Like the Arhats, they
impart the feeling that at any moment they could
spring into action. Outside, on each side of the
main hall, there are stone staircases that are carved
out of the mountainside and wind their way to the
top of the hill. As you climb these stairs, there are
ancient inscriptions along the way and various tone
artworks that are considered the most important
historical relics in Kunming.
YUNNAN PROVINCIAL MUSEUM
The relics in Yunnan Provincial Museum mainly
include bronze vessels, Buddhism relics, cultural
relics of local ethnic minorities, art works, calligraphies
and paintings, and porcelains.
Among them, the gilding Knight-shaped shellcontainers
unearthed in Jinning Shizhai Mountain,
Tiger and Ox shaped bronze case unearthed in Lijia
Mountain, the Golden Kwanyin Statue from Dali
Kingdom, golden tuinga with jewels of the Ming
Dynasty (1368 - 1644AD), and the ‘Travel in Xishan
Mountain’ painted by Guoxi in the Earlier Song
Dynasty (960 - 1127AD) as well as some others are
regarded as national treasures.
BRONZE VESSELS OF THE DIAN KINGDOM
The related collections mainly include Bronze
Oxhead Ornaments, Chime of the King of the Dian
Kingdom, Bronze Lantern with Three Branches,
Gilding Horsewoman Ornaments, Ox-shaped
Bronze Reed - pipes, etc.
Those bronze vessels reveal people’s daily lives of
that time period vivid. In addition to the bronze
vessels, metal crafts showed in the museum include
gold vessels and silver vessels, all of which came
from the Han (202BC - 220AD) and Ming Dynasty.
THE GOLDEN TEMPLE (JIN DIAN) (TAOIST)
It is the home of the Taoist Hall of Supreme Harmony
and is the largest copper temple in China. It is also
known as the Bronze Tile Temple and by its popular
name, the Golden Temple.
The history of the Golden Temple starts during the
Ming Dynasty and the reign of the Emperor Wanli in
1602. At that time the governor of Yunnan Province
was a devout Taoist who built this temple to honor
the Taoist hero-god Zishi. In 1671 during the Qing
Dynasty, Wu Sangui, the governor of Yunnan Province,
built an exact duplicate of the original one.
This temple was undisturbed for almost two
hundred years until the Muslim rebellion of 1857,
during which it suffered some damages. Emperor
Guangxu ordered its complete repair and in 1890,
using 250 tons (246 gross ton) of solid bronze, the
entire temple was again rebuilt. Except for the staircases
and balustrades, which are made of marble,
the walls, columns, rafters, roof tiles, altars, Buddha
statues, wall decorations and the banner near the
gate tower are all made of copper.
The temple hall is 6.7 meter high, weighs 250 tons,
and is the largest copper architecture in China. All
of the beam columns, doors, windows, roof tiles,
Taoist statues, wall decorations, the banner near the
gate and couplets, and so on, are made of bronze.
The burnished bronze gleams like gold under the
shining sun, and makes the temple the most famous
Taoist shrine in Yunnan Province.
KUNMING, DYNAMIC YUNNAN DANCE SHOW
THE GOLDEN TEMPLE
THE OLD TOWN
YUNNAN MINORITIES VILLAGE & PROVINCIAL MUSEUM
WESTERN HILLS - DRAGON GATE
SHILIN - STONE FOREST
DALI BAI AUTONOMOUS PREFECTURE OF YUNNAN
Dali is located in western Yunnan, approximately 250
km northwest of the provincial capital of Kunming.
It is situated in the transition area between the
dramatic valleys of the eastern Tibetan Plateau and
the distinctive mountains of the western Yungui
Plateau. The county-level city surrounds Erhai Lake
between the Cangshan Mountain to the west and
Mount Jizu to the east. This plain has traditionally
been settled by the Bai and Yi minorities.
Dali Ancient Town is one of the most famous ancient
towns in China. As a major stop on the Ancient Tea
Horse Road, or Southwest Silk Road, it is a town full
of historic sites and traditional culture.
DALI ANCIENT CITY is one of the ‘Three Ancients’
(Ancient Cities, Ancient Pagodas and Ancient Steles)
of the Dali Scenic Spot. With Erhai Lake to the east,
and Cangshan Mountain to the west, its grand city
wall, traditional Bai ethnic minority folk houses
and marvelous scenery has been attracting many
visitors. The traditional Bai ethnic minority folk
houses give the city distinctive feel, unlike any other
A typical house is characterized by “3 rooms and a
wall screening” meaning that every house has a principle
room and two wing-rooms and facing the principle
room stands the wall screening. The “4 joints
and 5 courtyards” mean that these houses are built
with four sides; and four courtyards in the joining
parts of the houses’ corners and one big courtyard
in the center makes five courtyards. The windows,
doors and the wall screening are adorned with
woodcarvings, colored patterns, marbles and wash
drawings. The delicacy, freshness and elegance of
their construction may be called first-class among
Dali has a long and glorious history. In 738, the
Nanzhao Kingdom was established with Dali as
its capital and covered a large area of Yunnan and
northern Burma and parts of Sichuan and Guizhou.
The original capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom was
located in Weishan and later moved to sites around
The territory conquered was quite substantial and
held over a long period. The kingdom survived
almost 200 years and had 13 kings before collapsing.
After several decades of chaos the Kingdom of Dali
emerged in 937.
Established by Duan Siping was controlled by the
Duan clan and survived until conquered by the
Mongols in the 12th century. The Kingdom retained
a close alliance with the Tang Dynasty, and was one
of the major transit points for the introduction of
Buddhism throughout the rest of China. By 1000,
Dali was one of the 13 largest cities in the world.
These historical events are immortalized in the
Martial Arts literature of Hong Kong author Jin Yong,
giving Dali a fame nationwide. Both the Nanzhao
Kingdom and the Kingdom of Dali had a military
alliance with the Tang Dynasty against the aggressive
Turfan (Tibetan) Empire which made regular
and aggressive incursions into their respective territories.
Many local people in Dali have the surname
Duan to this day.
The rulers of the original Nanzhao Kingdom were
probably precursors to the modern Yi peoples, while
the Kingdom of Dali rulers were precursors to the
modern Bai minority. A huge memorial stele to the
Pacification of Kingdom of Dali was built during the
Ming Dynasty and remains standing today.
The Mongols destroyed the old capital and palace
of the Kingdom of Dali, located just to the south
of the Three Pagodas. Almost all records of both
the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms were burnt or
destroyed, leaving much unknown about these
periods. In addition, the Mongols brutally displaced
many of the inhabitants of the prefecture, with
the result that Bai minority people were forced as
far east as Hunan Province. Many ethnic Han also
moved into the Kunming area during this period.
The old Dali City was rebuilt in the early 1400s by
the Ming Dynasty. Since then, the fortunes of Dali
have declined and its importance as a cultural and
economic center in the Yunnan area have been overtaken
by Kunming, the provincial capital.
TANG DYNASTY THREE PAGODAS
Famous in China for their size, beauty, antiquity and
for their preservation. The central one is more than
1,100 years old and is one of the tallest pagodas
ever built in China, representing a period when Dali
was a Buddhist Kingdom. The other two were built
about 100 years later, probably by the Kingdom of
Dali. They are made of brick. They stand at the foot
of one of the high peaks of nearby Cangshan Mountain,
named Yinglo Peak. The main pagoda is called
Qianxun. It is said that it was completed about
the year 840 AD by a Nanzhao King named Quan
Square faced, it has 16 stories, stands 69.6 meters
high and it is one of the tallest pagodas ever built in
China. At the bottom, the walls are about 3 meters
thick. It looks like a typical Tang Dynasty pagoda,
and it is said that architects from Xian, which was
the capital of the Tang dynasty, designed this
building. To the east of it stands a stone wall which
is engraved with the words “govern the mountains
and rivers forever”.
The other two pagodas were built about 100 years
later. It is thought that they were built by rulers
of the Dali Kingdom that succeeded the Nanzhao
Kingdom. Each one has ten stories, are slimmer and
are about 42 meters high. One of them is interesting
because it leans like the Tower of Pisa in Italy.
DALI CATHOLIC CHURCH. Including 9 chapels, it
was originally built in 1927, by a French bishop Ye
Meizhang and covers 470 square meters, about 36
meters long and 13 meters wide. The complex is a
typical post and lintel construction; its lower and
upper eaves both employ corbel arches and flying
eaves, and every arch has four buttresses engraved
with Chinese traditional auspicious animals and
birds such as Dragon and Phoenix. In the east of
the church, an altar has been built for Virgin Mary;
while in the west, it’s a gate tower modeled after Bai
minority traditional residence, whose top is a vestry
roofed with eaves at four corners.
The gate tower also employs multi-layer corbel
arches and flying eaves, all of which are of superb
workmanship. As a whole, the church complex
adopts wooden structures of Bai minority style and
thus is deemed as a combination of Chinese and
XIZHOU VILLAGE 20 km north of Dali has almost
200 national heritage listed private houses dating
from the Qing Dynasty. The houses are among the
best examples of traditional Qing architecture in
China and are exquisitely detailed.
Building craftsmen from Xizhou were famous
throughout Southeast Asia and travelled to Vietnam,
Myanmar and throughout Southwest China to build
and decorate houses. When they made their fortune,
they returned to Xizhou to build their own dream
ZHOUCHENG VILLAGE is located 23 kilometers to
the north of the Ancient City of Dali. Zhoucheng
Town is the biggest town of Bai people in Dali with
more than 1,500 families. Here we can see typical
houses of Bai people with close courtyards, “three
rooms and a shining wall”, and “four rows of houses
and five dooryards”. For some of the houses, one
family makes one courtyard; while others have
several courtyards in one family.
These houses have a plane of a square. The roof
contains two layers of eaves made from green tiles,
and is designed in the shape of the Chinese character.
There are three to five major rooms which are
facing east or south. They are built with bricks and
stones with the wooden frame. One courtyard, and
sometimes several courtyards, connect with each
other and make a whole.
Bai people pay special attention to the decorations
of the shining walls, windows, doors, the frontispiece
and the gate-towers. The shining walls is the
necessary building of the construction style of one
major house, two wing-rooms, and courtyards. The
shining wall is covered with two layers of flying
eaves with up-holding corners.
The shining wall stands in front of the major room.
It connects the two wing-rooms and the frontispiece
so that the three form a close courtyard. The center
of the shining wall is brushed with lime, inscribed
with characters, or inlaid with marble screen.
Around these are such patterns as fans, squares and
circles. In the patterns are colored paintings painted
with water mill or powder.
TIE-DYE is one of the Bai people’s traditional handcrafts,
a technology of printing flower patterns on
cloth. As the name suggests, the producing process
is divided into “tie” and “dye”. Tie refers to making
the cloth into certain shapes by pinching, creasing
and flanging it according to the flower patterns.
They are then sew or tie tightly together to make a
bunch of knots. The aim of tying the knots is to dye
the untied part while retaining the original color
of the knotted parts. The tighter the knots are tied,
the better the effect of the color printing will be
The largest highland lake next to Dianchi and one
of the seven biggest fresh water lakes in China. It
means, ‘sea shaped like an ear’, in Chinese. Implying
that the lake is ear shaped and as large as a sea,
hence it was so named. The lake covers an area of
250 square kilometers and is located about two
kilometers east of Dali. In a sunny day, the crystal
waters of Erhai Lake and the snow mantled Cangshan
Mount radiate with each other. Thus the scene
was commonly described as “Silver Cangshan and
Erhai is an important food source for the local
people, who are famous for their fishing method:
their trained cormorants to catch fish and return
them to the fishmongers. The birds are prevented
from swallowing their fish by rings fixed around
THE GOLDEN SHUTTLE ISLAND
The Golden Shuttle Island (Jinsuodao), also called
the Island of the Sea, lies in the southeast part of
Erhai Lake. The island is 1,500 meters in length and
20 meters to 500 meters in width. The west is wide
and the middle is narrow, so it looks like a shuttle or
floating calabash, hence its name. There are a lot of
caverns and precipitous cliffs in the island.
The “Annals of Yunnan” by Fan Zhuo, a historian,
recorded that: “The Island lies in the center of the
Erhai, and is embraced by water on the four sides.
It was cool and comfortable in summer, and was
a summer resort of the royal family of Nanzhao
The island is inhabited by the Bai people whose
professions are fishing and water transportation.
Rocks are used for building their walls and greycolored
bricks are dominantly used for building their
houses. In front of the gate there is a screen wall. The
courtyard, decorated with trees and flowers, gives a
XIAOPUTUO DAO TEMPLE, was originally devoted
to Bodhisattva Kwan-yin and can be traced back
to the 15th century. Though tiny and called xiao
(which means small in Chinese), one can still experience
and see the typical ancient Chinese Buddhist
temple’s unique architectural styles of its buildings’
pointed eaves and decorations.
THREE STAR TEMPLE is dedicated to the Three Star
Gods, i.e. the Three Lucky Gods of China - the Fu
Xing (good fortune, Jupiter); the Lu Xing (prosperity,
Zeta Ursa Majoris); and the Shou Xing (longevity,
Canopus). These Daoist folk gods - often called
simply “Fu Lu Shou” - date back to the Ming Dynasty,
and are still popular today.
THREE PAGODAS - TANG DYNASTY
DALI ANCIENT CITY
DALI, XIZHOU VILLAGE
DALI, ZHOUCHENG VILLAGE
ERHAI LAKE - GOLDEN SHUTTLE ISLAND
ERHAI LAKE - LUOQUAN ISLAND
DALI MINORITIES PERFORMANCES
DALI CANGSHAN MOUNTAIN
HOME TO THE NAXI & OTHER MINORITY GROUPS
Lijiang is a prefecture-level city in the northwest of
Yunnan province, China and is famous for its UNESCO
Heritage Site, the Old Town of Lijiang, which dates
back to over 800 years ago. The architecture of the old
town is noteworthy for the blending of elements from
several cultures. The town possesses an ancient water
supply system of great complexity and ingenuity. It
is China’s best-preserved minority ancient town, and
the only one among China’s ancient towns without
city walls. It is famous for its ancient architecture and
orderly system of waterways.
Lijiang didn’t become an important town on the
Ancient Tea Horse Road until the end of the Southern
Song (1127-1279) and the beginning of the Yuan
Dynasty (1279-1368). During the early years of the
Yuan Dynasty, about 1,000 families inhabited Lijiang.
The town continued to grow, and it reached a peak
during the Ming (AD 1368-1644) and Qing (AD 1644-
Lijiang was a former trading town and a stop for
traders carrying goods on the Ancient Tea Horse Road.
The Ancient Tea Horse Road was a trade route mainly
through Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet. From the 6 th to
the 20 th c, people in Sichuan and Yunnan traveled by
foot and horseback with pack horses to exchange tea
for horses with people in Tibet -and thus the pathway
was called the Tea Horse Road. The waterworks system
is an important engineering feature of the town
mentioned in the UNESCO World Heritage List description.
The people took advantage of the Jade River to
build a complex water system that people liken to the
canal system of Venice. The river flows from the north
of the town, divides into 3 tributaries, and then divides
into many streams that flow through courtyards and
Naxi culture is special because the people are less
modernized and the people developed a writing
system, a music style, and a religion different than the
majority of Chinese. The Naxi writing system uses hieroglyphs
instead of Chinese characters and are the only
people who still use hieroglyphs to write in the world.
However, only a handful of Naxi, perhaps ten people,
who are almost all elderly people now know how to
read the glyphs.
The Naxi traditional music style has a long history.
Since the little town was influenced by people from
other lands who passed though, their music probably
incorporated the styles and instruments of ethnic
groups in a wide region.
BLACK DRAGON POOL
Popular with locals, whom you can find dancing or
playing games such as mahjongg or Chinese chess.
Located at the foot of the Elephant Mountain in the
north of ancient town of Lijiang, was first built in 1737
in the Qing Dynasty.
BAISHA VILLAGE is the earliest settlement of the
Naxi people and is the birthplace of “Tusi”, chief of
the Mu clan. There are many ancient buildings built
during the Ming Dynasty, including Dabaoji Palace,
Liuli Temple, and Wenchang Palace. The well-known
Baisha Frescoes are located in Dabaoji Palace. Because
of the white sand on the ground, the town was named
“Baisha”, which means “white sand”. The architectural
complex is made up of two parts, folk residence and
cultural sites. Among these frescos the painting about
Sakyamuni explaining the sutra passages to his disciples
is the most famous one. These mural paintings,
with their fine and smooth lines, bright colors, vivid
pattern, balanced and harmonious composition are a
wonderful display of more than 100 figures depicting
religious tales and activities from Taoism, Buddhism,
and Tibetan Buddhism. The streets all go from south
to north. In the center of the old town there is a square
where three thoroughfares intersect. Houses and small
stores stand on both sides of the streets. A crystal clear
stream winds around all the houses flowing through
the small town from north to south.
The central district of the town is characterized by
temple groups called “Mudu” and a big square symbolizes
the political rights of the Mu family. Among the
surviving ancient architectural groups, the Fuguo
Temple, Dabaoji Palace, Liuli Palace, and Dading
Pavilion were built during the reign of Tusi. During
this time, the Mu people began to channel water from
Yulong Snow Mountain into the town. All of these
ancient buildings witnessed the golden age of Baisha
JADE DRAGON SNOW MOUNTAIN is the most southerly
snow-capped mountain in the Northern Hemisphere
outside of the Andes, soaring to about 5,500
meters. Those who climb to the top will be rewarded
by an amazing panoramic view. Jade Dragon Snow
Mountain is the most southerly snowcapped mountain
in the Northern Hemisphere. It is famous for its
variant and beautiful natural scenes, and is considered
a sacred mountain among the local Naxi people.
Yak Meadow, at an elevation of 3,650 meters, is the
furthest cableway from Lijiang and is an area of grass
near the high peaks. Taking this cableway, not only will
you admire the beautiful scenery of the snowcapped
mountain from a great position, but you will also see
yaks grazing on the highland grassland.
IMPRESSIONS LIJIANG, JADE DRAGON SNOW MOUN-
TAIN– the Highest Outdoor Theater in the World
A cultural show demonstrating the traditions and
lifestyles of Naxi, Yi and Bai minorities in Lijiang area.
Composed of two parts-”Snow Mountain Impression”
and “Ancient City Impression”, the show which has
cost 31 million USD is staged at the Jade Dragon Snow
Mountain and Dayan Ancient Town, two famous scenic
spots in Lijiang. “Impression Lijiang Jokul” is put on
at an outdoor stage with the Jade Dragon Snow Mt.
as its backdrop (3,500 meters above the sea level).
About 700 amateur performers of 10 minority groups
from some 16 towns and villages around Lijiang are
employed to for this grand cultural show, aiming to
provide an insight into the lives of the ethnic minorities
and portray the daily life of the local people. Zhang
Yimou, the director of “Impression Lijiang”, is noted for
his films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and
also directed the opening of Beijing Olympic Games
JADE DRAGON SNOW MOUNTAIN
IMPRESSIONS LIJIANG THEATER
JADE DRAGON SNOW MOUNTAIN
LIJIANG OLD TOWN
LIJIANG - JADE BEE TEMPLE
LIJIANG - YU HU VILLAGE
LIJIANG - BAI SHA VILLAGE
LIJIANG - SHI GU VILLAGE
DIQING TIBETAN AUTONOMOUS PREFECTURE
Shangri-La was formerly called Zhongdian, but was
renamed on 2001 and upgraded into a county-level city
on 16 December 2014 as Shangri-La.
Shangri-La is the “Eden in dream”. Since it first appeared
in British novelist James Hilton’s Lost Horizon in the
1939, it has been associated with the mystique of a
place which could not possibly exist here on Earth.
In Tibetan, Shangri-La means the “Sun and Moon in
Heart”, an ideal home only found in heaven. There the
lofty and continuous snowy mountains, endless grasslands,
steep and grand gorges, azure lakes and the
bucolic villages. As a Chinese saying goes, “The earliest
sunrise is seen in Shangri-La; and the most unique place
is also there”.
In China, the poet Tao Yuanming of the Jin Dynasty
(265–420 BCE) described a kind of Shangri-La in his
work The Tale of the Peach Blossom Spring. The story
goes that there was a fisherman from Wuling, who
came across a beautiful peach grove, and he discovered
happy and content people who lived completely
cut off from the troubles in the outside world since the
Qin Dynasty (221–207BCE). In ancient times, it was the
fiefdom of the three sons of a Tibetan King, together
with Batang (in Tibet) and Litang (in Sichuan).
Home to one of Yunnan’s most rewarding monasteries
and surrounded by mountains, lakes and grassland,
it’s also the last stop in Yunnan before a rough five- to
six-day journey to Chengdu via the Tibetan townships
and rugged terrain of western Sichuan. At an average
altitude of more than 3,000 meters, the county is very
difficult to be reached. Without railways leading there,
the main means of transportation is motor vehicles. It’s
about 175 kilometers from Lijiang to Shangri-La.
Shangri-La is rich in natural resources from valuable
herbs to rich mineral deposits (including gold, silver,
copper, manganese and many other rare metals) to
abundant animal resources (such as golden monkeys,
leopards and musk deer). The region is inhabited
by many different ethnic groups, with the Tibetans
comprising the majority of the population.
GANDEN SUMTSELING MONASTERY, SONGZANLIN
Being the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in
Yunnan, is also known as Guihua Monastery and is
one of the famous monasteries in the Kang region.
It is located near Shangri -La County, at the foot of
Foping Mountain, in an altitude 3,300m. It snows even
in August, and has a rainy season that runs from June
Construction of the monastery began in 1679 and was
completed two years later. The monastery seems like a
group of ancient castles and is composed of two lamaseries,
Zhacang and Jikang. It belongs to the Yellow Hat
sect of Tibetan Buddhism of the Gelukpa order of the
Dalai Lama. The Fifth Dalai Lama’s Buddhist visionary
zeal established the monastery in Zhongdian, in 1679.
Its architecture is a fusion of the Tibetan and Han
Chinese. At its peak, the monastery contained accommodation
for 2,000 monks; it currently accommodates
in its rebuilt structures 700 monks in 200 associated
The gilded copper roof endows the monastery with
strong Tibetan features and the 108 (an auspicious
number in Buddhism) columns downstairs. The main
halls in the monastery are magnificent, and on both
the left and right sides are wonderful frescos, depicting
Buddhist tales and legends. The inside-halls are exquisite
with cloisters running through. The cloisters are all
decorated with beautiful sculptures and frescos.
The hall houses a plethora of scriptures written on palm
leaves, a gilded statue of Shakyamuni Buddha 8m tall
at the main altar along with paintings depicting the
life of Buddha. The altar is permanently decorated by
yak butter lamps. It has two major lamasery buildings
–Zhacang and Jikang– apart from several smaller lamaseries.
Numerous living rooms have also been built for
The monastery is full of treasures. There are a lot of
golden figures of Buddha josses, golden lamps, Tibetan
lections, silver censers and so on. All of these are
wonderful collections accumulated from each dynasty.
They are precious productions made by people of
Tibet and Han nationality. Songzanlin Monastery has
another alias – “the little “Potala Palace”, because the
whole monastery is in the traditional style with mysterious
atmosphere. Annually, the Gedong Festival is
celebrated here by the Tibetans. Pious believers, with
their knees and foreheads knocking the ground at
every step, come here to pray.
The road from the old town of the city, leads to the scripture
chamber, which was earlier a Red Army Memorial
hall to commemorate the Red Army’s long march in the
1930s. At that time, the monastery had provided full
support to the Communist general He Long who passed
through this area during his campaign. However, the
monastery was partially destroyed in 1959. It was
extensively damaged in the Cultural Revolution and
was subsequently rebuilt in 1983.
GYALTHANG HORSE FESTIVAL
In the isolated and mysterious village of Shangri-la, the
Tibetan region of the Yunnan Province, a horse racing
festival takes place each year on the 5th day of the 5th
lunar month, at the foot of Wufeng Mountain. Horse
racing in Shangri-la dates back to 770 B.C. This folk
festival is one of the most important in the area, acting
as a grand springtime rally for local Tibetans.
Ethnic Tibetans from the most remote areas of Yunnan
gather for a special annual event to participate in horse
races and a show of traditional acrobatics on horseback.
This spectacle recalls a way of life that has existed
for centuries in this area and on the Tibetan plateau.
Expert horsemen from the Kingdom of Kham in Eastern
Tibet compete for prizes and glory, while locals in heavy
turquoise and colorful hand-woven brocade create a
scene of timeless splendor.
All the family members of Shangri-la will set up tents on
the mountain for a picnic during the festival, when the
colorful flags set off one another, adding much luster
to the festival.
SHANGRI-LA, TIBETAN HORSE FESTIVAL
GANDEN SUMTSELING MONASTERY, SONGZANLIN
DONGCHUAN RED LAND
Praised as “God’s palette”, these red lands, extending for nearly 50 kilometers, are the most striking and
distinctive in the world.
Dongchuan Red Land is about 250 kilometers northeast of Kunming, with an altitude of 1,800–2,600 meters.
It is located in Huashitou Country, Xinxiang Town, Dongchuan District, Kunming, Yunnan Province. Experts
regard it as the second marvelous red land in the world following the one in Rio Brazil. Although discovered
in the mid 1990’s, the exact location is kept secret among few Chinese photographers who scooped awardwinning
photos here. People who have been the first time to visit this land will be deeply impressive by
the gorgeous scenes. Lands in deep red, purple and bright red cover thousands of mountains. When wind
blows, the plants in fields wave tenderly. It is a colorful picture drew by the nature. Viewing it from away, it
looks like an oil painting.