Learn about China – Yunnan Province

YUNNAN PROVINCE – Chinese Provinces

Yunnan (云南-Yúnnán) is a province of the People’s Republic of China, located in the southwest of the country. It spans approximately 394,000 square kilometres and has a population of 45.7 million (as of 2009).

The name Yunnan (云南 – Yúnnán) has been in use since the region was made a province under the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty (1206-1368) and its literal translation would be “The South of the Clouds”. It denotes the location as south of the Yun Range Cloudy Mountains.

Yunnan Province – The Capital

Kunming - Yunnan

Kunming – Yunnan

The provincial capital is Kunming (昆明 – Kūnmíng), also known as Yunnan because it is located in the northeast-central part of Yunnan province China.

The province borders Guangxi to the southeast, Guizhou to the east, Sichuan to the north, the Tibet Autonomous Region and the countries Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar to the northwest. As Yunnan province is situated in a mountainous area, most of the population lives in the eastern part of the province.

The province consists of two distinct regions separated by the Ailao Mountains (哀牢 – Āiláoshān) – the canyon region to the west of it and the Yunnan-Guizhou (Yungui) Plateau region to the east.

Yunnan remained an under developed region until relatively recent times. Much of the province is still fairly under developed and isolated. However, it’s economic, political, and cultural integration into the whole of China is essentially complete.

Government And Society

Yunnan’s administrative divisions are hierarchically organized.

Immediately below the province level, there are eight prefecture-level municipalities (地级市dijishi) and eight autonomous prefectures (自治州zizhizhou).

At the next lower level there are districts under municipalities (市辖区shixiaqu), county-level municipalities (县级市xianjishi), counties (市县 shixian), and autonomous counties (自治县 zizhixian). The lowest political units are the villages and towns.

Population and Culture

Yunnan Province - The Map

Yunnan Province – The Map

Yunnan’s population is noted for the great complexity of its ethnolinguistic groups. Outside of the Han (汉) ethnic group, there are a large number of Hui (回 Chinese Muslims), the descendants of the immigrants sent in by China’s rulers to help govern the province after the 13th century. The non-Han population of Yunnan remains substantial until nowadays; in addition to the Hui this territory comprises of more than 50 recognized ethnic minority groups.

After the Hui group, the second largest in population are the Bai (白族 Báizú), based in the northwest of Yunnan. Linguistically, they belong to the Tibeto-Burman group. Other peoples in the Tibeto-Burman linguistic family are the Hani, Lisu, and Lahu of the Yi subgroup. Also the Naxi, part of the Xifan group, the Tibetans, who inhabit the northwest corner of the province and the Jingpo, who speak the same language as the Kachin of northern Myanmar. A second major linguistic family represented in Yunnan is the Tai group. Another important linguistic group is the Mon-Khmer, represented by the Wa.

Religion in Yunnan

Yunnan Province

Yunnan Province

The province of Yunnan has about 4 million believers of the five religious government-sanctioned organised doctrines of China. Because of the variety of ethnic minorities present in this region almost the 90% of the population belonging to a different religious group. Of these:

  • 6% of the total population are Buddhists (Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism)
  • 1.4% are Muslims
  • 1.2% are Protestants
  • 0.5% are Taoists
  • 0.1% are Catholics


Under the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) a Dai kingdom, known as Nanzhao, flourished in the Dali region. First sanctioned as a bulwark against Tibetan incursions, Nanzhao eventually threatened Chinese power, which declined during the Five Dynasties (Wudai 五代) period (907–960) and the Song dynasty (960–1279).

The Mongols destroyed Nanzhao in 1253, and, having named the area Yunnan, they made it a province of Yuan China in 1276. The Venetian traveler Marco Polo visited the region in the latter part of the 13th century.

Learn about China - Yunnan

Learn about China – Yunnan

The Han Empire first recorded diplomatic relations with the province at the end of the 2nd century BC. It became the seat of a Sino-Tibetan-speaking kingdom of Nanzhao in the 8th century AD. Nanzhao was multi-ethnic, but the elite most-likely spoke a northern dialect of Yi. The Mongols conquered the region in the 13th century, with local control exercised by warlords until the 1930s.

From the Yuan dynasty onward, the area was part of a central-government sponsored population movement towards the southwestern frontier, with two major waves of migrants arriving from Han-majority areas in northern and southeast China.

Stone Forest

Japanese occupation in the north during World War II forced another migration of majority Han people into the region.

These two waves of migration contributed to Yunnan being one of the most ethnically diverse provinces of China, with ethnic minorities accounting for about 34 percent of its total population.

Major ethnic groups include Yi, Bai, Hani, Zhuang, Dai and Miao.

Geography and Climate

Despite its tropical latitude, the eastern plateau region is noted for its moderate temperatures. Because of the high elevation, summers are cool and winters are mild. June–July temperatures average 22 °C. December–January temperatures average are around 9 °C. Yunnan is the most southwestern province in China, with the Tropic of Cancer running through its southern part.

Shilin (“Stone Forest”) karst rock formation, near Kunming, Yunnan province, China

Yunnan has the greatest variety of biological resources among the Chinese provinces, and it includes plants from tropical, subtropical, temperate, and alpine growing zones. About half of Yunnan’s total area is forested (including areas covered in shrubs).Yunnan is also foremost among the Chinese provinces in its variety of animals.

Yunnan has numerous famous mountains, lakes and rivers, and cultural relics, and tourism has flourished in the province since the late 1990s. The historical old town section of Lijiang city, which embraces a mixture of several cultural traditions, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. Also were collectively named a World Heritage site in 2003 The Watersheds of the three major rivers of western Yunnan.

Other national-level tourist spots include Lake Dian at Kunming, the Shilin (“Stone Forest”) a series of karst outcrops east of Kunming landscape at Lunan (designated, with other karst areas in the region, a World Heritage site in 2007), Chongsheng Temple (with its three pagodas) and Lake Er at Dali, the volcanic and scenic landscape around Tengchong, and the natural landscape and access to the Dai culture centred on Jinghong in the Xishuangbanna region.

Yunnan Travel and Tourism

Yunnan Province, due to its beautiful landscapes, mild climate and cultural diversity, is one of China’s major tourist destinations.

Tourist centres in Yunnan include:

  • Dali, the historic center of the Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms.
  • Chuxiong, the first stop on the way to Dali and Lijiang. Home of the Yi ethnic minority and their respective ancient town.
  • Jinghong, the center and prefectural capital of the Xishuangbanna Dai minority autonomous prefecture.Ailiaomountains
  • Lijiang, a Naxi minority city.
  • Xamgyi’nyilha County (also known as Shangri-La and formerly Zhongdian), an ethnic Tibetan township and county set high in Yunnan’s northwestern mountains.
  • Shilin (Stone Forest).
  • Yuanyang, a Hani minority settlement with vast rice-terraced mountains.
  • Xishuangbanna, a national scenic resort, noted for its natural and cultural attractions.

We love to learn about China and educate our followers about how unique this country is. Earlier this year we published our first blog in our “learn about China” series. We travelled to Guangdong province to give you a guide on Guangdong which you can also read via our blog. More will follow in the coming weeks! Stay tuned.

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Shilin (“Stone Forest”) karst rock formation, near Kunming in Yunnan

Shilin (“Stone Forest”) karst rock formation, near Kunming in Yunnan

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