Yunnan, China

Position of Yunnan in China
ProvinceYún nán 'cloud south'
Short name Diān
Population47.209 million (3.34%) [12th] comparison table
Area394,000 km2 [152,123 mile2] (4.11%) [8th]
GDP51,943 (9.80%) [25th]
NeighborsSichuan Tibet Guizhou Guangxi Vietnam Burma Laos
Others or just click on the map
Beijing Tianjin Shanghai Hong Kong Xinjiang Tibet Qinghai Gansu Inner Mongolia Heilongjiang Jilin Liaoning Yunnan Sichuan Guangxi Hainan Taiwan Guangdong Guizhou Chongqing Ningxia Shandong Fujian Zhejiang Shaanxi Shanxi Hebei Henan Hunan Hubei Jiangxi Anhui Jiangsu

Yunnan means literally Clouds south, and it is an appropriate name because warm tropical air from the south is funneled up the narrow steep valleys giving them rich and exotic vegetation in the mist laden air. Yunnan remains a popular tourist destination that is somewhat off the beaten track.

Yunnan's position on the mountain borders of Vietnam; Laos and Burma (Myanmar) have made it the refuge of many different tribes of people including Hui; Tibetan; Miao; Yi; Zhuang; Yao; Bai; Hani; Jinuo; Nu and Dai (among others) all with their own languages and traditions. They hold their own festivals too : March Fair of the Bai people; Water-splashing Festival of the Dai people and the Torch Festival of the Yi people.

Buddhism , Dali, Yunnan, temple
Chongsheng Temple, Dali, Yunnan


Kunming's lofty height and low latitude at 6,214 feet [1,894 meters] makes it pleasantly warm all year round (82 ° F [28 ° C]). The provincial capital of Yunnan is on an ancient trail to India. Wu Hua Shan (Five Flower Hill) near the center has traditional temples and houses. In the late 19th century the area came under strong French influence and a railway was built from French run Hanoi. Lake Dian is overlooked by Daguan (Grand View) Hall on the western outskirts of the city; and is one of the largest freshwater lakes in China. To the west Xi Shan (Western Hills) offers a steep climb of 1,333 steps cut into a cliff. There are several temples and pavilions on the way to the top with impressive views over Lake Dian. Lake Dian has many fishing villages along its banks and there are hot springs on the eastern shore. Qiongzhu (Bamboo) Temple is the most famous in Yunnan dating back to the 13th century. Kunming also boasts Jindian (Golden Hall) built in 1671, although it is actually built entirely in bronze rather than gold. Nearby are camellias 600 years old. Yuantong Temple is a Buddhist pilgrimage site.

Yunnan, pagoda, mountains
Three Pagodas in Dali, Yunnan
Macartney, Alexander, cormorant, fishing, family
The wife is smoking a pipe while looking after children. The cormorants are trained to catch fish. Painted by the official artist to the Macartney British Embassy to China 1793-94. Image by William Alexander available under a Creative Commons License

Other places to visit in Yunnan

The Stone Forest at Shilin to the south-east is a popular tourist destination full of gray limestone pillars the size of tree trunks. The Peak Viewing Pavilion provides a panoramic view of the extensive area. Sani ethnic people act as guides and celebrate festivals mainly for the benefit of tourists. Xiaguan (Dali) is an important town on the former Burma Road link into China and the main road to Tibet. It is famous for its Three Pagodas (Dali Santa). Er Hai (Ear lake) is picturesque with fishermen using tame cormorants to catch fish.

Yunnan, stone forest, landform
Stone Forest (Shilin) Yunnan
Jiansha river, Yangzi river,  Yunnan
A woman walking her herd of cows, Jinsha jiang, Yunnan, 2011. Image by timquijano available under a Creative Commons License

Lijiang is a popular tourist spot, made famous by a British documentary series called Beyond the Clouds ; it is at a high altitude 8,530 feet [2,600 meters] and home to Nakhi (Naxi) minority people . The Naxi are rare as a matriarchal society - the women own all the land. The impressive gorge of the Jinsha (Golden Sands river, better known as Yangzi) River is one of many sights to be seen in Yunnan. The Golden Sands River was where the Communist Army crossed the Yangzi during the Long March. Further downstream, the town of Dukou (Panzhihua) marks the navigable limit of the Yangzi (Chang Jiang) river. Zhongdian in northern Yunnan has renamed itself ‘Shangrila’ to reflect an association with James Hilton 's famous novel about a paradise hidden in the mountains. However, the more likely setting for the fabled city of Shangri-la is the sacred mountain Kawagarbo 22,113 feet [6,740 meters] on the Tibetan border near Deqin and sacred to Tibetan Buddhists. Nearby the Jinsha Jiang (headwaters of the Yangzi) narrows at the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge .

Terracing of the river valleys for rice cultivation is a feature of Yunnan. The warm climate and southerly position provides good growing conditions but the mountainous topography has required extensive terracing to create flat contour-hugging fields to be created. The area between the Red and Lancang rivers in western Yunnan is particularly famous for its terraced fields. It is an area peopled by the Hani ethnic group.

Yunnan, temple, Shangrila
Monastery at Tortoise Hill Park, Shangri-la, Yunnan
Yunnan, mountains, waterfall
Jade Dragon Mountain in Lijiang, Yunnan

In the far south of Yunnan is Xishuang Banna near Jinghong, a gem of a nature reserve containing China's only tropical rain forest. For thousands of years there have been a variety of mountain people living in the luxuriant forest. The steep mountain sides have protected the area from cultivation (except for a few rubber plantations). Many exotic and rare plants grow here together with a range of different species of monkey and also elephants. Some of China's only active volcanoes are in the far west - the Tengchong Volcanoes . Close by in Menghai is an ancient Buddhist temple and pagoda . Gejiu in southern Yunnan is well known for its tin; copper and lead mines. It was the extensive tin deposits that brought the interest of European powers to the area (particularly France) in the nineteenth century.

Jiansha river, Yangzi river,  Yunnan
A woman walking her herd of cows, Jinsha jiang, Yunnan, 2011. Image by timquijano available under a Creative Commons License

Yunnan History

Evidence from archeological finds from Yuanmou take the story of hominid habitation back 1.7 million years. After conquest by China in the Han dynasty, Yunnan became independent again as part of the Nanzhao Kingdom and then the Kingdom of Dali , it did not become fully integrated into China until the Yuan dynasty (13th century). In the 19th century it became a target for the expansionist ambitions of the French Indo-Chinese Empire but the plan never quite came to fruition. A long rebellion by Muslim leader Du Wenxiu 1858-73 led to much bloodshed. Yunnan was the first province to rebel against Yuan Shikai's proclamation as Emperor in 1916. During the Second World War the Burma Road cut through the Yunnan mountains to Kunming and then on to Chongqing, bringing vital supplies to the besieged city, then the capital of Nationalist Free China. There were resistance to Communist rule in the early years of the PRC, at times fueled by the growing of opium in the valleys which the Communists had banned.

Yunnan, lake, boat, mountains
Lugu Lake, Yunnan


Yunnan has pockets of rich farmland among the forests on the steeper slopes where tobacco is an important crop. Warm summers; frost free winters and moderate rainfall makes it ideal for crop growing but only on the very limited areas of flat land along the many river valleys. The deep valleys that cut north-south through the province make travel very difficult, the roads having to frequently double back. Industry is concentrated around the capital Kunming. The province has great scenic beauty making it an increasingly popular tourist attraction throughout the year.


Xishuangbanna Gasa Airport 西双版纳嘎洒机场 JHG IATA / ZPJH ICAO
The airport has 1 terminal and is located 3.7 miles (6.0 kms) from Jinghong. Live Flight information , Airport information , rank in China 47
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Lijiang Sanyi Airport 丽江三义机场 LJG IATA / ZPLJ ICAO
The airport has 1 terminal and is located 15.5 miles (25.0 kms) from Lijiang. Live Flight information , Airport information , rank in China 38
See map of location Lijiang Sanyi Airport
Kunming Changshui International Airport 昆明长水国际机场 KMG IATA / ZPPP ICAO
The airport has 1 terminal and is located 15.5 miles (25.0 kms) from Kunming. Live Flight information , rank in China 6
International Links to :Thailand
See map of location Kunming Changshui International Airport
Dehong Mangshi Airport 德宏芒市机场 LUM IATA / ZPLX ICAO
The airport has 1 terminal and is located 4.3 miles (7.0 kms) from Mangshi. Live Flight information , rank in China 60
See map of location Dehong Mangshi Airport
Dali Airport 大理机场 DLU IATA / ZPDL ICAO
The airport has 1 terminal and is located 6.2 miles (10.0 kms) from Dali. Live Flight information , rank in China 67
See map of location Dali Airport
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Yunnan Climate

Climate Chart for Yunnan
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Major CitiesPopulation
Dali 134,040
Kunming 3,855,346
Lijiang 1,137,600
Mangshi 343,400

City populations for 2012, Province statistics National Bureau of Statistics 2014

See also