Specialists in small group, in depth travel to SW China and Tibet, including Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai, Kham, Amdo and U-Tsang Tibet.
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Specialists in small group, in depth travel to SW China and Tibet, including Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai, Kham, Amdo and U-Tsang Tibet.

Zhou Dynasty, 1100 - 221 BC (capital at Changan)

1200 BC

Dian people are settled around Lake Dianchi, present-day Kunming. They were slave-owning head-hunters.

5c BC

Han Chinese all living in N, little Chinese spoken S of Yangtze. People in S as a whole called the 'Man'.

4c BC

Important trade routes linking Yunnan to S Asia already established - some 200 years before the more well-known northern Silk Road linking China to Middle East. Beginning in prosperous, more settled area around Lake Dian (just S of present-day Kunming), it ran N to Chengdu and Chongqing (major centres of silk production and processing) and W to Dali, Baoshan and Tengchong, and then on to Myanmar, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Known as the 'Shu Yuan Du' (Sichuan to India) Road (today it's referred to as 'Southern Silk Road'), it linked present-day Chengdu all the way to India.

A great mystery is that countless shells have been found in tombs of ancient Yunnan people. They were symbols of the master's wealth. Actually, these shells, which featured circular veins, were from coastal regions of Pacific, far away from Yunnan (an inland area). Shells were used as currency for trading in ancient times. According to archaeologists, such a large amount of shells of kind discovered in these tombs indicate that Yunnan has had long-term trading relations with coastal countries in Pacific regions throughout ancient history.

339 BC

Kingdom of Dian formed near present-day Kunming (possibly by renegade Chinese general).

316 BC

City of Chengdu built.

3c BC

Large migrations from N to S, owing to population pressure and imperial government's expansionist policy.

Qin Dynasty, 221 - 207 BC (capital at Changan)

221-210 BC

First Emperor Qin Shi-huang orders more than 500,000 military colonists into newly conquered territories. Some kingdoms in Yunnan and Sichuan areas are invaded and put under central rule.

Han Dynasty, 206 BC - 220 AD (capital at Changan)
During Han dynasty, esp. under reign of Emperor Wu Di, arms of empire first reach far-flung frontier regions of SW China.

Pre 200 BC

Ai-lao people (proto Thai people) inhabit parts of Yunnan and control routes into Sichuan and Burma. Already these peoples moving S to northern Thailand due to population pressures from above as well as desire to maintain their independence. Those remaining in N are influenced linguistically and culturally by Han; equally, Chinese settlers in Yunnan area influenced by local people.

122 BC

Armed conflict between Chinese and Ai-lao Kingdom when Ai-lao ruler denies passage to emperor Wu Di's emissary. This to be first of many Chinese invasions into Yunnan, as Chinese seek to gain control of profitable trade routes there.

1c BC

Bai people settle around Erhai Lake region, near today's Dali.

37 BC

Ai-lao Kingdom breaks up after one battle too many with Chinese.

1stc AD

Another major trade road ('Ma Yuan Gu') now linking S Yunnan with Vietnam. Following this, Yunnan also sees opening of 'Buqing Road' to Vietnam via Jianshui along Honghe River; 'Silk and Tea Road' to Laos, Thailand and Myanmar via Simao and Xishuangbanna; 'Tea Horse Road' to India via Dali, Diqing and Tibet; and 'Gaozhi Road' from Kunming to Vietnam via Honghe and Wenshan prefectures.

Zhang Qian, a Han official sent by Chinese gov't on tour of western countries in 1stc AD, reportes seeing Chinese bamboo and silk products in India and Afghanistan, which had come in via 'Shu Yuan Du' Road.

Due to the many trade routes connecting Yunnan with other countries, cross-border marriages became popular, and cities, towns and villages along roads became busier and more prosperous.

9 AD

Ai-lao Kingdom resurrects, rising against Chinese rule.


Ai-lao Kingdom falls again, but remains relatively independent Chinese vassal until 1225. [The W and SW border areas of China were only ever brought firmly into empire's fold with quite unstoppable Mongol forces.]


'Bonan Road', linking Yunnan with India, is established. This is route through which Buddhism will first spread into China from India, during period between 220 and 420 AD.


Thai Prince Mulao submits to Chinese Emperor Ming Di, making him first Thai prince to become officially dependent of Chinese.


Thai Prince Leilao rebels, and is then subdued. More Thais go S.


With collapse of Han dynasty, Dian (as Yunnan is known) breaks up into mini kingdoms.

Three Kingdoms Period, 220-280 (capital at Changan)
The 3 Kingdoms (post-Han breakup) were Shu (Sichuan), Wei (N China) and Wu (S China). During this period, 'South-western Area' (present-day Yunnan, W Guizhou and SW Sichuan) were primarily influenced by State of Shu (whose prime minister was Zhuge Liang).


Yi princes, formerly loyal to State of Shu, attempt to switch sides to State of Wu. In response, Zhuge Liang leads troops (possibly recruited from aboriginal Puman tribe who populated area around present-day Lijiang, before being kicked out by the Naxi) from S China, suppressing rebellion. His campaign reached as far as Nu River (Salween), nominally subjugating most of NW Yunnan. In reality, this area still out of the admin. loop, and would remain so until arrival of the Mongols in 13c.

Sui Dynasty, 589-618 (capital at Changan)
Starting this period, 6 tribes around Erhai Lake becoming powerful.


Chang'an linked to Hanzhou via Grand Canal. Ensues rapid population growth in Lower Yangtze region, which becomes economic and agricultural centre.

Tang Dynasty, 618-907 (capital at Changan) & Nanzhao Kingdom, 728-937 (capital at Dali)
Nanzhao Kingdom (made up mostly of Lolo* people, but also incl. Bai peoples) founded during this period. Multi-ethnic, slave-owning expansionist state, it controlled the W Yunnan trade routes (incl. v. profitable S Silk Road) which carried goods between China, Tibet and SE Asia. During this time, SW China - and NW Yunnan esp. - is theatre of constant conflicts. Nanzhao Kingdom, and later Kingdom of Dali, serve as buffer states between mighty expansionist Tibetan Tubo dynasty to W, and Tang Chinese empire to E.

*the Lolo are classified as sub-group of Yi, but there doesn't seem to be much to support such a classification.


Naxi, led by Yegu-Nian, capture Puman territory at foot of Yulongxue Shan. A constant tug-of-war between these two peoples will continue for another couple hundred years.


Thais in Yunnan and S Sichuan successfully rebel against Chinese, winning back sovereignty. From this will eventually grow Nanzhao Kingdom. First ruler is Xinuluo [alt. Sinulo], head of the small Mengshe kingdom ('zhao'). Chinese Emperor Kao Tsung accepts their treaty of friendship.


King Xinuluo dies, son Loshengyen ascends to throne.


Having been involving itself more and more in Mekong delta area, records show Nanzhao (or Mengshe zhao) Kingdom as occupying present-day Luang Prabang by this year, replacing local Thai rulers with Nanzhao princes.


King Loshengyen dies, son Shenglope ascends to throne.


King Piluoge (who ascended to throne in 728) murders rulers of other mini-kingdoms (known as 'zhao') located in lake Erhai region, calling enlarged kingdom Nanzhao ('Southern Kingdom').


Chinese Emperor Xuanzong allies with various kingdoms/principalities in SW China (Nanzhao Kingdom being one of them) to face growing Tibet empire (under Tubo dynasty) which is threatening SW China frontier.


King Piluoge formally accepts Chinese overrule, and 3 years later is recognised by Chinese Emperor Xuanzong as Prince of Yunnan.


Commissioned by Emperor Xuanzong to secure China's SW border, King Piluoge launches war against Tibet.


King Piluoge dies, succeeded by his son Geluofeng [alt. Kolofeng], who makes Dali capital. Insulted by governor of Hunan, he invades China, taking 32 towns. Furthermore, he allies Nanzhao with Tibet, his father's lifelong enemy. Incidentally, it's around this time that city walls are built around Kunming, on orders of King Geluofeng.

751 and 754

War breaks out twice between Nanzhao kingdom and China. Nanzhao defends itself handily both times, by second war has extended its kingdom to include whole of present-day Yunnan, W Guizhou, S Sichuan and parts of Burma.


Nanzhao Kingdom by now fully established with well-organised administration and extremely capable army which dominates neighbouring peoples. Nanzhao's power stretches all the way from S China down to SE Asia.


King Geluofeng dies. Succeeded by grandson Imoshun. King Imoshun attempts to invade China, but is repelled.


King Imoshun petitions Emperor Tai Tsong, complaining about his "involuntary" alliance with Tibetans, as well as Tibetans' abuse of Thais. Nanzhao Kingdom and China become allies again.


King Imoshun invades Tibet, capturing 16 towns.


Imoshun's successor changes alliances and invades China. Huge number of skilled artisans and scholars captured and taken back to Yunnan.

by 832

Armies of Nanzhao have encroached deep into Burma.


Under King Tsuiling, Nanzhao Kingdom attempts to besiege Chengdu, but is repelled.


Nanzhao armies conquer parts of Annam (present-day Vietnam).


King Tsuiling invades China. Again besieges Chengdu. Again fails. Five years later, he tries again, is repelled for third time.


King Taiking ascends, and considering his predecessor's record, wisely makes peace with China.


Nanzhao Kingdom's Xinuluo Dynasty ends (haoxiang conquered by Chinese).


Escaping chaos at home, many powerful Chinese families move S into Yunnan area. These 'mini-kingdoms' will provide basis for assimilation of S into inner China, fifty years hence.


Warlord Duan Siping (of Tibeto-Burman ethnicity, related to modern Bai people) topples Nanzhao Kingdom, replacing it with smaller Kingdom of Dali.

Song Dynasty, 960-1279 (capital at present-day Kaifeng) & Kingdom of Dali, 937-1254 (capital at Dali)
During this period, Kingdom of Dali is tributary of Song dynasty, and there's much economic and cultural trade between the two. Kingdom of Dali based on feudal lord system.

by 1100

Naxi are clearly dominant people in area of present-day Lijiang (they'd possibly settled here as early as 24 AD), having displaced aboriginal Puman tribe.


Genghis Khan invades N China. Within 4 years, he controls all land N of Yellow River.

circa 1250

Sichuan's population drops precipitously (reasons a mystery), turning province once again into wild frontier land.


Kubilai Khan (eventual founder of Yuan dynasty) leads Mongols from Sichuan into Yunnan, which at that time is still non-Han.


Kubilai Khan and his army, en route to conquer Dali Kingdom, pass through Mosuo area near Lugu, and then Naxi area near Lijiang, where no resistance is met. Naxi chief, Azong A-liang, in return for his submission, is given title Civilian Governor of Sandan (as the Lijiang area was then known), and lends troops for Naxi assault on Kingdom of Dali.


Kubilai Khan conquers Kingdom of Dali, giving Mongols control of entire SW, but more importantly enabling him to encircle and eventually conquer remaining Southern Song territory. He moves capital from Dali to present-day Kunming.

Yuan Dynasty, 1271-1368 (capital at Beijing)
With founding of Yuan dynasty, China's borders greatly extended, now incorporating Mongolia, SW China and Tibet. Yuan rulers invent tusi zhidu, system of hereditary indigenous chiefs/local administrators. This the first time in China's history where local rulers of these faraway frontier areas are directly accountable to central government. Before, system was one of autonomous tributaries.


Administrative centre of Naxi people moves from Baisha village (~15 km N of Lijiang) to present-day Lijiang old town (Dayan). Population of Lijiang ~1000 families. Before Mongols depart, they give area new name - Lijiang, meaning beautiful river.


Yunnan becomes imperial province. However, owing to its remoteness, conditions in Yunnan remain same for almost 600 more years. Mongol rulers offered hereditary titles to former feudal chiefs and their families, gradually changing society from feudal to landlord system.

Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644 (capital at Nanjing, then Beijing)
During Ming Dynasty, Mu family of Lijiang launches a series of aggressive campaigns on behalf of Ming emperor - N into Tibetan areas, S into Dai areas, and E to Yongsheng. Also under Ming rule, tusi system is maintained, but to a more limited extent. Many tusi replaced by Ming court officials, so power and wealth which had been concentrated in hands of tusi and their family spread out to general populace a bit.


Mongol resistance in Yunnan finally crushed by Ming forces.


For strategic reasons (fighting Tibetans), Ming emperor Hongwu bestows on Naxi ruler (A-Te) a hereditary title along with surname Mu (so henceforth known as Mu Te). Mu family centralises its authority over NW Yunnan, creating Kingdom of Jiang. They will continue to rule for over 300 years, into Qing dynasty.

Late 14c

Ming government sets up shop in Yunnan Fu (present-day Kunming).


Mu troops capture Zhongdian.

1548 & 1561

Mu rulers of Lijiang successfully lead troops N against Tibetans.


Kagyüpa-ruling gov't in Lhasa is defeated by supporters of Gelukpa religious order (who are backed by Gushri Khan and his Mongol army, in Lhasa at invite of DL5), causing 10th Karmapa (reincarnate head of Karmapa Kagyü, a sub-school of Kagyüpa) to flee Tibet. He arrives in Lijiang a few years later, where he is welcomed by Naxi ruler, Mu Zeng, a follower (as were his successors) of Karma Kagyü school. From this point on, Lijiang area (incl. Mekong valley of NW Yunnan) becomes stronghold for Karma Kagyüpa order - there were once 594 Karma Kagyüpa monasteries in Kindom of Jiang. More known ones incl. Zhiyun Si (Lashi Hai, 1727), Wenfeng Si (Wenbi Shan, 1733) and Shouguo Si (Kangpu, 1734).

Qing Dynasty, 1644-1911 (capital at Beijing)
Qing rulers veer back to old style of governing, largely abandoning tusi system in favour of more top-down central administration (gaitu guiliu). The Qing dynasty continue their predecessors' policy of using Naxi to fight their battles in NW Yunnan, esp. against Tibetans to NW, and Burmese to SW.  


Rebel leader Zhang Xiang-zheng sets up independent state in Chengdu, ruling by terror for 3 years.


Final resistance in Yunnan to Manchus (Qing Dynasty). Kunming falls.


Emperor Kangxi's rule. NW Yunnan is returned to DL's rule at the start of Kangxi's reign. However, later the Mu family again invades northward, and are successful enough to reach as far as Ma'erkang (Barkham), Batang and Litang, setting groundwork for their subsequent annexation into Sichuan province.

18c on

Troubles growing between ruling Naxi family (surnamed Mu) and Naxi peasants (most surnamed He), heavy taxation being a particular bane for peasants. Pressures from new Han Chinese settlers add to the troubles.


In line with Qing government's new admin. policy, court officials appointed to replace native tusi rulers. In Lijiang, a sub-prefect (tongpan), Yang Bi, takes over (this also result of ruling Mu family's inability to collect taxes on behalf of empire). This marks end of Mu era in Lijiang. Still, some tusi remained in office even into first half of 20c.  


French missionary Father Renou, formerly in charge of Tibet Mission (created by Pope in 1846, establishing Tibet - along w/ Sich. and Yun. Tibetan areas - as an autonomous Catholic Mission), attempts to enter Tibet fr. Yunnan, but eventually settles for setting up shop in Bönga (near Yun/TAR border), thus marking start of activities of Tibet Mission, its humble aim being to reach Lhasa and convert Tibet to Christianity. However, poor relations between Tibet and China made it difficult to cross into Tibet proper, so the plan was to settle as close as possible to Tib. border, and work their way in, converting merrily along the way. This never happened, and missionaries' success was largely amongst Nu and Lisu in NW Yunnan.


Inspired by Taiping Rebellion, rebel Muslim leader Du Wen-xiu, Sultan of Dali, besieges Kunming several times, laying waste to much of province. Declares Dali independent state.


Rebellion finally put down, and majority of Yunnan Muslims are massacred. Dali devastated, never again to attain its former political prominence. Plague follows, and only those living in secluded, remote areas are unaffected.


By now, Kunming open to foreign trade, owing to English and French presence in Burma and Indochina, respectively.


Indochina railroad reaches Kunming.

By late Qing Dynasty and into early years of Republic of China (1911-1949), several towns, incl. Tengchong and Baoshan, had developed into trading and commercial centres of S China.

Republican Era, 1911-1949


Yunnan's revolutionaries, catching the wave of republicanism sweeping the country, revolt against Qing court, declaring independence on Sept. 9th.


Republican movement having been usurped by Yuan Shi-kai (democratic president-turned-warlord), Yunnanese launch Hu Guo (Protect the Country) campaign.


Earthquake, viewed as bellwether for major change in gov't,, strikes Lijiang. This the year that Sun Yat-sen dies, and gangster Chiang Kai-shek takes over leadership of Sun's party, the Guomindang.


Chiang Kai-shek splits with Communists (Guomindang and Communist had allied to fight Japanese), and soon China embroiled in civil war. Yunnan controlled by various local warlords.


With Japanese occupation of E China, the SW becomes base for Japanese resistance. Factories open, refugees pour in.


US air base in Kunming. General Stilwell headquartered here, along with Claire Chennault and his Flying Tigers. Until opening of the Burma Road, these legends-in-their-own-times were sole means of getting supplies into beleaguered China.


Burma Road - from Lashio to Kunming, via Xiaguan (constructed along lines of ancient trade routes) - is completed. Japan's aim to starve China into defeat suffers serious setback.


Yunnan is finally liberated, as Lu Han leads his troops to chase out remaining warlords and Qing dynasty supporters.

People's Republic, 1949 - present


Autonomous counties and prefectures established in any area where minorities comprise 2/3 of population, or own 2/3 of land. Also, basic social and land reforms carried out in SW and China-wide (e.g. Yi people encouraged to discontinue practice of taking slaves).


Cultural Revolution: minority communities come under heavy attack for being backward and superstitious, and for their 'small nation chauvinism'.


Post-Mao. Ethnic minorities, rather wary now, once again given green light to practice their customs. "It doesn't matter if the cat is black or white as long as it catches the mouse" - Deng Xiao-ping.


Lijiang declared 'open'. Zhongdian opens eight years later, in '93.


Earthquake strikes Lijiang evening of Feb. 4th, leaving ~400 dead and levelling scores of buildings. Media attention which follows sparks interest in value of traditional buildings in Old Town, and law soon passes requiring all buildings in Old Town to be in traditional style, and it's all gone off since.


After an exhaustive search, location of Shangri-la finally established - Zhongdian takes the prize.