Kunming remains an interesting place to linger for a few days. There is some great food available, and the streets are vibrant with shoppers, peddlers, roadside masseurs, and the occasional street performers. For the locals Kunming spells 'progress', but for western visitors in search of the old Kunming it means finding the quaint back alleyways lined with fascinating wooden buildings are rapidly disappearing. Kunming has been treated to a major face-lift in resent year, like much of China.
The region of Kunming has been inhabited for 2000 years. In 1274 the Mongols came through, sweeping all and sundry before them. Marco Polo, who traveled much in China, gives us fascinating pictures of Kunming's commerce in the late 13th century.
In the 14th century the Ming set up shop in Yunnanfu, as Kunming was then known, building a walled town on the present site. From the 17th century onwards, the history of this city becomes rather grisly. The last Ming resistance to the invading Manchu took place in Yunnan in the 1650s and was crushed by General Wu Sangui. Wu in turn rebelled against the ling and held out until his death in 1678. His successor was overthrown by the Manchu emperor Kangxi and killed himself in Kunming in 1681.
In the 19th century, the city suffered several bloodbaths, as the rebel Muslim leader, attacked city several times. A large number of buildings were destroyed until 1873. The intrusion of the west into Kunming began in the middle of 19th century, and 1900 Kunming and the other some near cities were opened to foreign trade.
Kunming's expansion began with WWII, when factories were established here and refugees fleeing the Japanese poured in from eastern China. Anglo-American forces sent supplies to Nationalist troops entrenched in Sichua and Yunnan to keep China from falling to Japan. But in early 1942 the Japanese came here, cutting the supply line. Kunming continued to handle most of the incoming aid during 1942-45. A black market sprang up and a fair proportion of the medicines, canned food, gas and other goods intended for the military and relief agencies were siphoned off into other hands. Since then, the face of Kunming has been radically altered, with streets widened and office building and housing projects flung up. And today, Kunming is one of the most industrial areas in China.
Kunming has some great food, especially in the snack line. Regional specialties are herbinfused chicken cookies in an earthenware steampot, Yunnan ham, across-the-bridge noodles, goat's cheese, and various Muslim beef and mutton dishes. Across-the-bridge noodles are best known dishes in Yunnnan. You are provided with a bowl of very hot soup on which a thin layer of oil is floating, along with a side dish of raw pork silvers and vegetables, and a bowl of rice noodles. Across-the-bridge noodles even has a fairy tale behind it, here it is.
"Once upon a time there was a scholar at the South Lake in Mengzi (southern Yunnan) who was attracts by the peace and quiet of an island there. He settles into a cottage on the island, in preparation for official examination. His wife, meanwhile, had to cross a long wooden bridge over the lake to bring the bookworm his meals. The food was always cold in winter by the time she got to the study bower. Oversleeping one day, she made a curious discovery. She'd cooked a fat chicken and was puzzled to find the broth still hot, though it gave off no steam -the oil layer on the surface had preserved the temperature of the broth. Subsequent experiments showed that she could cook the rest of the ingredients for her husband's meal in the hot broth after she crossed the bridge."
Kunming is the financial and industrial backbone of Yunnnan Province. And it has a multi-categorical comprehensive industrial system which covers machinery, tobacco, metallurgy, chemistry, textile, foodstuffs and beverages, building materials, printing industries, manufacturing of electronic equipment, meters and instruments, tobacco processing, and production of leather and rubber, with gross industrial output value making up 36.8% of than of the province. In 1996, the city's gross industrial output value reached 46.5 billion-yuan and the employee's income averages 7,338 yuan.
Kunming's agriculture is based on crop -growing animal husbandry. Its farm produce includes rice, maizem broad bean, wheat, oil -bearing crops, vegetables, fruit, pork beef, mutton and poultry, etc. It is one of China's three bases for vegetable production in winter and spring seasons, and its gross agriculture output value in 1996 reached 5,892billion yuan.
Yunnann's mammoth agricultural toll accounts for nearly one third of the Gross National Product. With the coming of the railways, industry has expanded rapidly, and a surprising range of goods and machinery available in China now bears the 'made in Yunnan' stamp. The city's produce includes steel, foodstuffs, trucks, machine tools, electrical equipment, textiles, chemical, building materials and plastic. But even Kunming has a flavor all its own that seem more than half a world away from Beijing, although this gap is in danger of being bridged by rapid economic growth.
Several tour outfits cover the area faster than public minibuses would, but you must be prepared to pay for them. They generally feature a lot of sights that most western travelers find rather boring. More central sights like Yuantong Temple are just short bicycle ride away, it hardly make sense to join a tour to see them. Some tour operators refused to take foreigners on their tours, claiming the language barrier is too much trouble. The Yuantong Temple is the largest Buddhist complex in Kunming, and has for pilgrimages. And close to this temple is the zoo. The grounds are pleasantly leafy and high up, and provide a bird's-eye vista of the city, but most travelers find animal's living conditions depressing, for animal likes better off giving the place a miss.
Kunming has a milder climate, but it is wise to bring some woollies during the winter months when temperatures can suddenly drop, particularly in the evening. There's a fairly even spread of temperatures from April to September. Winters are short, sunny and dry. In summer (from June to August) Kunming offers cool respite, although rain is more prevalent.