Exploring China’s peripheries: Southwest 西南
// Day 1: Kunming, Yunnan province
Featuring 10 photos a day, here is a first-hand journey into learning more about China’s interior.
Prejudices can have a habit of clouding perspective. It is unlikely great powers, be it the U.S. or China get to where they are today without significant struggle and effort. These photo stories of my travels around China as a ‘returning’ overseas-born Chinese sojourner are intended to dispel the myth of China as a monolithic entity. By closing the gaps between myth, misconception and first hand experience, perhaps these images will shed light on China’s struggle and ability to harness 1.3 billion narratives to become a collective force for forward motion.
Having explored most of the developed eastern coast, I was keen to see just how much work was being done to spread the benefits of China’s rise to its interior and peripheries. Xi’An, in China’s central north-west was as deep as I had travelled to before. Eager to learn more and experience China’s promise of equitable growth and armed with a tablet computer (disclaimer as I decided to travel ultra-light, without a purpose-built camera), I head to China’s southwest with Yunnan and Sichuan province in my sights.
First stop is Yunnan’s capital – Kunming.
#1 On board the China Eastern flight to Yunnan’s Kunming Changshui Airport. As a student of Chinese public diplomacy and a keen musician, this was a heartening piece of news from the Global Times, as the subtext and semantics of language can often confuse.
- #2 A most humbling experience even Singapore’s award winning airport cannot match. A free public phone that features internet access, stock market reports, weather reports to name a few. And yes it is free for everyone travelling, from the rural peasants to the nouveau rich to the foreign tourists.
#3 One of many, many real estate ads that are plastered around Yunnan – just one indicator of the level of affluence for the people around these parts. Depending on how you interpret this – More signs of affluence, aspiration or opulence? Not forgetting a generation ago, China had undergone massive growing pains with the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution
#4 So… My journey starts at Kunming in the frontier Yunnan province (it shares borders with Vietnam, Laos and Myanmmar, 25 of the 56 official Chinese ethnicities can be found here).
Here’s a view of the interior of the airport facing east as the sun arises over the degraded mountain area, about 2,000m above sea level.
#5 View of the exterior of the airport. Only just opened in June this year, it features two runways and 66 gates.
Do check out its official website to catch a fuller glimpse of its grandeur – I am no architect but they finished building this airport (featuring very few straight lines…) in just under three years. Its aim (this I found out talking to a local party member) is to become a gateway to Southeast and South Asia – an FTA with ASEAN now exists. It was quite a spectacle looking around the vast expanse of mountain range all around.
#6 One might be hard pressed to believe Yunnan is one of China’s poorest provinces. This is a view echoed by all the locals I spoke to of the second-tier city. State policy to reduce the East-West income gap is apparent. Here is a shot of the Zhong Ai archway first built arguably during the Yuan Dynasty. Kunming is a prefecture-level city that serves as capital of Yunnan province, and has a populaton of about 6.4 million.
#7 A wider shot of the Zhong Ai archway. Kunming has an important history of being the epicentre of China’s southern silkroad back in antiquity. It wasn’t always a piece of Han Chinese territory though, it was subjugated in 109BC. During the second Sino-Japanese war, much of China’s wealthy and learned flooded here to build a bastion of finance and resources to resist the invading Japanese forces.
#8 This is Cuihu Park, located in the northern part of Kunming’s city. Since 1985, seagulls from Siberia have been spending their winter months at the lake. In a display of harmony, locals and seagulls form a symbiotic relationship. Nie Er, composer of China’s national anthem was born in Kunming and a statue of him celebrates his contribution here. He tragically passed on at the age of 23.
#9 Ferris Wheel at Cuihui Lake
#10 Locals indulging in early afternoon Taichi at Cuihui lake park. Made a public park in 1910, the park, known as Green Lake park in English was first established during the 17th century.