Home > culture, Photos > Exploring China’s peripheries: Southwest 西南 Day 1: Kunming, Yunnan province

Exploring China’s peripheries: Southwest 西南 Day 1: Kunming, Yunnan province

Exploring China’s peripheries: Southwest 西南
// Day 1: Kunming, Yunnan province
by WanderingChina

Featuring 10 photos a day, here is a first-hand journey into learning more about China’s interior.

Pre-amble
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.

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.

#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.

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.
#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.

One of many, many real estate ads that are plastered around Yunnan - a small indicator of the level of affluence for the people around these parts.

#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

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.  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. It was quite a spectacle looking around the vast expanse of mountain range all around.

#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.

View of the exterior of the airport.

#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.

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. Here is a shot of the Zhong Ai archway first built arguably during the Yuan Dynasty. Kunming is capital of Yunnan province, and has a populaton of about 6.4 million.

#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.

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 fight back against the invading Japanese forces.

#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.

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 an amazing display of harmony, the locals and seagulls form a symbiotic relationship.

#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.

Ferris Wheel at Cuihui Lake

#9 Ferris Wheel at Cuihui Lake

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.

#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.

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  1. January 4th, 2013 at 00:05 | #1

    Thanks for sharing these images, WanderingChina. I was in Kunming in early 2000 and enjoyed the trip. One thing that struck me then was how fast China rebuilds.

    1. A building goes up, and even before it’s completion, you will notice rusts on window frames.
    2. Within 10 years, those buildings are torn down and replaced with new ones.
    3. Next round, with more experience, technology, and materials, buildings last longer.

    Kunming today may be a Tier 2 city, but a decade or two from now, it will upgrade – dramatically.

    This pace is unprecedented. Western media like to constantly harp on this idea of an ‘export-led economy,’ but they have no idea the scale of economic activity that’s taking place across the whole country.

    Anyways, looking forward to your next post. :) Before you know it, these pictures will become time capsules!

  2. JJ
    January 4th, 2013 at 03:13 | #2

    Excellent series and thanks for the photos! I’ve only been to the larger cities so haven’t seen the interior much so it’s nice to see these.

    At first though, I didn’t realize they were filtered and thought they were old photos haha :)

  3. wanderingchina
    January 4th, 2013 at 03:54 | #3

    @deWang – Thank for for the kind comments! The speed of growth and the promise of bridging the East-West divide is definitely apparently. Kunming’s designation as springboard to South East Asia (the ASEAN FTA is important to note here) will surely see it grow.

    @JJ – apologies for the misdirection! I take my photos with a tablet computer to travel light, as such the 5megapixel camera has its limitations – the filters help give the photos a bit more life!

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