Southwest China’s Yunnan Province presents travelers with the greatest physical and cultural variety in the country. From the steamy, tropical jungles of the south to the snow-capped mountains of the north, it features every type of landscape except a seacoast and a desert. While Han Chinese constitute two-thirds of the population, the province is also home to twenty-four minority nationalities, occupying two-thirds of the territory and practicing a variety of lifestyles. Many of them have been here since long before the arrival of Han immigrants.
In the early Han Dynasty, Chinese began penetrating Yunnan in order to set up the Southwest Silk Route for foreign trade. Their efforts were only temporarily successful and were abandoned when the Han Dynasty began disintegrating in the 3rd century. The province fell under the rule of various tribal chieftains after that, until a powerful state—the Nanzhao Kingdom-- arose in the west in the 7th century.
Battling Tang Dynasty China for control of the southwest region, and vanquishing two massive Tang invasions, Nanzhao at times also controlled areas beyond Yunnan in Sichuan, Guangxi and northern Vietnam. The state collapsed in the early 10th century and after some internecine warfare, the new Kingdom of Dali replaced it, with borders largely confined to Yunnan. The Tang Dynasty also ended around the same time as Nanzhao and its replacement—the Song Dynasty—maintained a policy of peace with Dali throughout its existence.
That ended when Mongol forces under Kubilai Khan defeated Dali in 1253 and incorporated its territory into the Mongol Empire. When he later conquered Song China and founded the Yuan Dynasty in 1279, Yunnan then became a permanent part of China. In the late 14th century, the Ming Dynasty, which had replaced the Yuan in 1366, sponsored large-scale Han immigration to more fully incorporate the province into the Chinese state.
Yet the indigenous ethnic minorities continued to hang on to their lands in spite of the political changes over the centuries. Although Yunnan can boast of many outstanding temples and monuments characteristic of Chinese culture, the main draw for visitors is the cultural diversity of the minority nationalities—their clothing, housing, lifestyle, customs and festivals. With this in mind, our programs lay emphasis on meeting with, and observing the life of, interesting and colorful ethnic minorities.
Your tour leader will be Jim Goodman, an American who has lived in Asia since 1972 and in Chiang Mai, Thailand from 1988, where he worked with the Akha minority for 25 years. In 1992 he made his first of what would be dozens of excursions to Yunnan, mainly researching the life and cultures of minority nationalities. He has published several books on the province and its people:
The Exploration of Yunnan
Yunnan: China South of the Clouds (expanded version of the above)
Children of the Jade Dragon: The Naxi of Lijiang and Their Mountain Neighbors the Yi
Joseph F. Rock and His Shangrila
Living in Shangrila: The Tibetans and Mosuo of Northwest Yunnan
Grand Canyon of the East (on Nujiang Prefecture)
The Terrace Builders: The Hani and Their Neighbors in Yunnan’s Ailao Mountains
Xishuangbanna: The Tropics of Yunnan
He also regularly publishes in-depth, illustrated articles about the people and places in Yunnan, Vietnam, Thailand and other countries on his website http://blackeagleflights.blogspot.com. The tab Online Articles contains a complete list, country by country. Over thirty of the Yunnan articles are relevant to our routes and itineraries
Your tour guide will be Sun Fei, also known as Apu, a native of Shandong Province who moved to Yunnan in 2003 to pursue his studies in agricultural management and anthropology. He has been a free-lance tour leader in Yunnan and worked on projects involving ethnic minorities, ecology and environmental protection. He has also served as a consultant and expedition leader for research projects of the New York Times, BBC, National Geographic, Global Post, Christian Science Monitor, The Nature Conservancy, Earth Rights International, the University of Hawaii and Australian National University. For two years he was Managing Director of the Dulong River Canyon Travel Agency in Nujiang. Some of his articles on the province and its people:
Fei Sun, Brendan A. Galipeau. Inheriting Winemaking: Cizhong ‘Rose Honey’ Wine Production on the Upper Mekong River in Northwest Yunnan Province, China. Himalaya Journal. May 1st, 2016.
Building 'The Lodge' in Yunnan's Rugged Northwest
Over the Mountain: From the Salween to the Mekong