Historical Kunming Part 4: The Dawn of Kunming

Now that we have a rough framework of dynastic history upon which to hang our tale, we can now tell the story of the dawn of Kunming.

Yuanmou Man

Kunming sits at the northern tip of Lake Dian. Lake Dian has been a home to people as long as there have been people.  The fossil record includes lufang ramapithecus from 8 million years ago and yuanmou man from 1.7 million years ago, and archaeological finds show that modern man has been living there continuously for at least 30,000 years.  But Kunming itself has its origins in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC).

 

 

One of the main states that gave the Warring States Period its name was the kingdom of Chu.  Chu started as a fief of the Zhou dynasty, and was ruled by a viscount, who ruled from a city in what is now Henan Province.  In 977 the Zhou ruler died; the dynasty started neglecting it southern holdings, and Chu started growing more and more autonomous.  By 703 BC, the ruler of Chu was openly styling himself King, openly asserting an independence that was not contested.  Chu grew in size and power (as well as in corruption and bureaucracy) until, by the time the Zhou dynasty had completely dissolved, Chu was one of the leading states of China, and a contender for imperial aspirations.

Our story starts towards the end of the Warring States Period, about 70 years before the establishment of the Qin dynasty.  Chu was looking to expand, and the logical direction was south.  Qin, though not yet an imperial power, was already the most powerful state in China, lay just to the west.  Wei and Qi to the north less powerful as Chu, but either could weaken Chi enough to make it a target for Qin.  But even more than that, the south offered control of valuable trade routes with Burma and India.  So in 280 BC the king of Chu deployed an army led by a general named Zhuang Qiao with orders to conquer the territory that is now Yunnan province.

Seal from the Kingdom of Dian

Over the next ten years General Zhuang was able to fulfill his orders, and succeeded in placing most of the region under his control. But then something happened that changed the situation entirely: Chu was invaded by Qin.  The Qin armies marched across the south of Chu towards the coast; General Zhuang and his army were cut off from their capital.  But as far as we can tell, the general saw this not as a problem but an opportunity.  Zhuang declared that the territory he had conquered was now the Kingdom of Dian, and named himself as its King.  His army married and assimilated with the local tribes, and settled themselves on the land surrounding the lake.  And General Zhuang established his capital at what is now Kunming.

Belt ornament from the Dian Kingdom

This small independent kingdom survived for well over a century, outlasting the rise and fall of the Qin dynasty.  In 109 BC the great conqueror of the Han dynasty, Emperor Wu of Han (who also appears in the earlier post Historical Kunming 2: Discourses on Salt and Iron), conquered the neighboring states of Laoshan and Mimo, and the king of Dian decided to submit to Han voluntarily rather than be conquered.  This submission was rather more in name than substance though; Dian routinely raided Han trading missions.  And in 109 BC, after Dian massacred a Han trading party passing through with gifts intended for the far away nation of Bactria, Emperor Wu decided he had had enough.  He emptied the jails in his capital city of Chang’an (modern day Xi’an), declared amnesty for any fugitives who would turn themselves in, and formed these into an army that finally brought Dian into submission and joined it to the empire.

So there you have it, the story of how Kunming was founded, and came to be part of China.

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Travel booked! #ibmcsc

I got word last night that our friends at Digital Opportunity Trust have confirmed the booking of my travel plans.  I arrive in Kunming on 12 October, fly from Kunming to Beijing on 10 November, and return home to the UK on 17 November.  The intervening months will fly by in the blink of an eye.

Meanwhile on the home front, my wife was just accepted to graduate school, and in September will begin studying for her masters in psychology at the University of Derby.  She will begin her studies in late September, shortly before I head off.

What an amazing summer it has been.

 

 

China at the Olympics

It is 18:00 on Thursday 2 August as I write this. We are one week into the London Olympics.  My family and I have seen one of the three live events we have tickets for (beach volleyball), and watched a number of other ones on TV, all of which we have enjoyed.  So now I find myself looking at the medal tables…

  • My adopted country, the UK, is ranked fifth overall with 14 medals, 5 of which are gold.
  • My home country, the USA, which I proudly (and loudly) root for, is second place overall with 31 medals, 14 of them gold
  • And while they are not as crushingly dominant as they were as Beijing in 2008, China commands an unmistakable first place in the world rankings, with 18 gold medals and 32 medals overall

I look at this result and ask myself how I feel about it.

And you know what?  Despite all the accusations, the recriminations, and the other assorted moaning and wailing, I find that my reactions to all of the above are almost entirely positive.

Let’s talk about China first.  I have read the accusations about Ye Shiwen, and find them baseless and small-minded.  Nobody leveled such accusations about Michael Phelps’ astonishing superiority of mens’ swimming in 2008.  This is nothing more than thinly veiled xenophobia.

The fact is that China deserves its place at the top of the rankings.  Start with the world’s largest population.  Add to this a personal work ethic that no other nation in the world comes close to matching.  And layer on top of this the huge investment that China makes in its athletes, with over 3,000 dedicated athletic training centers around the country.  This investment, this dedication, this passion for excellence has paid off.

Let’s look at the UK next, fifth in the rankings overall.  If you ask most British people how they feel about this result, you will hear a lot about opportunities missed, but the reality is  an admirable result.  Let’s look at the numbers: the UK is 6th in a ranking of countries by GDP, 22nd by population, and 80th by size.  Their performance far outstrips countries that ought to be beating them handily.  I attribute this to their excellent education system (both public and private) and to a strong sporting culture. Recall that the Brits were key drivers in the resurrection of the Olympics in the first place (interestingly, their medal ranking in the first modern Olympics in 1896 was the same as it is today: fifth).  And finally, hats off to the UK for a fabulous opening ceremony.  The Olympic rings, forged and hammered out of molten steel, is an indelible image that will burn in my mind forever.

And finally, what about the US?  If you read the editorial page of the newspaper in any major city, you will find a host of discontent that we have fallen behind China in the overall medal results.  But I see a very different message

  • China has four times as many people as the US
  • Despite having a GDP one third the size of the US, China outspends the US on the development of its athletes by at least two to one
  • An aspiring athlete in the US must find a way to pay for their education, coaching, and development; all but the proven top echelons need to stay in full-time employment while training.  An aspiring athlete in China belongs to a program that fully supports and caters to all their needs, removing anything but training from their list of worries.

And yet, despite all of China’s inherent advantages, the US manages to stay in very close competition with China.  This is nothing short of amazing, and makes me very proud to be American.  Why do we continue to do so well?   This is a great question.  I have some ideas, but want to think about it and read some more before I venture an opinion.

Meanwhile, tomorrow will be a big day at the Olympics:

  • Wujdan Shahrkhani, one of the first two women that Saudi Arabia has ever sent to the Olympics, will be competing in women’s judo.  I wish her every success.
  • My favorite beach volleyball team, Kerry Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, whom I have supported since Athens in 2004, enters the elimination rounds. They won all three matches in the preliminary rounds, but in the last match they lost one of their sets — the first time that has ever happened.  Do they have a third consecutive Olympic gold medal in them?  Soon we shall see.
  • And finally, our amazing football team plays against New Zealand in the quarter-finals.  I’ve got tickets for the semi-finals, which means that if the Americans win tomorrow, we get the thrill of going to one of football’s greatest shrines, Old Trafford, to cheer our team to victory!

These then are my thoughts on the Olympics so far.  I salute the Chinese team and congratulate them on their victory so far.  But stay focused, China, and keep striving for excellence.  We are close behind and do not give up easily :-)

Sources and more information

  • As usual, most of my facts and figures come from Wikipedia.  The usual disclaimers from using a publicly editable data source apply.
  • The gold medal image comes from the Guardian; the picture of Ye Shiwen and the US football team comes from the Telegraph. Both are British newspapers
  • Finally, I want to recommend an excellent article, also in the Guardian.  Written by a British swimming coach who was hired by China to come be a coach within their swimming program, it gives a very insightful inside view into China’s investment in athletic excellence.  You can find it here:
    Chinese athletes at these Olympics train harder than anyone in the world