The history of Yunnan, province in the People's Republic of China, can date back to Yuanmou Man, a Homo erectus fossil unearthed by railway engineers in the 1960s, has been determined to be the oldest known hominid fossil in China. By the Neolithic period, there were human settlements in the area of Lake Dian. These people used stone tools and constructed simple wooden structures.
Historically, Yunnan has been peripheral to the Chinese empire. Its location in the southwesternmost corner of China and the strong ethnic identities of its peoples helped perpetuate the region's strong tendency towards wanting to be autonomous. The peoples of Yunnan have also been subject to cultural and political influences from Burma.
The Kingdom of Dian
The Dian Culture was distributed around the Lake Dian area and dated, though controversial, between the sixth century BC and the first century AD. For this long period of development, the Dian Culture can be partitioned into an early and late phase, with 109 BC, the year when the "Kingdom of Dian" officially became a vassal state of the Han empire, as the watershed year between these two periods.
In 109 BC, Emperor Wu sent General Guo Chang (¹ù²ý) south to Yunnan, establishing Yizhou commandery and 24 subordinate counties. The commandery seat was at Dianchi county (present day Jinning ½úÄþ). Another county was called "Yunnan", probably the first use of the name. To expand the burgeoning trade with Burma and India, Emperor Wu also sent Tang Meng (ÌÆÃÉ) to maintain and expand the Five Foot Way, renaming it "Southwest Barbarian Way" (Î÷ÄÏÒÄµÀ). By this time, agricultural technology in Yunnan had markedly improved. The local people used bronze tools, plows and kept a variety of livestock, including cattle, horses, sheep, goats, pigs and dogs. Anthropologists have determined that these people were related to the people now known as the Tai. They lived in tribal congregations, sometimes led by exile Chinese.
In the Records of the Grand Historian, Zhang Qian (d. 113 BC) and Sima Qian (145-90 BC) make references to "Sendhuk", which may have been referring to the Indus Valley (the Sindh province in modern Pakistan), originally known as "Sindhu" in Sanskrit. When Yunnan was annexed by the Han Dynasty, Chinese authorities also reported a Sendhuk" (Indian) community living in the area.
In 109 AD, the Han court established Yunnan county, a part of Yizhou (ÒæÖÝ) commandery. Because the county seat was south of Mount Yun (ÔÆÉ½), the county was named "Yunnan" - literally "south of Yun". The name was also considered highly auspicious.
Yunnan under the Mongol Empire and the Yuan Dynasty
The Mongols established regular and tight administrative control over Yunnan. In 1253 Mongke Khan of the Mongol Empire dispathced the prince Kublai to take Yunnan. The Mongols swept away numerous native regimes, including the leading Dali kingdom. Later Yunnan became one of the ten provinces set up by Kubilai Khan.
Kublai Khan appointed Turkmen Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar governor in Yunnan in 1273. Before that, the area had been ruled by a local king and a Mongol prince under the Great Khan. The Yuan provincial authorities conferred various titles on many native chieftains, who were obliged to pay taxes. When the Mongols were expulsed from China in 1368, Yunnan was thrown into chaos and anarchy for a number of years. The Ming Dynasty defeated the last of the Yuan loyalists in 1381.
The newly-proclaimed Ming Dynasty did not send armies into Yunnan until 1381. The central government allowed the general Mu Ying, foster son of dynastic founder Zhu Yuanzhang, to set up a hereditary feudatory system in the province. Throughout the Ming, the Mu family developed tremendous influence in Yunnan.
From the end of the fifteenth century, the Toungoo Dynasty in Myanmar began encroaching on Yunnan. In the sixteenth century Chen Yongbin, the governor of Yunnan, held back a Myanmar invasion. After the war, he built eight passes along the border in Tengyue subprefecture to mark the demarcation between the two countries.
After the fall of the Ming in northern China, Yunnan became the last Southern Ming regime headed by Zhu Youlang. Supported by rebels-cum loyalists, he persisted in resistance against the Qing conquest even after the Qing capture of Kunming in 1659. Zhu and his men then fled into Myanmar to seek refuge in Ava, but were treated as prisoners. Zhu's armed followers savaged Upper Myanmar in an attempt to rescue him. General Wu Sangui, then still loyal to the Qing, invaded Myanmar in 1662 with a sizable army, and demanded Zhu's surrender. Although he hesitated, King Pye finally decided to hand Zhu over to avoid hostility.
Following the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, Yunnan came under the control of local warlords, who had more than the usual degree of autonomy due to Yunnan's remoteness. They financed their regime through opium harvesting and traffic.