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Why Yunnan


About Yunnan

There are many reasons why Lonely Planet contends that “If you have time for but one province in China, Yunnan should be it." The abundance of ethnic groups like Tibetan and Thai is undoubtedly a major reason for such high praise. The truth is that no other province in China can come close to matching Yunnan's cultural diversity. The people of Yunnan's variety of food, dress, and music make the province the most dynamic in the entire country and make it an ideal place for both travelers and people intent on getting a more complete picture of China's 1.3 billion people.

In addition to its cultural diversity, Yunnan's position at the heart of Asia (nearby five Southeast Asian nations) is undoubtedly another reason for its acclaim. One also cannot ignore Yunnan's clean air and diversity of climates that perfectly fits the Chinese ideal of 有山有水 (yǒushān yǒushuǐ, rich in mountains and water).

Yet, these are just a few of the reasons for Yunnan becoming the #1 destination for Chinese domestic citizens when they travel over all other destinations, including Beijing and Shanghai. The truth is that for each person Yunnan might have a different allure. It truly offers something for everyone.


The People of Yunnan


The main thing that sets Yunnan apart from all other provinces in China is its diverse population. Within Yunnan are 25 ethnic minorities which is nearly half the total in all of China. This diversity of peoples has led to each area of the province having its own 
unique feeling.

One of the largest of these ethnic minority groups is the Naxi who live below the massive snow-capped peak of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the town of Lijiang. The Naxi are famous for their animistic Dongba religions well as for having one of the last living cultures of traditional music in China.

Their traditional way of life has led to people calling them a “living fossil” of ancient China. Another example of the Naxi's ancient culture is their pictograph script (also called Dongba) that is used for religious practices and is believed to have originated independently of both the Tibetan and Chinese written languages.

Between Lijiang and Kunming is Dali, home of the Bai people whose thousand year old traditions still remain an integral part of their life. Most of the Bai are farmers due to the incredibly fertile valleys below  the Cang Shan mountain range. While rice and potatoes are grown by many Bai, it is tea that has been 
the focus of Bai agriculture for at least the 1500 years that Dali was a major center on the Tea Horse Road (also knownas the Southern Silk Road). At the center of the valley is Erhai Lake from whose waters Bai fishermen still catch fish with the help of their flocks of trained birds.


Yunnan’s Climate

While the convenient access to other regions is one of Yunnan’s greatest selling points, the truth is that within its own borders you can experience almost all of the climates the world has to offer. The southern region of Xishuangbanna is a tropical paradise with pineapple palms and exotic species of passion flowers endemic to the region. On the other end of the province are the northwest regions of Deqin and Shangri-La where wild orchids bloom in the foothills of snow-capped Himalayan peaks that tower above you. In between are breathtaking limestone peaks rising above rice patties, terraced tea fields blanketing mountain slopes and even China’s only major coffee plantations.

Not surprisingly, this variety of climates makes Yunnan’s biodiversity one of the world’s most impressive.

The province has over 15,000 species of plants, a sixth of them found nowhere else in the world. Amazingly, the diversity of fauna is perhaps even more impressive. Yunnan is home to 50% of China’s birds and mammals despite being only 4% of the country’s total area.

The Sites of Yunnan

Besides having an unparalleled diversity of cultures, Yunnan also has many historical and beautiful sites that would be of interest to any foreign visitor to China. To experience Tibetan culture you can go up to the northern region of Shangri-La in Tibet’s historical region of Kham. The centerpiece of Shangri-La is Ganden Sumtseling Gompal, a 300-year-old Tibetan monastery that is still home to over 600 practicing monks. The setting on top of a hill with snow-capped Himalayan peaks in the background make a trip to Ganden monastery a must for any traveler to Yunnan. You don’t need to go all the way to Lhasa to get a taste of Tibetan culture and architecture. Yunnan has it all.

Further south, in a valley below the massive Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is the old town of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and perhaps Yunnan’s most famous attraction. On the other side of the mountain is Tiger Leaping Gorge, an impossibly beautiful canyon where the Yangtze River surges between
two massive peaks with the ferocity of the animal after which it is named.

Dali’s old town, sandwiched between the Cang Shan mountains and Er Hai Lake is every bit a match for Lijiang’s natural beauty and cultural history. A few minutes’ drive from the old town’s cobblestone streets and ancient city wall are the 1200-year-old Three Pagodas, considered to be some of the most unique and classical examples of Buddhist architecture in all of China.

In Yunnan, one can also make the trek down to Xishuangbanna to get a little taste of Southeast Asia and
its Theravada Buddhist culture. The town of Damenlong’s 800-year-old Manfeilong pagoda is perhaps the most famous historical sight in Xishuangbanna. It’s Southeast Asian design is a sharp contrast from the more traditionally Chinese and Mahayana Buddhist style of Dali’s Three Pagodas. The cluster of 9 pointy white stupas have led to Manfeilong being given the nickname “White Bamboo Shoot Pagoda.”

Each of these regions of Yunnan has its own distinct flavor and awe-inspiring sites to visit. Quite simply, Yunnan has something for you no matter what you are interested in.

Why Kunming

There are many reasons why Kunming is the ideal place for students from around the world to study Mandarin. One of the main advantages of Kunming is that the city falls in the Mandarin speaking region because of its fairly large Mandarin speaking population. Staying in the city will give you plenty of opportunities to  practice what you have learned in the classroom. Check below for a linguistic map of the region.  The city's Southern location guarantees warm weather year round unlike places such as Beijing and Shanghai. Its pleasant climate has earned it the nickname of “City of Eternal Spring” and surveys consistently rank Kunming’s air quality as the best in all of China. One result of this fantastic environment is that it gives the city a relaxed feeling that is quite different from the frenzied pace of most other cities in the country.

There are many reasons why Kunming is the ideal place for students from around the world to study Mandarin. One of the main advantages of Kunming is that the city falls in the Mandarin speaking region because of its fairly large Mandarin speaking population. Staying in the city will give you plenty of opportunities to practice what you have learned in the classroom. Check below for a linguistic map of the region. The city's Southern location guarantees warm weather year round unlike places such as Beijing and Shanghai. Its pleasant climate has earned it the nickname of “City of Eternal Spring” and surveys consistently rank Kunming’s air quality as the best in all of China. One result of this fantastic environment is that it gives the city a relaxed feeling that is quite different from the frenzied pace of most other cities in the country.

Yet Kunming’s fantastic climate is far from its only attraction. The city is also filled with history and surrounded by many of China’s most spectacular sights. Its legacy as a major center of the Nanzhao Kingdom, a southern rival of the mighty Tang Dynasty, can still be seen in surviving temples and pagodas
that are strewn throughout
the city.

Perhaps the most prominent of these is a nearly 1500 year old bamboo temple covered with elaborate Buddhist carvings. From Kunming one can also easily access sites like the Stone Forest, a breathtaking limestone Karst formation that appears as if it is a monstrous cluster of contorted trees. While there are plenty of sites of interest in Yunnan outside of Kunming, one can easily get their fill without leaving the city. Somehow Kunming is managing to succeed where most other Chinese cities are not. While Kunming’s economic development is surging like in the rest of the country, development isn’t taking precedence over preserving the historical and natural beauty that the city is built on. Combine this with the city’s fantastic climate and cultural diversity and it is easy to see why Kunming is an ideal place for anyone interested in living and studying in China.

For more information on Kunming please click here


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