Yunnan or Yun-nan (both: yünˈnän) [key] [south of the clouds], province (2010 pop. 45,966,239), c.162,000 sq mi (419,600 sq km), SW China. It borders Myanmar on the west and Laos and Vietnam on the south. Kunming is the capital. The average altitude is c.6,500 ft (1,980 m). The eastern half of the province is a limestone plateau with karst scenery and unnavigable rivers flowing through deep mountain gorges; the western half is characterized by mountain ranges and rivers running north and south. These include the Thanlwin and the Mekong. The rugged, vertical terrain produces a wide range of flora and fauna, and the province has been called a natural zoological and botanical garden.
Yunnan has a mild climate with balmy and fair weather, but although the growing period is long, there is little arable land. Agriculture is restricted to the few upland plains, open valleys, and terraced hillsides. Rice is the main crop; corn, wheat, sweet potatoes, soybeans (as a food crop), tea, sugarcane, tobacco, and cotton are also grown. On the steep slopes in the west livestock is raised and timber is cut (teak in the southwest). Yunnan's chief source of wealth, however, lies in its vast mineral resources. It is the country's leading tin producer; other deposits include iron, coal, lead, copper, zinc, gold, mercury, silver, antimony, and sulfur.
China is constructing a series of dams on the Mekong to develop it as a waterway and source of power; the first was completed at Manwan in 1993. Road and railroad traffic has been recently improved, and Kunming is now a transportation center; an important railroad runs from Kunming to Hanoi, Vietnam, while transportation to Myanmar is maintained by the Burma Road.
There are many minority groups in Yunnan. From ancient times the Chinese invaders gradually pushed the aboriginal tribes into mountain localities, where today, retaining their distinct languages and culture, they populate eight autonomous districts. The Miao, Yao, Lolo, Lao, Shan, Thai, and Lisu are some of the larger tribes; there is also a considerable Tibetan minority. Yunnan Univ. is in Kunming.
Separated by rugged mountains from the central authority in N China, Yunnan for centuries remained independent. In 1253 it was conquered by the Mongols of the Yüan dynasty, which destroyed the Thai kingdom of Nan Chao established there. Yunnan passed to the Manchus in 1659 and became a province of China under the control of the central government. It was the scene of a great Muslim revolt (1855–72). It was a major center of Chinese resistance in World War II, and in 1950 it passed to Communist control.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.