The history of the city of Kunming dates back more than 2000 years to the year 279 BC when a settlement was formed by a general of the Chu Kingdom near to Lake Dianchi. The city of Kunzhou, which was just southeast of what we now know was Kunming, was established in 109 AD at the time of the Han Dynasty and during the reign of Emperor Wudi. The area was first dubbed Kunming in the period towards the decline of the Yuan Dynasty and later still in 1832, the beginnings of a real city were acknowledged with the building of city walls and significant structures within their confines.
Founding of the city can, therefore be said to have been a predominantly 19th century affair. It was also in this century that the city grew to become the major market and transport centre for the region. Rebel leader Du Wenxiu, the Sultan of Dali, launched several offensives against the city between the years 1858 and 1868 which saw Kunming subject to a number of siege situations.
Kunming was until now, a typical provincial Chinese city with all the obvious characteristics one would expect; it was also a place where those banished from Beijing for being political troublemakers would take exile.
The French Indochina Rail Line into Kunming was completed in 1910, bringing increased commercial activity into the city however development was still considered relatively slow. It was WWII and Japan’s occupation of China that brought the most significant changes to Kunming, with the city’s population swelling from the arrival of large numbers of refugees. The establishments of new factories in Kunming also brought a significant number of Yunnanese country peasants to the city in search of work. The war brought western influences to the city as the US Air Force stationed their Flying Tigers unit there. These influences saw the city move towards more modern attitudes and gradually it began to resemble other major Chinese cities with thriving industrial areas and large scale residential districts.
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