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Weishan History

Weishan Nanzhao Kingdom History 

Dali is more famous because it was long the capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom, Tang Dynasty China’s rival in the southwest, and its successor the Kingdom of Dali, which remained independent until overwhelmed by Kubilai Khan’s Mongols in 1253.  It is also near scenic Erhai Lake and mountains of 4000+ meters, which made it a prime destination from the very dawn of modern tourism.  Weishan is less well endowed physically and topographically, but did not undergo the commercial transformation of Dali, where now virtually every building caters to the tourist industry.  Weishan is still a slice of Old China, unique in western Yunnan.

Moreover, it has its historical importance as well, for the Nanzhao Kingdom had its start right here, in the 7th century, when the town was known as Mengshe, the capital of one of the six native chiefdoms, or zhao, roughly in the area that is now Dali Prefecture.  Being in the most southern location of the six, the area around Mengshe was the Southern zhao—Nanzhao.  In 649 its ruler Xinuluo conquered a neighboring tribe in Midu and shortly after, when Tang Court officials were looking for an ally to secure their southwest frontier they chose Xinuluo’s state.

Four generations later Mengshe’s ruler Piluoge conquered the other five zhao.  In 738 the Tang conferred a royal title on him and recognized Nanzhao as a vassal state.  Piluoge’s own opinion, and that of his successors, was that Nanzhao was independent on a par with Tang China.  Until it fell in the early 10th century, shortly after the Tang regime’s own demise, Nanzhao fought both Tibet and China for control of the region, periodically launching invasions into Sichuan, defeating any invasion into its own realm.  But now that Piluoge’s success had made Nanzhao a bigger state, the capital shifted closer to Erhai Lake; first at Taihe, then Dali.

Mengshe lost its political importance and had no impact on the history of the next several centuries.  Nanzhao expanded, contracted and imploded.  Its successor Dali lived in peace with Song Dynasty China until the Mongol conquest.  With the rise of the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century, the Mongols evacuated and the Ming Court began sending immigrants from eastern China into Yunnan to give it a more Chinese identity.  In the Dali area, from 1382 the Ming Court dispatched soldiers to both establish military garrisons and clear land to settle down on farms.

At that time the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of Yunnan were not Han Chinese but a mixture of many ethnic minorities.  In Dali Prefecture the dominant groups are the Bai and Yi.  Nanzhao’s ruling class was Yi or proto-Yi, while Dali’s kings were Bai.  Today the Bai constitute the largest ethnic minority in the prefecture and dominate the plains areas, while the hills are mostly inhabited by Yi.

Because they are the largest community Dali is an Autonomous Bai Prefecture, where the top officials are Bai.  But the Yi and Hui outnumber the Bai in Weishan, so the latter is an Autonomous Yi and Hui County.   Some of the Hui are descendants of Kubilai Khan’s Central Asian Muslim allies, who stayed on to administer and garrison the province in the Yuan Dynasty.  Others came in after the Ming Dynasty evicted the Mongols and sponsored immigration.

In the late 14th century the city underwent a major transformation, beginning with a name change from Mengshe to Weishan, apparently a contraction of Weibaoshan, a sacred mountain 18 km south of the city that would become home to many temples, mostly Taoist, over the next four centuries.  The mountain is swathed in thick forests of pine and cypress, the shrines and temples sited at intervals along roads and paths that ascend to the summit.

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