After touring the Sichuan province, we made our way to Yunnan province located in the western part of China. In ancient times (circa 2nd century B.C.E.), Kunming was one of the main stops along the Southwest Silk Road that spanned from X’ian to India. Today, it is the home of more than 26 ethnic groups—the largest being the Bai people.
As the “City of Eternal Spring,” Kunming has flowers blooming all-year-round. Every day the bustling flower market opens at 3-5AM, during which many businessmen bid, buy, and sell local flora. More than 40 floral species are grown in the Yunnan province to be used as essential oils, a profitable enterprise.
- Bamboo Monastery
- Golden Temple (August 19)
- Stone Forest (Shilin)
- Dynamic Yunnan song and dance show
August 10, 2012
Our first stop in Kunming with our guide, Lulu, was a visit to the Bamboo Monastery.
Legend says that two royal brothers pursued a white rhinoceros into the Yu’an Mountain, where the animal vanished. Instead of the rhinoceros, the brothers beheld the sight of six monks holding bamboo walking sticks.
Upon seeing the two brothers, the monks vanished leaving behind their sticks in the ground. The following day a bamboo forest grew in their place, marking holy land. In reverence for the land, a Buddhist temple was built in the monks’ honor.
In truth, the Bamboo Monastery was established in 1280 (Yuan Dynasty). This monastery is famous for 500 lively, colorful Buddhist arhats (luohans) by artist, Li Guangxiu, from the 1880s (Qing Dynasty).
Walking through the rooms past several of these arhats was like walking through a live crowd. Each arhat has their own expression and personality as distinguished by the various poses. It is said that if you count the number of arhats, you can find the one that matches you.
We would later return to Kunming on August 19 (after returning from Shangri-la and Deqin) to complete the rest of the city tour with Lulu.
In the early morning, we went to the Golden Temple located on Mingfeng Hill. Also known as the Tongwa Temple (Bronze Tile Temple), this landmark is regarded as the largest copper Taoist temple in China.
According to history, the original Golden Temple was built by the Yunnan governor in 1602 to honor the Taoist hero-god, Zishi, who in legend had a golden palace in the northernmost part of the universe. The temple, unfortunately, had to be moved to Jizu Mountain in western Yunnan in 1637. Later during the Qing dynasty in 1671, the governor of Yunnan built a duplicate of the Golden Temple in the present-day location of Mingfeng Hill. However, the temple that we see today is a reconstructed version made from 250 tons of bronze in 1890. The sight is wondrous with the majority of the temple structure, statues, and altars built from bronze.
Afterwards, we went to see the Stone Forest (Shilin)—a wondrous landscape well-known since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
The landscape is made of stone formations crafted by the erosion of the ocean 270 million years ago.
Exploring the winding trails, one can discern various shapes and figures of animals, plants, and humans.
The most famous is the Ashima rock based on a Sani love story. Ashima was a beautiful girl, who wore a kerchief on her head and carried a bamboo basket on her back. She fell in love with a young man, but they could not marry. Her story becomes legendary as a symbol of hope for the freedom to marry and lead a happy life. Also, it has been filmed as a national dance drama, “Ashima,” in the 20th century.
After dinner, our tour guide took us to see a local song and dance show called the “Dynamic Yuunan.” Created and choreographed by lead dancer, Yang Liping, the show focuses on four themes: Sun, Land, Homeland, and Pilgrimage with an epilogue consisting of the peacock dance.
Each theme is represented by the dances, handmade costumes, and songs of the local people. According to Sina.com (2011), “More than 75 percent of the performers are local peasant farmers Yang discovered in outlying villages of Yunnan and most of them are from ethnic groups including Yi, Miao, Tibetan, Dai, Bai, Va and Hani.” Undoubtedly, the show is an authentic representation of the cultural richness of China’s ethnic groups.
Sun focuses on the instruments, especially the large drums. Land and Homeland focuses on the daily lives of the people, marriage, and reverence for the land. Pilgrimage focuses on the Tibetans and the influence of Buddhism on the people. Finally, the epilogue features the dancer, Yang Liping, as a graceful peacock swaying in the moonlight.
Undoubtedly, it was a night to remember.
Kunming is a city that blossoms from its floral trade and rich ethnic culture. It is the summation of Yunnan with its unique natural scenery (i.e. the Stone Forest) and rich history as the gateway to the Southwest Silk Road. Undoubtedly, a city that should be revisited.
Sina.com. (2011, January 11). “Dynamic Yunnan,” a journey of dancing far into the land. Retrieved from http://english.sina.com/special_report/dynamic_yunnan.shtml
Travel China Guide. (2014, September 18). Kunming Golden Temple. Retrieved from http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/yunnan/kunming/golden_temple.htm