Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Chinese Community in Chiang Mai

                                                                by Jim Goodman

gate to Chiang Mai's Chinatown
       Ethnic Chinese constitute the largest minority of Thailand’s population.  Though Chinese had always lived in Thailand as merchants in Ayutthaya, they began seriously migrating in the early 19th century, after the establishment of the Chakri Dynasty.   At first, they moved mainly into the capital Bangkok and the cities on the east coast.  Chiang Mai may have had a few resident shopkeepers at that time but large-scale Chinese immigration to the northern city only got underway from about 1870, when the semi-autonomous state of Lanna was becoming more fully integrated with Siam.
Chinese shop in Kad Luang
       The first Chinese community was in Watgate, on the east bank of the Ping River, outside the city proper.  They later took up residence on the other side of the Ping River in what is today Warorot Market, or Kad Luang (Big Market in the Northern Thai dialect), as well as the lower part of Tha Pae Road.  It was a small and slow influx in the beginning, of pioneers from Southeast China originally, setting up shop-houses and angling to establish themselves as merchants.  A population count in 1884 put their numbers at around 2000.
       Most of them originated from Bangkok and spoke the Guangdong, Hokka and Teochow dialects of southeast China.  Others were Hui from Yunnan, Muslim Chinese who spike a Chinese dialect close to Mandarin.  They had fled the fierce reprisals of Qing Dynasty troops at the end of the Muslim Revolt (or Panthay Rebellion) in 1872.  Hui refugees from Yunnan settled downriver from Warorot, around what is now the upper end of the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar on Changklang Road.  They built a mosque on the first lane, renamed Halal Street today, which was long ago replaced by a modern building more in the Middle Eastern style.  Local Thais referred to them as Jin Haw.
Chinese gold shop in Warorot Market
       Over the next few decades, as Siam began reaching out to integrate economically and politically all parts of the country, one result was a movement of more Chinese to the north.  By 1919 Chiang Mai had 3600 Chinese residents.  The initial wave of Jin Haw had subsided, but non-Muslim Yunnanese were trickling in, eventually establishing a neighborhood around today’s Anusarn Market, a few blocks down from Halal Street.
       The bulk of the immigrants, however, came up from Bangkok.  They were an overflow of successful immigration to the capital, who moved north to cities like Tak, Lampang and Chiang Mai where there was less competition in their particular trade, profession or business.  As a newcomer community, one that relied on commerce rather than land for its maintenance, its success depended on the close bonds it knitted within itself.
Chinese temple near Muang Mai Market
       Chinese could plunge confidently into the adventure of relocation because they could count on the solidarity and assistance of already established, resident Chinese communities.  Moreover, they could also benefit from the extension of credit by their contacts back in Bangkok.  The attitude of the time (and conditions then) was that Chinese should help other Chinese to succeed.  It was good for the community.
       Based around Warorot Market, Chinese ensconced themselves as the principal merchants of the city.  They controlled the retail trade, money lending and the commercial river traffic.  At the dawn of the 20th century Chiang Mai-Bangkok river commerce consisted of one thousand sampans annually, carrying two and a half tons of cargo.
Pung Tao Gong Chinese temple
       Chiang Mai exported animal hides and horns, lac dye, lard and teak logs.  From Bangkok it imported clothing, fabric, thread, matches, kerosene, soap and iron tools.  The balance of trade was always unfavorable to Chiang Mai.  The journey could take three weeks, though some only went as far as Nakhon Sawan and met cargo boats there coming up from Bangkok.
       Another occupation the Chinese got into in the late 19th century was tax collector.   They could do this because the local autonomous government had a lot of powerful nobles who were responsible for tax collection in their spheres of influence.  Wealthy Chinese businessmen simply bribed the nobles to get the tax collection concessions.  In a particularly notorious case, a Chinese businessman named Teng Sophanodon, from the Kim Seng Lee Company, constructed a Bangkok palace for Lanna’s King Inthawichayanon, in return for the right to collect taxes on pigs, cattle, opium, tobacco, betel nuts and leaves and coconuts.
stone lion at Pung Tao Gong
making s lantern at Pung Tao Gong
       Sometimes the Lanna nobles agreed to the tax collection concession after accepting the bribe, but then changed their minds when a competitor offered a bigger bribe.  This led to lawsuits, aroused the attention of Bangkok and led to Rama V’s reforms of the whole tax collection system in Lanna, at the same time further reducing Lanna’s autonomous authority.  In 1899, resistance to the new system spawned a revolt in which animosity was particularly directed at Chinese tax collectors.  Subsequently, government tax collectors took over the job.
Warorot temple at New Year
       The nature of Chiang Mai commerce changed again in 1921 with the inauguration of the railroad link to Bangkok.  A highway followed a few years later.  Trains and trucks could now carry greater amounts of cargo much faster than boats and at a cheaper rate.  Chinese in Chiang Mai began consolidating control of all the import-export trade.  With greater contacts across the country and access to credit, the Chinese were able to displace the Shan, Burmese and Indian competition, who had no such advantages, and from 1932 began buying out their rivals.
       Foreign manufactured goods, primarily from Great Britain, but also from Germany and Japan, began flowing north.  With a dramatic expansion of rice farms throughout the north, rice became Chiang Mai’s principal export south.  Chinese traders were involved in every step of the production process.  They purchased the rice brought in by caravans from distant places.  They set up rice mills in and around the city.  They tendered high-interest loans to farmers and confiscated their lands if the farmer could not repay the loan.  They constructed irrigation canals and dikes and controlled the rice shipped to other parts of the country.
New Year--a time for serious selfie-examination
making noodles on Wichayanon Road
       Their rising prosperity encouraged other Chinese immigrants, who knew they would be accepted and assisted by the Chiang Mai Chinese community, as well as draw credit support from their connections in Bangkok.  When the Warorot area became congested, the Chinese community expanded north, past the Nakhon Ping Bridge to the Muang Mai market area, today mainly a food market, open all night.
Chinese specialities on Chang Moi Road
       While it was a very tight community, it did not remain a purely Chinese one.  The majority of the immigrants were male, so there was a shortage of ethnic Chinese brides.  Many of them took Thai wives, though in this highly patriarchal society their children identified as Chinese, even in later decades when they used the Thai language domestically more than one of the Chinese dialects.  The men of the Jin Haw community, augmented by ex-caravan members, sometimes married women of the Muslim Malay and Bengali communities, from colonial Malaysia and Burma, who began arriving in Chiang Mai in the early 20th century.
       Now in the 21st century the Chinese no longer control the Chiang Mai economy as extensively as they did in the past.  Yet they are still the most important players, expanding into real estate and banking in recent decades.  The Warorot and Muang Mai neighborhoods are still dominated by Thai-Chinese and the markets there are quite active, even with the modern competition of shopping malls and supermarkets. 
scribe writing messages to gods and ancestors
a well-known symbol of China
       A big, red wooden gate on Chiang Moi Road, about a block west of the Ping River, marks the entrance to Chiang Mai’s Chinatown, otherwise known as Warorot or Kad Luang.  Typical Chinese-style, curly-headed stone lions, like the kind commonly mounted in front of bank buildings, stand at the base on each side of the gate.   All kinds of shops and sidewalk stalls exist in this area, both inside and outside the covered markets, selling all kinds of products, including those traditionally marketed by Chinese merchants, like temple and festival decorations, herbal medicines and the numerous gold jewelry shops.
       On Kuangmane Road, the first lane to the right down Chang Moi Road after passing through the gate, stands the most venerable Chinese temple, a rather simple structure with yellow walls and tiled roofs, upturned at the corners in the typical Chinese style.  In more recent decades, Chinese residents have built two more temples in the Muang Mai area and quite a fancy one on the riverside road past the flower market.
stage performance on Kuangmane Road
singer in classical Chinese costume
       Called Pung Tao Gong, this is the moat outstanding Chinese temple in the Kad Luang area, with most of its buildings added in the 21st century;  the gate, a two-tiered pavilion within and a seven-tiered pagoda with a ceramic vase on top.  Dragons flank the tops of the entry gate and pavilion, writhe around a tall pole in the courtyard and the pillars of the entrance gate and flank the way to the altar inside the main temple building.  The deities within are mostly Taoist ones but a small shrine to the right houses a Thai Buddha statue as well as a Chinese bodhisattva image.
       Besides new temples in Warorot and other sites, the other main development in the Chinese community this century has been an increasing ethnic awareness, resulting in a much more enthusiastic celebration of traditional Chinese holidays, Lunar New Year in particular.  Kad Luang holds three days of celebrations.  The streets are closed off to vehicular traffic and stalls go up all the way down Chang Moi road and on WIchayanon Road between the two covered markets of Warorot and Tonlamyai.
Chinese opera performance, 2014
       Red lanterns saturate the whole area, suspended above the streets, strung on poles, hanging in front of the temples and flanking food stalls in the streets.  Tables and chairs, set up in the middle of the street, provide convenient places to dine on the meals, drinks and snacks offered in the rows of stalls on either side.  A couple tables on Chang Moi Road are reserved for a checkers tournament.
       Besides the special foods, stalls also market clothing, lanterns, jewelry, handicrafts and dolls.  The red color also dominates the people’s clothing, from the red t-shirts worn by dragon dance teams and shop workers to the high-collared, side-fastened, red and gold Chinese dresses, with split sides, donned by the women.  There’s lots of selfie action these days by folks dressed in their festival best.
       Beyond shopping and eating, entertainment also draws people to Kad Luang.  Until a new coffee shop replaced it, a stage opposite Pung Tao Gong featured classical Chinese opera performances at night.  These have disappeared from the program, but in some years a small stage goes up at the end of Kuangmane Road to hold afternoon shows of classical dances and songs.  Temporary bamboo gates are also erected on this lane for the occasion.
Chinese opera character
pole-dancing, dragon-style
       At the corner of Chang Mai and Wichayanon Roads, during the festival a red stage becomes the venue for a beauty contest, with the competitors dressed in classical silk dresses and elaborate headdresses in the Qing Dynasty style.  Singers and dancers also perform here, but the show ends rather early the night before New Year as attention shifts to the dragon dances whirling around in the plaza in front of the stage.
       A dozen or so team members prop up each of the two dragons as they cavort in the street accompanied by two lions, one red, one yellow.  After this the lions perform separately and in the final act one of the dragons climbs a pole and spouts fireworks and flames from its mouth when it reaches the top.
lion dancer inside Warorot Market
       On New Year’s afternoon a dragon and the two lions emerge from a lane near the Kad Luang Gate and head for the market.  Their purpose is to collect donations from the shop and stall keepers, so they don’t perform any dance.  However, they enter the Warorot covered market and make a route through most of its lanes and even the dining area downstairs.  When they pause, people place money in the dragon’s mouth or tie banknotes to one of the strings making up its beard.  In return, the dragon master severs beard strings to give the donor as a souvenir.  The procession lasts two hours and makes numerous stops, especially at the gold shops.
       At night song and dance performances take place again on the stage.  One or two acrobatic acts or kungfu demonstrations might add variety to the stage entertainment, which is augmented in the evening by a burst of fireworks illuminating the sky behind the stage. 
       The day after New Year is more subdued.  The street stalls are still up and busy and some shows are on stage again after dark.  But many shops in the lanes close for the day for their proprietors and employees to spend time with their families.  New Year activities—renewing kinship ties, venerating gods and ancestors and putting their ethnic identity on display with decorations, dances and temple action—come to a close.  The rest of the year the Chinese community reverts to its principal pre-occupations of business and making money.

the dragon collecting donations inside Warorot Market
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Friday, February 2, 2018

Tiger-Eaters of Lincang

                                    by Jim Goodman
Lahu women on the road near Nanmei
       Lincang Prefecture in southwest Yunnan is one of the least explored parts of the province.  Counties in the south are home to sizable Dai and Wa communities, as well as smaller groups of De’ang, Lahu, Yi and Bulang.  But the northern half of the prefecture, and Lincang city itself, are generally ignored because travelers assume there is nothing interesting in the area.
       Lincang city, known locally by its original name Fengxiang, lies south of the confluence of the Nanding and West Rivers.  At 1450 meters altitude, the city rises on a low hill south of the river junction.  Streets branching off the main north-south street feature still traditional Han shop-houses when I visited several years ago, but most buildings elsewhere, like the Grand Hotel, administrative centers and the central bank, were very modern, with little in the way of Chinese motifs, more influenced by the Shanghai European style.
bank in Lincang city
       The only truly attractive area was South Gate Park in the southwest quarter.  The upper part is devoted to children’s rides and playgrounds, but even here are places where musicians set up to play, while further on is a two-story old-fashioned teahouse , divided into several small, classical style rooms with elegant furniture and ink-brush paintings on the walls.  Nearby is a pond with pavilions and an arched bridge.
       Just above the pond is a small zoo.  On display were a pair of tigers and black bears, two pairs of different kinds of wolves, four red pandas and a meter-long, web-footed, yellow-toothed badger or gopher that I didn't recognize.  The aviary featured griffons, cranes, wild chickens, guinea fowl, peacocks and golden pheasants.
traditional teahouse in South Gate Park
       After a day checking out yet another major Yunnan city, I set out on an excursion to Nanmei Autonomous Lahu District, 48 km west along a high road that followed the West River to its source and the turned south.  The road still kept to the high side of the Dananmei River, which flowed far below and divided the hill settlements of the local Lahu.  The minibus from Lincang that ran the route to Nanmei once every afternoon and returned to Lincsng in mid-morning, dropped me off in the township headquarters, a small place of a school, hospital and several modern government buildings and not a single hotel.  Fellow riders on the bus  kindly arranged for me to stay in the lower floor of a restaurant, where they had a single bed and a toilet down the hall.
musician in South Gate Park
red panda in the park zoo
       Having spotted a couple of Lahu women on the way in, and noticing they were dressed in traditional clothing, I set out for the nearest village, just 2 km north.  In contrast to the administrative center, all the Lahu houses around here were all in the traditional style, of brick and wood with balconies, railed or fenced, on the upstairs floor, sitting on the ground on the ground for the most part, though a couple were raised on low stone piles, with wood tile or corrugated iron roofs. 
morning clouds over Nanmei Valley
No temples or churches existed anywhere, though a few field shrines were visible scattered among the heavily terraced slopes.  The road runs evenly along the ridge for several kilometers at an altitude of 1900 meters.  The terraces dominate the slopes on the western side all the way down to the river and a few villages lie near the river on both sides of it.  Occasional groves of trees, especially downhill closer to the river, separate the terraced sections.
       This village seems to be the ceremonial center for the Lahu communities in the vicinity.  The entrance at the front consists of long twin stone staircases, with a row of stone blocks running between them and a small water-wheel sculpture halfway to the top.  A big mortar bowl sits at the foot of one staircase, though made of concrete, and a wooden gateway with an overhead horizontal beam rises above the first steps.  
Lahu woman at home
smoking on the road
       Past the water-wheel sculpture the stairway ascends more steeply to end at a square at the beginning of the settled area.  The village meeting hall sits here, a very wide building on stone piles, with walls of plaited split bamboo and lots of tables and chairs inside.  An enclosed pond lies beside it, decorated with a small water-wheel model, though not in actual use.  In fact, I didn’t see any other water-wheels in the area, nor any streams near their fields, where water-wheels might have been used.  Perhaps it was a cultural symbol, a relic of earlier centuries when they lived on the plains.
Nanmei village gate
       The villagers didn’t seem disturbed by a foreigner in their midst, just carried on with their daily chores, like preparing a slaughtered pig or embroidering cloth.  They were polite and didn’t mind my interruption or taking photos, but did not invite me in for a drink, the way the Wa and Yi did everywhere I met them in the prefecture, nor initiate any conversation.
       Nanmei district is one of the more northern areas of Lahu habitation.  During the Han Dynasty a proto-Lahu people known as the Kunmings occupied the pastoral areas further north around contemporary Dali.  The Lahu evolved out of this ethnic group and were famous hunters in the Wuliang Mountains, noted for their skill at killing tigers.  The name ‘Lahu’ actually means ‘tiger-eater’ and until today the Dai and other neighbors, both in Yunnan and in Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, generally refer to them not as Lahu but as ‘Museur’—hunter.
village pond and meeting hall
       As a consequence of the rise of the Nanzhao Kingdom in the 8th century, the Lahu were forced out of the plains and moved south to live in the hills.  About 460.000 now reside in Yunnan, in Lincang, Pu’er, Xishuangbanna and Honghe prefectures.  They are divided into several sub-groups, named after the prominent color of the traditional women’s clothing.  I don’t know whether the Nanmei district Lahu were called the Blue Lahu, but that color dominated the female clothing components, being the basic background color
       They wore a long-sleeved, side-fastened coat that reached to the calves and was split on both sides.  Under this they wore a blouse, knee-length shorts and leg-wrappers.  Most jackets were a medium blue, with some older women preferring black.  They were heavily trimmed with bands of embroidery or thin, appliquéd cloth strips of bright colors on the cuffs, hems, collar, lapel and shoulder blades. 
woman smoker and her long pipe
taking a break on market day
       Their shorts were similarly enhanced around the knees and the leg wrappers even more so.  Like the coats, they revealed individual characteristics that were still recognizably the local Lahu style.  They could be folded over at the top, studded with little silver discs or completely appliquéd.  Most women tucked the front flap of their jackets into their waistbands to better show off the shorts and leg-wrappers and their embellishments more clearly.  A few dressed without the leg-wrappers.
       There seemed to be no uniformity to the headgear.  Most simply wrapped their hair in a headscarf.  Some piled their hair into a cone and wrapped a peaked white cloth around it, which draped on each side to the shoulders, and kept it in place with a colored cloth around the brow.  The most common jewelry was big silver hoop earrings.  A few wore silver bangles, but the Lahu around Nanmei were in general less ornamented than other ethnic minorities in Yunnan. 
example of Lahu leg-wrappers
coming into the market
       Back in Nanmei town there is nothing to do at night, for both shops and restaurants close a couple hours after dark.  I ate dinner just after sunset, then retired to my room for the night and woke early to see the morning cloudlets that floated just above the valley.  I was wondering what I should do today, whether it would be worth it to hike down to the villages close to the river just to see if daily life there was any different from that in the nearby villages I had already visited.
       Then I noticed tables and stalls being set up in the central square.  Gangai?” I asked one of the men involved.  Dui,” he replied.  Yes, it was market day, held in Nanmei every five days I later learned.  So I stayed another day and night.  Villagers began streaming into Nanmei from about 8:30, from both the north and south directions.  Like market days elsewhere in Yunnan, women constituted at least 80% of those in attendance.  And in Nanmei they were manly consumers, for only a few ran stalls themselves or brought goods in to sell.  The Han were the sellers.
Lahu women in the Nanmei market
       No other minority nationality lives in the district, so those attending were nearly all Lahu, mostly females and all dressed up in their finest traditional garments for the occasion.  The parameters of the distinctive local style allow for much individuation in the trimmings and embellishments.  No two outfits were alike.  Sometimes the headscarves resembled others, sometimes not.  Teenaged girls left their hair uncovered.  The hoop earrings were the same on those who wore them, but otherwise the cut of the clothing components was standard, but the colors, embroidery, use of silver studs and colors for the appliquéd strips differed completely from one female to another.
       Lahu mall ales were a small part of the crowd and did not wear anything especially traditional.  Boys and young men dressed in ordinary modern clothes, while older men wore dark blue jackets and trousers.   The women provided the color and to an outside observer like myself, Nanmei on market day was like an ethnic fashion parade.
stalls set up for Nanmei's market day
       By mid-morning the streets were getting crowded, though it was never very congested.  Red umbrellas stood over a line of stalls along the street south of the square and Lahu women browsed them individually or in small groups.  Merchants sold rice, vegetables and their seeds, thread, strips of embroidered or appliquéd cloth, shoes, spices and tobacco, the latter being one of the most popular items.
       Along with rice and maize, tobacco is one of the main crops in the Nanmei area.  And the Lahu love smoking, especially the women.  Using small pipes with very long, thin bamboo stems, they smoke while walking to the market and continue puffing away while ambling around the stalls.  Older men use pipes with shorter stems, while younger ones prefer cigarettes.  Only among the Wa had I witnessed such a large percentage of women smokers; in Nanmei virtually every woman over thirty.
       In keeping with the traditional look, the women carried pack baskets of woven split bamboo, made by the men of their household, to bring in or take back their goods.  A few women led ponies, but other than chickens, these were the only animals in town that day.   There was no buffalo, cattle or pig market.  Except for a couple small noodle stands and one fellow selling steamed buns, the market didn’t have any place offering a decent meal.  I went back to the restaurant where I was lodging for lunch, then returned to the market to find it just as active, and just as leisurely as before. 
teenaged Lahu girl
young Lahu woman in the market
       No haggling took place at the stalls.  Nobody seemed to be in any kind of hurry, either.  Women chatted with each other a long time while they examined thread, bolts of cloth or sacks of tobacco.  I slipped into the same relaxed, laid back mood myself.  If someone got in the way when I was trying to photograph a Lahu woman, I didn’t bother to jump up and go pursue the shot.  Another photogenic lady will come along, or maybe the other one will return.  Nobody shunned the camera or gestured against me or, for that matter, paid me any attention at all, men included.
       The square remained crowded past two p.m. and then began gradually thinning.  By 4:30 the stalls and umbrellas came down and the last Lahu shoppers slung their baskets of goods over their backs and headed home to their villages.  It was not the usual kind of market day experience for me, even in other parts of Lincang prefecture, where local minorities approached me for a brief conversation or even invited me for a snack or a drink to continue the encounter.  Yet it was still quite enjoyable, if only for the plethora of traditional clothing. 
Lahu women at a market stall
Lahu woman and her pipe
       It was also an example of the uneven influence of modernization on Yunnan’s traditional cultures.  Nanmei is not a remote outpost like in the past.  Good roads connect it to Lincang and some of the Lahu make the journey to the city on their motorbikes.  The district has electricity in all the villages, televisions in the homes, government offices and a school in town—all the right influences that have elsewhere eroded traditional customs and practices. 
        Yet the Lahu in Nanmei are far less affected by these developments. They accept modern improvements in their lives, but have retained everything in their culture that makes them distinctly Lahu.  There must be more places like that in Yunnan, waiting to be discovered and appreciated.  I’m hoping I find them
Lahu women going home after market day
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Nanmei is the last stop on Delta Tours Vietnam’s journey through Xishuangbanna and the Wa Hills.  See the itinerary at


Monday, January 15, 2018

Qujing to Zhaotong: a Look at Northeast Yunnan

                                    by Jim Goodman

Qujing's reconstructed ancient gate
       Throughout the 90s I made repeated excursions to Yunnan province, fascinated everywhere I went.  By the end of the decade the only area I hadn’t visited was the northeast-- Qujing and Zhaotong prefectures.  Little information was available, for neither place drew tourists in significant numbers.  Those looking for something different from the ordinary Yunnan itinerary might venture to the Colored Sand Forest or the Duoyi River area, home to the Buyi minority, both in Qujing.  Zhaotong was only a stopover for those coming to Yunnan from Sichuan or Guizhou.    
       A new highway has opened in 1999, so the journey from Kunming only took two hours.  Qujing lies on one of the broadest plains in Yunnan and is the province’s second largest city, after Kunming.  The prefecture was one of the earliest settlement zones for Han immigrants, even long before the Ming Dynasty officially sponsored migration. 
Ashima and Ahei statue
       The city was clean and well laid out, but nearly every building was new and in modern style.  No traditional neighborhood of wooden shop-houses flanked the business district, as in Yuxi and Kunming.  The residents seemed to be all Han and I spotted several old-fashioned elderly women wearing turbans, embroidered bibs, plain aprons and embroidered shoes.   Some attempt had been made to give the city a Chinese look, with traditional pavilions and bridges in the parks and the impressive recreation of the South Gate, erected in the mid-90s. 
the park at  historic Liaokuoshan
       The gate, with its massive, two-tiered tower, stood at what was then the southern city limit, in a park decorated with flower gardens and fountain and flanked by a stream.  The wall extends about 40 meters each side of the entrance, with watchtowers at each end.  At night, lights illuminated the fountain and gate.
       The main east-west street—Qilinlu—is named after the city’s mythical mascot the unicorn (qilin).  In fact, the city is more commonly referred to by residents as Qilin.  At the eastern roundabout stands a statue of the Unicorn Fairy, holding a pitcher of pouring water.  Further up, at the western roundabout, was a statue of the Sani Yi heroine Ashima, riding a horse with her brother Ahei behind, using his bow and arrow against the enemy. 
Meng Huo and Zhuge Liang toasting their agreement
       For me this was an odd statue to see, being familiar with the Sani story already.  Both figures wore the faces of grim and resolute determination, very much in the old socialist-realist style. According to the myth, the two were actually fleeing in terror from a demon chief who had tried to abduct Ashima.  He subsequently used his magic power to thrust up the stone pillars of the Stone Forest and then sent a flood through it to drown her and her brother.  And anyway, that all happened in an area far from Qujing and no Sani Yi lived in the prefecture. 
       While its connections to the famous Sani myth are suspect, Qujing historically was the site of two important events in Chinese history, both taking place in Baishijiang, just north of the city.  In the 3rd century Three Kingdoms wars, upon the death of the western state of Shu Han’s leader Liu Bei in 223, revolts broke out in Nanzhong, corresponding to today’s southern Sichuan and most of Yunnan.  Shu Han’s chancellor Zhuge Liang, led his Southern Expedition to quell the revolt, but in a manner that would win the hearts and minds of the people.
Duoyihe RIver and village
Buyi girl near Duoyihe
       His final opponent was the popular tribal leader Meng Huo.  According to legend, and the 14th century Three Kingdoms novel, six times Zhuge Liang captured Meng Huo, but when the latter refused to admit defeat, he let him go and try again.  On the seventh capture Meng Huo submitted.  The victor offered him palatable terms.  Meng Huo acknowledged Shu Han’s sovereignty and agreed to send regular tribute.  In return, he remained in charge of internal affairs.  This was the forerunner to the modern policy of autonomous areas in areas dominated by non-Han peoples.
Jinji Peaks in Luoping County
       A broad stone relief sculpture of the event stands at Baishijiang today.  The central panel depicts Zhuge Liang and Menghuo toasting their agreement.  Other panels render scenes of Shu Han troops, bull fights and other Yi customs.
       Over a millennium later, the Ming Dynasty launched a campaign in 1381 to expel the remnant Yuan Dynasty forces from Yunnan, their last refuge in China.  Dispatching 300,000 Han and Hui troops against the Mongol and local Hui forces, the final battle in January 1382 took place on the same field at Baishijiang.   The Ming side annihilated its opponents.  The last Yuan survivors held out briefly at Liaokuoshan, a wooded hill that is  now the city’s largest and finest park, outside the southwest corner of the city, for just a few days longer. That was the end of Yuan resistance and the hill’s name translates as Peak of Victory.
Jiulong Waterfalls, Luoping Coiunty
       No memorial of any kind exists around Baishijiang commemorating this event, which marked the final triumph of the Ming Dynasty over all of China.  Two relics of earlier periods, however, in the form of inscribed stone steles, stand in pavilions in the courtyard of the No. 1 Middle School.  The earlier, dated 404, is famed for its calligraphy, supposedly a transition from the ancient style to the contemporary.  The other, erected by the King of Dali in 937, records details of the state’s eastern expedition and lists its tribal allies.
Qianfota, Luliang
       Among its natural features, Qujing Prefecture is the site of the origin of the Pearl River, 47 km north of the capital in Luyi County.  The source is a spring, the waters directed into the Huashan reservoir.  It wasn’t very impressive, but other places in the prefecture, particularly Luoping County in the southeast, certainly are.  The most extensive scenic area is near the junction of Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces, marked by steep limestone mountains, with one range named the Sea of Ten Thousand Forested Peaks.  The lovely Duoyi River valley lies near here, with its numerous water-wheels and friendly Buyi ethnic minority and the Lubu artificial lake, created by filling in a gorge.
       About 12 km east of Luoping is the county’s most famous natural attraction—the Jinji Peaks, a broad cluster of small hills dotting the plain south of the highway.  They are not very tall, averaging 200 meters, nor irregular in shape.  But spaced close to each other over a wide and utterly flat plain they make an appealing sight, especially in February and March when the canola flowers (also called rapeseed flowers) carpet the plain in bright yellow.  Hordes of tourists show up to photograph the landscape.  
central Zhaotong, 1999
       After another 20 km or so the highway comes to a junction turning north.  After a route through pleasant rural scenery several km this branch road terminates at Jiulong Waterfalls, the widest and most visited falls in the province.  The cataracts spill over two broad ledges about 8-10 meters high and perhaps 20 meters apart.  Forested hills provide the backdrop.
       A different kind of mountain attraction exists west of Luoping, in Shizong County.  Lying 30 km from the county seat, it’s called Mushroom Mountain after the abundance of edible mushrooms growing there, especially in rainy season.  In the center of Shizong itself stands the White Pagoda, with nine tiers and a column of dark, arched windows on each of its eight sides.  In the western suburbs lies the Xihua Temple, a large complex of buildings originally constructed in 1610.
traditional-style Han in Zhaotong
Miao herbal doctor in Zhaotong
       The next city west, Luliang, had some quiet, old-style neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and wooden shop-houses back then. In the southern suburbs is the Dajiao Temple, a Ming Dynasty compound erected four years after Shizong's Xihuasi.  The temple itself is a modestly decorated building.  But the compound contains one of Yunnan's most interesting pagodas--the Thousand Buddha Pagoda (Qianfota).   Seven stories tall on a hexagonal base and pale yellow-white in color, the pagoda gets its name because of the thousand square niches on its exterior walls, each of them containing a small Buddha image.
Zhaotong old town, 1999
       To get to Zhaotong from Qujing I traveled via Weining in Guizhou, with a stop at Xuanwei en route.  Lishan, at 2678 meters the highest mountain in Qujing Prefecture, towers just north of the city.  Xuanwei was famous for its ham, but not interesting otherwise.  Neither was Weining and its cement buildings and much of it under construction.   Weining is a Yi, Hui and Miao Autonomous County, but I didn’t see anyone dressed in clothing associated with any of the three, neither in the city nor on the road out to Zhaotong next day.
       After the boring streets of Xuanwei and Weining, I found Zhaotong a pleasant city.  At that time the southern and western quarters were all modernized, but traditional architecture, markets and lifestyle still dominated the northern and eastern quarters.  The city had a strong Hui presence, indicated by the mosque standing above the neighborhood houses at the southeast entrance to the city.  A tall sculpture of a black-necked crane, the city mascot, stood on a pedestal near the man bus station.
basket shop in the old town
       The former old town, little of which remains, comprised wooden shop-houses down narrow lanes, brick and tile private dwellings, shops selling the whole range of split bamboo handicrafts, from furniture to winnowing trays, or ceramic vessels.  Though the buildings lacked the carved embellishments once replete in Kunming's old town, they did create a setting of Old China.  Traffic was largely pedestrian, plus some three-wheeled pedicabs with bright yellow frames and fenders.  The traditional feel of the area was augmented by the old-fashioned clothing style favored by the older generations of the Han--women in big turbans, side-fastened jackets and long aprons; men in ankle-length, side-fastened coats, slit on the sides, with long wispy beards on their chins.  They were the only ones in town dressed in traditional style, save for a few Miao women marketing herbal medicines and Hui women in white headscarves.
old houses in Zhaotong,1999
       The old town and new city meet in the north at the Qingguanting Park.  Just inside the entrance is the modest but attractive Qingguan Pavilion, of gray brick and red wood, beside a big tree next to a small pond.  It was built in 1809 and is the one  major historical structure extant in the city.  A stream from this pond passes into an adjacent park under an arched bridge to a larger pond, with a long pavilion and rest-house beside it. 
       Most of the prefecture’s population is Han, both in the towns and the countryside.  Besides the Hui in the towns and in some plains villages, the more mountainous districts are home to Yi and Miao.  They are not as colorful as their counterparts elsewhere in the province and have assimilated much to modern Han culture.  Most Miao and some Yi became Christian after vigorous American missionary efforts in the Nationalist period.  Coincidentally, at that time the province was under the control of Long Yun, a Yi warlord born in Zhaotong.
Qingguan Pavilion, Shaotong
       North of the city the mountains rise quite steeply.  Having time for but one excursion I opted for Daguan, 63 km north.  But that was the year new roads were under construction all over Yunnan and the normal route to Daguan was closed.  My ride instead was a long bumpy, 170 km detour via Yilong Country, then east and north again and finally, 12 hours later, I arrived in Daguan.  The city is on a spur beside a river, but 300 steep meters above it.  No parks or old quarter existed, but the location was superb, backed by high mountains, the slopes studded with Miao villages.
       The reason to be in Daguan was to see the Huanglian Falls, several km south of the town and a wonderful morning walk with views of steep, majestic, jagged mountains all around.  Paths in the park led in several directions among the different cataracts.  A few of these tumble from high precipices.  Others seem to have been artificially directed, like the one that passes over a ledge where one can walk and see the waterfall from the inside.  Another path leads to a cave with three elephant statues at the entrance and illuminated stalactites within.  One path leads to a viewpoint high above the cataracts, while another branches off to the Miao villages.  The area is thickly forested and full of flowers in the spring.
terrcaed cataract of Huanlian falls
Huanglian Falls and its forest
Following this pleasure I took an overnight bus back to Kunming, over the same slow, grueling detour.  Our early morning stop was somewhere in northern Qujing Prefecture.  Before me stretched a landscape of relatively barren auburn hills and rich reddish soil freshly plowed in the nearest fields.  It was not the best place to see this Yunnan phenomenon, yet a reminder of other attractions in northeast Yunnan.  There were still scenic spots and ethnic minority districts I had not yet visited.  As with every other part of Yunnan, a first look just provoked ambitions to see more.

red soil landscape in northwest Qujing
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