Yunnan – Half a World from Beijing

Yunnan is home to 24 of China's 55 ethnic minorities and to a third of China's non-Han population. Nearly half of the province's population of over 45 million is non-Han.

Yunnan has been part of China since the mid-1200s when Kublai Kahn overthrew the Song Dynasty. He brought Yunnan under the rule of his Yuan Dynasty and, in the process, made China bigger than ever before.

Over hundreds of years the country's various central governments have made erratic efforts to Sinicize Yunnan. But despite these efforts, ethnic minority people in numerous pockets of the province resisted Han influence. Especially in remote areas along the mountainous western border, minority people retained strong local cultural identities.

During the Cultural Revolution there was a renewed effort to stamp out ethnic cultural identity and bring all of China under a common Han cultural identity. Since the beginning of 'reform and opening up' in 1978, the central government has taken a different tack.

Today the Chinese government permits and even encourages ethnic minorities to practice their traditions, wear their traditional dress, speak their languages and celebrate their festivals as long as they don’t challenge the national unity. But it is an unwritten rule that no ethnic minority may revive traditional practices at odds with prevailing social norms.

Current government policy views Yunnan's ethnic minorities as a valuable tourist attraction. The province's advertising, directed primarily at tourists from other parts of China, presents its ethnic minorities alongside other scenic attractions.

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