Though the plains of Yunnan were originally the home to numerous aboriginal tribes, Chinese invasions over several centuries pushed them into mountainous areas, where many ethnic groups, direct descendants of those original tribes live today. The powerful Tai kingdom of Nanchao held sway over Yunnan for 247 years, during the Tang dynasty (AD 618-907), but was replaced by the Dali Kingdom in 937AD. For 300 years, Dali ruled supreme until, in 1253, in was over-run by Kublai Khan's Mongol hordes and assimilated into his growing empire.
The take-over turned out to have many positive effects. The capital was moved to Kunming, trade with the rest of the empire stimulated the local economy, living standards improved, and ethnic relations harmonised. Kunming had become a prosperous city by the time Marco Polo arrived, and was renowned for its skilled craftsmen.
During the 14th century, several hundred thousand troops, civilians, and officials were despatched to the province by the Ming Court to set up military outposts and reclaim land. Agriculture, mining, and social development all benefited from the influx of expertise. In the mid-17th century, Manchurian troops occupied most of the central areas of China, and the Qing Dynasty took the reigns of power in Yunnan. China's national power was weakened after it lost the Opium War in 1840, and Yunnan was yielded to British and French imperialism - the French building the Hanoi-Kunming railway line to exploit the province's resources. The British occupied territory in northwestern Yunnan, and forced China to concede territory in what is now the Myanmar state of Kachin.
During the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), manufacturing, education and government bodies moved to Kunming, promoting the growth of industry and the development of natural resources. Kunming became major US Air Force base during WWII, and Yunnan was a main transit route for allied supplies.
On October 1, 1949, Mao Tse Tung announced the founding of the People's Republic of China and Yunnan was peacefully taken over by Red Army troops under General Lu Han on December 9, 1949. In March 1950, the People's Government of Yunnan Province was established.
The Cultural Revolution and the Second Indochina War were both trying times for the province, but - as with many periods in its history - after taking the knocks, the province has come back stronger than ever. Large-scale economic development has taken place and great efforts have been made to increase trading capacity, stabilise prices, and enhance living standards in both urban and rural areas. With its forward-looking policies, natural resources, physical beauty and tourist potential, Yunnan is set for an impressive future.