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(Simplified Chinese: ; Traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Ynnn; literally "south of the clouds") is a province of the People's Republic of China located in the far southwestern corner of the country. Yunnan borders Tibet to the northwest, Sichuan to the north, Guizhou to the northeast and Guangxi to the east. It also contains China's borders with a number of southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. The provincial capital city is Kunming.

Yunnan has earned fame for the natural beauty of its setting from the 1936 book Lost Horizon by James Hilton.The beautiful mountain setting with meadows and fields make the location a place of peace and tranquility. Tibetan monks have practiced their religion in Shangri-la, establishing the Gedan Sumtse Ling Monastery in 1679 as well as Tibetan villages throughout the region. Yunnan enjoys independence by virtue of its distance from the centers of power in China. Bordering Tibet, Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar, in addition sitting in proximity with India, opens the province to migration of people and ideas. The disadvantage of remoteness from the capital of China is neglect. Yunnan suffers for dire poverty in a number of its districts.


Snowy mountains in Diqing, north-west Yunnan.
Snowy mountains in Diqing, north-west Yunnan.
Lugu Lake, northern Yunnan.
Lugu Lake, northern Yunnan.

Yunnan lies on China's southwest border, with the Tropic of Cancer running through its southern part. It has an area of 394,000 square km, which is about 4.1 percent of the nation's total. The northern part of the province is part of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau. The highest point in the north is the Kawagebo Peak in Deqin County on the Diqing Plateau, which is about 6,740 meters high; and the lowest is in the Honghe River Valley in Hekou County, with an elevation of 76.4 meters.

Yunnan has sufficient rainfall and many rivers and lakes. The annual water flow originating in the province is 200 cubic kilometers, three times that of the Yellow River. The rivers flowing into the province from outside add 160 cubic kilometers, which means there are more than ten thousand cubic meters of water for each person in the province. This is four times the average in the country.

The province is drained by six major river systems. The Yangtze, known as the Jinsha Jiang (River of Golden Sands) in Yunnan, drains the province's north. The Pearl River, with its source near Qujing, collects the waters from the east. The Mekong River, which flows from Tibet into the South China Sea, forms the boundaries between Laos and Myanmar and Laos and Thailand, and eventually flows through Cambodia and Vietnam. The Red River has its source in the mountains south of Dali and enters the South China Sea through Hanoi, Vietnam's capital city. Finally, the Irrawaddy River has a few small tributaries in Yunnan's far west, including the Dulongjiang River, and a few other rivers in the prefecture of Dehong.


Yunnan's four pillar industries include tobacco, biology, mining, and tourism. The province mainly exports tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment, chemical and agricultural products, and non-ferrous metals. In terms of agriculture, Yunnan's major crops are rice, maize, wheat, tuber crops, peas and beans, rapeseed, peanuts, tobacco, tea, cotton, sugar-cane, and various fruits.

More than 150 kinds of minerals have been discovered in the province. Some 13 percent of the proved deposits of minerals are the largest of their kind in China, and two-thirds of the deposits are among the largest of their kind in the Yangtze River valley and in south China. Yunnan ranks first in the country in deposits of zinc, lead, tin, cadmium, indium, and thallium. The potential value of the proven deposits in Yunnan is 3 trillion yuan, 40 percent of which come from fuel minerals, 7.3 percent from metallic minerals, and 52.7 percent from nonmetallic minerals. The rich water resources in the province also offer abundant hydro-energy resources.

A canal in Kunming
A canal in Kunming

Largely due to its isolation from China's political and economic centers along the coast, Yunnan is one of the country's most undeveloped provinces with more poverty-stricken counties than any of the others. In 1994, about 7 million people lived below the poverty line of less than an annual average income of 300 yuan per capita. They were mainly distributed in the province's 73 counties and financially supported by the central government. With an input of 3.15 billion yuan in 2002, the absolutely poor rural population in the province has been reduced from 4.05 million in 2000 to 2.86 million. This poverty alleviation plan includes five large projects aimed at improving infrastructure facilities. They involve soil improvement, water conservation, electric power, roads, and "green belt" buildings. Upon the completion of the various projects, the province should be able to solve its shortages of grain, water, and electric power, and substantially improve its roads and ecological conditions.

Yunnan's nominal GDP in 2006 was 400.2 billion yuan (US$51.7 billion), with an annual growth rate of 11.9 percent. Its per capita GDP was 8,961 yuan (US$1,160). The share of GDP of Yunnan's primary, secondary, and tertiary industries were 21.1 percent, 42.8 percent, and 36.1 percent respectively. In 2002, its total two-way trade (imports and exports) reached US$2.23 billion. In 2002, the province also signed foreign direct investment contracts involving US$333 million, of which US$112 million were actually utilized during the year. Yunnan has trade contacts with more than seventy countries and regions in the world, and it also plans to establish the Muse border trade zone (located in Ruili) along its border with Myanmar, which should boost the provincial economy and increase economic ties between the two countries.

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