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Kunming in the New York Times: 'China Lite'

By in Features on

The New York Times travel section has run a piece about Kunming's recent changes and its ability to keep its identity. Entitled 'China Lite', the story also explores Kunming's unique identity vis-à-vis other Chinese cities.

Times contributor Sean Rocha, who had last visited the Spring City in 1994, seems to have a good perspective on how despite the changes to the city's hardware (ie demolition and the rapid entree of globalization into the city), the software remains essentially the same:

"Yet as I lingered in Kunming recently, I found that despite all the changes, it has remained one of the most laid-back and least money-oriented cities in the country, with a more civilized pace and a more freewheeling, bohemian atmosphere..."

The 'China Lite' title of the story is apparently inspired by a quote from former Kunming resident Lee Perkins who refers to Kunming as 'the un-China'. Reflecting on Kunming's location at the crossroads of Han China and the 25 minority ethnicities in Yunnan province, Perkins muses that "Kunming is for people who don't want too much China with their China."

The article also mentions people and places that are already well-known among Kunming residents (and GoKunming readers): Cuihu Park, Salvador's Coffee House, Yuansheng Studio, Tang Renti, Wheatfields Bookstore, Gingko Elite and Shiping Huiguan all receive some positive mentions - as does the night market scene outside the Xiao Ximen Wal-Mart.

As Kunming continues to grow in regional travel and commercial hub, it will undoubtedly garner increasing media exposure worldwide. Hopefully more of it will be balanced pieces such as this one.

Image: New York Times

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I think it depends on which China one wants. There is the China that is comprised primarily of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, etc. consisting of breakneck development, gridlock, highly-polluted air as well as access to most international products and services, and somewhat sophisticated infrastucture with prices to match. yet most Chinese do no live in places like that. Although there over a hundred cities with populations of 1 million or more, the vast majority of people live in tiny rural communities, doing subsistance farming and living in very poor conditions. Kunming is a city situated between the two extremes.

Kunming is also a compromise. The local government has great aspirations, but lack of a well educated population, lack of finances and the squandering of what funds are available has Kunming mired in pitifully overloaded infrastructure. The pace of life and the incomparable weather are what make Kunming such a livable city. Is this China Lite? I'm not sure, but I think it's much closer to the life for the majority of Chinese than the hustle and bustle of Beijing or Shanghai.

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