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2016: The Year in Review, part I

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The end of the year is a special time in which editors and writers around the world recycle content from the previous twelve months and repackage it as new. We at GoKunming are not above this practice. It's been a busy year here in Yunnan. News and events ranging from good to bad to befuddling have graced our front page. There were of course many encouraging bright spots as well that reminded us, once again, why we choose to call this corner of China home. So before delving into the uncharted territory of 2017, let's take a look back at the long and winding road that was 2016.


While 2016 may widely be seen as one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory — including political upsets, intensification of global climate change, and the deaths of major pop culture icons worldwide — in Yunnan, there has been some notable progress, making this area among China's more livable. Soon, high-speed rail lines will link Kunming with Shanghai in the east and Guangdong and Guangxi in the south. But back at the start of 2015, we began with positive news for tourism, when we learned that the historic Old Town of Shangri-la, the terminus of northwest Yunnan's tourist pilgrimage, re-opened two years after a conflagration swept through its vulnerable wooden structures. Just one day before Shangri-la old town began its comeback, the Stone Forest, an expansive array of Karst formations located outside of Kunming, reported the arrival of its four millionth visitor. Dali also received news of a tourism boost, with Yunnan's first skybridge opening on the Cangshan mountain range. Yunnan is rightfully famous for it's cultural as well as natural attractions. And in order to make sure that its status as one of China's most pristine and forested areas is maintained, the government invested massive amounts of money into expanding provincial woodlands. However, money continues to talk, as the massive open-pit gold mine between Lijiang and Dali clearly shows.

Bringing the focus back to the provincial capital, we went on a day trip to Kunming Waterfall Park before once again presenting the winners for our Best of Kunming Awards. Voting for Kunming's favorites was only one way Yunnan's opinionated netizens could share their views via the internet, and at the end of the month we examined online criticism of Yunnan's odd potato college. We live in a fascinating era in China's history, one in which the country depends not only on lightning-fast internet-connections to spread information, but also sleek high-speed railways to facilitate the movement of people. To that end, China and Laos agreed on a US$500 million railway loan. In addition to working on essential high-speed rail links, Yunnan showed other signs of its ambition to reach Beijing-set economic targets. However, long before the railroad era, Yunnan was connected to Tibet and central Asia via the ancient Tea Horse Road. As always, there was much more going on in Yunnan than transportation and economic development, and we featured several human interest pieces as well. One example was our revealing interview with tattoo artist Che. In another fine arts feature, we covered the exhibition of local artist Yuan Xiaocen. Soon creatives such as Che and Yuan, as well as tech-savvy entrepreneurs, will have a new section of town to innovate and develop their crafts at the revitalized 871 factories. As for music, we met with Beijing's Hutong Yellow Weasels who closed out January with an Appalachian-style barn dance.


To usher in the Year of the Monkey, we explored Jizu Mountain, with its scenic views, picturesque temples and immersive history. Another unique and much less-visited travel destination covered in February was the gorgeous Yading Nature Reserve. It was certainly cold up in those mountains, but 2016 was a particularly cold winter in Kunming anyway, and the trees and utilities suffered as a result. The Spring Festival holiday brought with it several dramatic news stories. Many were of high profile crimes — Kunming businessman Shan Jillian was arrested on fraud charges, a sizable drug smuggling syndicate was busted on the border with Myanmar, and 200 Kunming officials were reprimanded for corruption as part of President Xi Jinping's wide-ranging anti-graft campaign. But the government was not only active in snuffing out crime. Yunnan's provincial secretary made a landmark decision to protect the beautiful yet vulnerable Nujiang Canyon, and the provincial government pledged to spend 500 billion on roads. In addition to Chinese New Year, a number of minority celebrations were held during this time. These included the Jingpo people's Munao Zhongge Festival and the Miao Flower Mountain Festival in Wenshan. But the most remarkable cultural event of the month was the Dressing Up as Tigers celebration held in the Yi village of Wudi. February was a mostly bright beginning to the year of the Monkey in Yunnan, but international news was less positive, as dark political clouds loomed ironically over a summit between leaders from Southeast Asia and the United States.


We began the month with the soul-searching journey of a Flying Tiger's daughter, who visited her father's memorial 73 years after his death. The Flying Tigers were daring pioneers in Yunnan's history, but three quarters of a century later, there is still plenty to explore for everyone in the province. A hike up Luoping's Baila Mountain gave us a glimpse of a seldom-traversed range. Yunnan's varied landscapes are also some of the most biodiverse in China, and it wasn't much different in the age of the dinosaurs. In march, we had a chance to visit Yunnan's Jurassic Park in Lufeng, a short drive from Kunming. In spite of Yunnan's relatively unspoiled nature, we don't have many chances to see wildlife, but in mid-March monkey mayhem descended on downtown Kunming when a group of macaques escaped from the Kunming Zoo and roamed the city's streets. The fugitive monkeys were certainly adventurous, and, so it seemed, was a local women who ended up driving her two drunk companions into the Jinzhi river in a luxury car. 2016 bell weather year regarding progress in Yunnan's infrastructure, and in March we covered how a highway promises easier access to Meili Snow Mountain and how Kunming buses began installing wi-fi services. While convenient roads and mobile internet are no doubt important in modern society, a more significant achievement was made in the medical field, when a Yunnan institute created the world's first hand foot and mouth vaccine.

In the midst of these and numerous other developments, Shangri-la was still looking to bounce back just as another year's fire season began. For those interested in other rural locales, we went on a more low-key day-trip to Baisha and explored Xizhou as well. In an effort to preserve these and other beautiful places, the Mountain Futures Conference reminded us that shared water resources are incredibly precious. More light-hearted events of the month included the Yunnan Foreign Business Club charity event for Heart to Heart and China's annual twin extravaganza in Mojiang. There is always plenty happening in Yunnan, but we decided to get away for ten crazy days in Bangladesh. As it turned out, the experience wasn't as relaxing as expected, but offered plenty of memorable excitement. In a less positive travel experience, six Chinese nationals were wounded in an ambush in neighboring Laos. Two of our March stories showed that Yunnan plays a growing role on the international stage. As several Southeast Asian countries rely on water from the Lancang River, the Jinghong Dam released a month-long torrent aimed at easing a debilitating Southeast Asian drought. And it's not only Asian countries that have an interest in Yunnan's resources. Typifying this, we met with Italian Consul General Sergio Maffettone, who discussed Italy's business and tourism interests in the province.


As is customary, we delved into the origins of China's solemn Tomb Sweeping Festival, but in April we had plenty to report concerning the living culture of Yunnan. For those free spirits out there, we took a ride to Chenghai Lake and the Yangtze River, a journey which revealed a hidden turquoise gem located in a sparsely populated area outside Dali. Yunnan, at times, is a veritable museum art, and its home-grown musical group Shanren won national music competition Sing My Song. In the same vein, the third annual Spirit Tribe Trance celebration was held, and we Continued our journey through Yunnan's inexhaustible collection of cultural assets by exploring colonial French connections, as well as Miao and Yi culture in Mengzi. We also returned to Mojiang to look at preparations for the area's much-hyped International Twins Festival. April also brought positive news for environmental and sustainable development. We were encouraged to see that rare animals still live in southern Yunnan's virgin forests, while scientists at Yunnan Normal University helped develop solar cells that convert raindrops into electricity.

In a sign of further progress, Coca-Cola announced it would build a new eco-friendly bottling factory in Kunming. Apparently the province is preparing do be a major player in the future of plant species preservation, as China's largest seedbank looked to expand its already impressive inventory. Also with an eye on the possible future, the Kunming government built more than 200 earthquake shelters. The province's agricultural assets continued to attract new international investors, this time from Moët Hennessy, which debuted its first luxury wine made from locally grown grapes. In other agrarian news, the province's booming flower market, continued to blossom from ever-growing domestic and international demand. But Yunnan's comparative agricultural wealth could only go so far in protecting Kunming from soaring food prices. April was also a month where we looked at beginnings. In international news, we covered how China-Myanmar ties reached a new starting point, as China's foreign minister Wang Yi met with newly elected Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi. In a more locally focused story of origins, we were able to learn one version of how Dianchi Lake and the Western Hills formed. As the month drew to a close, we took a brief look at the historical roots of Chinese Labor Day. Workers of the world unite!


The host of springtime festivals continued into May, beginning with International Labor Day and continuing with two days of twin mayhem. It was also a month where we looked outside of Yunnan almost as much as inside. In China news, we reported on the astronomical monster growing in the hills of Guizhou. Externally, May was — in a sense — Myanmar Month, as we looked at social and economic progress across Yunnan's western international border. As an overview, we examined why nuance matters in the country's development landscape. One area in which the former British colony struggles to move forward is in its advancement of gender advocacy. Reinforcing this idea, we studied how gender inequality does indeed seem to be a barrier to peace-building in Myanmar.

Palm leaf manuscripts, Xishuangbanna
Palm leaf manuscripts, Xishuangbanna

While far-flung, mountain-bound Yunnan is comparatively isolated from the influence of many trends in China and the outside world, which in the past led to the creation of several non-Han alphabets among its minority cultures.Language, that seclusion did not stop brewer and pub owner Uncle John from opening a craft beer tavern in the Spring City. In a further sign of Kunming's growing worldliness, two European visa centers opened in our ever-growing metropolis. Additional foreign trade was anticipated at 2016's China-South Asia Expo. One area where growth was hampered was the delays projected for Kunming's next subway line — an ongoing headache for commuters and urban planners alike.Next up, the Heart 2 Heart charity fundraiser helped migrant families who have had a difficult time integrating into life in the province. For those who have come to Yunnan from foreign countries, we published a feature on the strengths and pitfalls of healthcare for China expats. Charity and goodwill extended to the animal kingdom, when a Weibo blogger 'freed' animals, stirring up controversy in the process while China's two-legged goat became minor celebrity. Reminding us that the province's natural environment is beautiful as well as powerfully unpredictable, Dali Prefecture was hit by magnitude 5.0 earthquake.


Not all was bright and sunny South of the Clouds. With sadness, we ran an obituary for respected Spring City Evening News editor Du Shaoling. Perhaps fittingly following Du's death, stories of disobedience featured prominently in June, with virtually an entire Chinese village turning to mass divorce in face of impending demolition and a strike among Lijiang vendors protested an old town entry fee merchants saw as prohibitive. We also covered several prominent legal cases and arrests, including the wrongful murder conviction of Yunnan woman Qian Renfeng, which spawned a US$1.45 million lawsuit. As Ms Qian was being released from prison, the CEO of the Ponzi scheming Fanya Metal Exchange was placed in custody and the company's assets finally seized. Other alleged criminals apprehended in June were members of Yunnan's largest animal smuggling ring. Following Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, the rainy season arrived in Yunnan with a vengeance. The torrential rains preceded an event celebrating physical stamina, the Phoenix Valley-Mushroom Mountain Outdoor Challenge, a race through one of the province's odder locales.

Mid-year, we received a string of indicators that Kunming is on the up-and-up. Yunnan's capital ranked second in China's Most Livable Cities index and the Spring City's twin trade expos were bigger, more ostentatious and important than ever. Yet another European visa center — this time from the Czech Republic — opened in Kunming. In what could be further positive news for the city and other second-tier Chinese municipalities, we reported that foreign airlines sought expansion into less-served markets. And just when things couldn't seem to get much better for the area, provincial planners announced their intentions to have universal preschool education by 2020. With that being said, 2016 census figures indicated that Yunnan still has a lengthy path to equal educational development. We ended the month on an optimistic note, with travel stories from veritable mountain paradises Larung Gar — Sichuan's extraordinary Buddhist retreat — and the stairways to the sky that are the ancient rice terraces of Yunnan.

Whoa! We were halfway through 2016 before we knew it! Check back soon to see how the final six months of 2016 wrapped up. And happy impending new year from the entire GoKunming team!

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'Whoa! We were halfway through 2015 before we knew it! Check back soon to see how the final six months of 2015 wrapped up.'

Oh, you've changed it to 2016.
How about...
'a strike strike among Lijiang vendors'.
Is that a strike against strikes?

Debaser, both mistakes have been corrected. Thanks for your input.

Maybe try a different opening paragraph next year?

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