Urban planners have spent the past year looking to identify the defining essence of Kunming, the intangible stuff that sets it apart from other provincial capitals. A local scholar believes he has found at least a partial answer, one that involves some serious historical understanding and a new name for an old urban landmark.
During recent city government meetings held to assess adherence to the province's most recent five-year plan, a study group from the Kunming General Office Task Force headed by Zhou Xin (周忻) suggested changing the name of Dongfeng Square (东风广场) to Huguo Square (护国广场). Zhou argued that the current name — 'Eastern Wind' in English — is outdated and lacks any refined or significant cultural meaning.
On the other hand, his suggested replacement is heavily laden with historical connotations for both the city and province, which Zhou and his colleagues say could help "cultivate the city's international brand" as a growing regional powerhouse. The name 'Huguo' refers to a short-lived but successful insurrection at the beginning of the twentieth century, the name of which is variously translated into English as the 'National Protection War' or the 'Anti-Monarchy War' (护国战争).
A bit of historical unpacking is needed to see why Zhou's proposed public square name-change has received widespread government backing. At the end of 1915, only three years after the fall of China's Qing dynasty, Yuan Shikai (袁世凯) — then-president of the fledgling Republic of China — proclaimed himself emperor. In turn, a group of generalissimos in Yunnan rose to oppose him, declaring the province an independent state and thus launching the war.
The conflict would last only six months, as Yunnan-based forces led by warlord Tang Jiyao (唐继尧) and others soundly defeated Yuan's army in a series of battles. The victories emboldened other provinces in China to oppose the emperor, and in July of 1916, Yuan's short-lived imperial reign came to an abrupt end.
Just over 100 years later, it appears Party authorities in Kunming have seized on the National Protection War as a defining moment in Yunnan's history, and one deserving of commemoration. Along with his proposed renaming, Zhou also put forth the idea of building a war memorial gate on the east side of the plaza.
However this obscure bit of Chinese history may fit into the "international branding" of Kunming, one thing remains certain — Dongfeng Square, by whatever name, is expected to become an iconic destination for both locals and travelers in the near future. Name-switch or no, the former home of Kunming's Workers Cultural Palace (工人文化宫) will eventually be occupied by one of the tallest buildings in China — the 456-meter tall, Lord of the Rings-inspired Eye of Spring.
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