Today we are taking another look back in time, at the Kunming of yore. There are not many international residents who have witnessed the city before the modernization drive of the 90s. John Israel — who we interviewed in a previous article — is one of the few foreigners who settled in Kunming in the late eighties, not long after the Reform and Opening Up policy was adopted. Another foreigner who ventured into China was Leroy W. Demery Jr — with his camera at the ready. In 1983 he was 27 years old and recorded the everyday scenes he saw in the streets as he travelled around China. He visited Kunming, and here we share some of his shots.
Not only did he take photos, but he also saved his maps, which give an interesting insight into how the city has developed over time. These maps show the city before the extensive changes that were made — in tandem with Swiss city planners — in the 1990s. Note how entirely undeveloped the northern shore of Dianchi looks, and how small the city appears in comparison to the metropolis of millions it is today.
The photographer captioned many moments of everyday life in Kunming, some of them not so different from today — Kunmingers still enjoy their mixian noodles.
Others are very different — people nowadays look on their smartphones and no longer read notifications posted on the walls.
The cityscape has made a dramatic transformation. From a city of simple mudbrick, stone or wooden buildings with tiled roofs, to the high-rises where today's middle classes comfortably reside.
Green Lake was and is a place of leisure in the big city.
Another similarity with the days gone by is the markets and the fresh produce for sale.
And the elderly gentleman, quietly enjoying his bamboo pipe, is also still a common sight in 2019.
All in all, life was much slower in 1983. You could get around the city with a horse-drawn cart instead of an e-bike, listening to a story-teller was a common pastime, and Dongfeng Square was a place where farmers produce could be sun-dried.
Despite vigorous efforts to clean up the lake, bathing in Dianchi Lake is as yet not an option.
In the 1980's it still was, and judging by these snaps it was a favorite pastime of Kunmingers. The lake was furthermore enthusiastically used for transportation, sightseeing, and fishing.
The Stone Forest
As these pictures show, the Stone Forest has been a popular Kunming tourist destination for decades.
We are not sure which of the Kunming temples Leroy W. Demery Jr visited. He mentions Golden Temple, but in these photos it looks like he went to the Black Dragon Pool. This must have been some way out of the city in those days, and it was well before the Kunming World Horticultural Expo Gardens were made. If you recognize where this is please let us know in the comments.
Overlanding to Chengdu
He left Kunming by train and went on to visit Chengdu and beyond. Visit his Flickr (proxy needed) account to see his photos of the rest of China, including far-flung destinations in Xinjiang.
All images:: Leroy W. Demery Jr© Copyright 2005-2023 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.