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User profile: Laodianpiao

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  • RegisteredApril 8, 2007
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  • RegisteredApril 8, 2007

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Forums > Living in Kunming > Our House Is Torn Down

Our beautiful home overlooking Green Lake Park is no more.

On Christmas Day it was leveled without compensation.

Neighbors who arrived to document the destruction were detained by policy, cell phones pried from their hands.

Earlier in the month, I sent the following to the Provincial foreign affairs office.

I am still awaiting an answer:

Mr. Li Jiming (李极明)
Director, Foreign Affairs Office
Yunnan Provincial Government
Kunming, Yunnan, China

Dear Mr. Li:

I am writing as a long-time friend of Yunnan and resident of Kunming.

I first arrived in Kunming in 1980 as Yunnan’s

first American exchange scholar since Liberation.

With the help of my host organization, Kunming Teachers College (now Yunnan Normal University), I conducted research for my book, Lianda: A Chinese University in War and Revolution (Stanford University Press 1998), translated as 抗战与革命中的西南联大九州出版社 2012).

During my four months in Yunnan’s capital, I fell in love with the city and came to regard it as my Chinese home.

Looking forward to spending our senior years next to our beloved Green Lake Park, in December 2006 my wife and I purchased an apartment at翠湖南路南路61号二栋3单元202 .

During a decade in residence, we introduced countless foreign friends to the charms of Spring City.

Beginning in the summer of 2013, our neighborhood became the focus for a major development project. Adjacent buildings began to tumble and the 拆迁办[lit: Tear-It-Down-and-Move-Them-Out Office] took control of our compound. With living conditions increasingly chaotic, we became a target for thieves and vandals.

In December 2013 a burglar broke into our apartment, entered our bedroom, and stole electronic devices from the night table next to the bed where I was sleeping. This incident destroyed our sense of security. By 2017 our water and electricity had been cut off and we had no choice but to rent temporary quarters (which have recently been burglarized as well).

At no time during these four years of destruction and chaos did any official approach us to discuss our personal safety and security or to offer fair compensation for our property.

Not until July 2017 did officials ask to meet with us to discuss resolution of these issues.

During our discussion, we made it clear that we were fully prepared to settle if we were offered a sum that would cover the costs of moving and buying a comparable residence in the Green Lake neighborhood.

We asking nothing for four years of inconvenience, mental anguish, physical burdens, and emotional stress.

At the behest of local officials, we located a similar-sized apartment not far from our old residence. Though this place was by no means as nice as our former abode, we agreed that we would accept a settlement that covered the price of the new dwelling, renovation costs, taxes, and expenses incurred in moving. Through our拆迁办 contact Mr. Yan, we reiterated our willingness to come to an agreement. We made it clear that we would be available to talk any time prior to mid-August, when my wife would resume teaching duties at the Georgia Institution of Technology in Atlanta.

We would not return to Kunming until late April 2018.

Having received no reply, we returned home.

We remained in contact with Mr. Yan and with the realtor representing the apartment we hoped to purchase.

Still no official response.

A few days ago we learned that the 防盗门 [heavy duty security door] on our apartment had been removed, and our windows smashed.

The local police informed us that this was the doing of the 拆迁办.

Mr. Yan confirmed this fact, though he attributed the destruction to workmen’s unauthorized action. To us, this gratuitous act of vandalism had all the earmarks of a shameless attempt to intimidate us into acquiescence by threatening the destruction of our property in lieu of a proper settlement.

For any resident of Kunming – Chinese or foreign – to be subjected to this kind of treatment is outrageous – and totally contrary to policy laid down by China’s Central Authorities.

For a foreign friend who has devoted nearly four decades to promoting friendship and good will with his adoptive city, it is heart-breaking.

Knowing that your office is firmly committed to “做文明有礼昆明人建设区域性国际中心城市” [“As Cultivated and Enlightened Kunmingers, Build a Regional International Kunming” – Kunming wall poster in Cuihu Park plaza next to 61 Cuihu Beilu, photo available], I seek your help in resolving this unfortunate situation, paving the way for a true friend of Kunming’s to spend his last years fulfilling his 中国梦[China Dream] in the city he loves.

With appreciation for your assistance!


John Israel (易社强

Professor Emeritus, University of Virginia


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This is a remarkable collection. GoKunming's comment that Kunming began to become a real city during the War of Resistance against Japan (World War II) is right on target. For eight years (1938-1946), Kunming was host to Southwest Associated University – a wartime amalgamation of Beida, Qinghua, and Nankai – making it the most prominent center of higher education in China as well as a focal point for academic freedom, intellectual vitality, cultural diversity, and political protest. As the photos show, Kunming also played host to the Flying Tigers (later morphed into the 14th Air Force) and American ground forces, the first large contingent of Westerners to set foot in the city. In the early 1940s Kunming took the first big steps in its emergence from provincial isolation. Gregg Millett's photos showing the premodern face of Kunming, then, conceal as much as they reveal.

For residents of the present city in the second decade of the 21st century, there is more than a slight disconnect between the 1940s and the present. One cannot help but ask what happened, when, and why. This is not the place to address those issues. However, having first lived in Kunming in 1980, roughly midway between the 1940s and the present, I would be remiss if I failed to make a few comments. The Kunming I recall at the beginning of Deng's Reform and Opening Up was in many ways closer to the city of the 1940s than it is to the city we live in today. Urban Kunming was largely confined within the area circumscribed by the old city walls. A walk or bike ride from Huancheng Beilu (now Yi-er Yi Dajie) to Jinbi Lu, just south of the old Jin Ri Lou, was a trip through the past. Though the city walls, gates, towers and arches had already been destroyed, the two-storied wooden shops and residences that appear in Dr. Millett's photos were omnipresent. Homes of prominent professors at Southwest Associated University, including the martyred Wen Yiduo and the university's de facto president, Mei Yiqi, were easy to find. Streets were narrow and some, such as Huashan Beilu, were still cobblestoned. Among the major downtown streets, only Zhengyi Lu had gotten a facelift. Charming little alleys had yet to be turned into thoroughfares for voracious automobiles. The piecemeal destruction of the old city continued throughout the 80s but it was not until the 1990s that local authorities set about the wholesale demolition of what remained of the old and its replacement with the Kunming we see today.

Having shared a few personal perspectives, let me turn to a practical question. Since Dr. Millett's photos are available on the GoKunming website, why bother to go way out to the Yuan Xiaocen Museum to see them. Here are a few good reasons:

1. If you bike out from the Cuihu area, as I did, you will be in for one of the nicer urban rides in a city that offers ever fewer pleasant bicycling experiences. You will want to connect with Dianchi Lu, whose bike lanes avail themselves of broad sparsely used sidewalks. As you approach the lake and Xishan looms up in front of you, Dianchi Lu makes a 90-degree turn to the left. Not long thereafter you will reach a traffic circle. The first street on your immediate right is Hongta Lu. The art museum is on your right as you approach the lake.

2. The museum, open free of charge, 9:30-12, 1:30-5:00, Tuesday-Sunday, is situated on the edge of an exquisitely landscaped sculpture garden featuring the works of the renowned Yuan Xiaocen (1915-2008). Some of his paintings, including his famous peacocks and horses, are on view in a first-floor gallery. On the second floor is a gallery devoted to the works of his son, Yuan Xikun, particularly his lifelike sketches of world statesman and State (Department) woman (Madeleine Albright). It is also well worth strolling through the glass-walled corridors of the museum to enjoy views of the local scenery plus Yuan Xikun's bronze busts of historical figures. All this is to say that the museum would be well worth a visit even without Dr. Millet's photos.

3. Seeing the Kunming 1944 photos, enlarged to gallery proportions, with brief descriptive captions for each photo, is an experience infinitely more meaningful and more moving than viewing them on even the largest computer screen. Furthermore, if you are fortunately enough to run into local people enjoying the chance to vicariously relive an important era in their own history, you can share some good moments. For an American, these moments are especially good since the uniformed servicemen interacting with local folks in the photos were here as allies in a common struggle. By the way, you shouldn't have to worry about crowds. During my hour and a half weekday morning visit, I doubt that I shared the museum with more than a dozen people.

John Israel, author Lianda: A Chinese University in War and Revolution (Stanford University Press, 1997). Translated as 易社强著 战争与革命中的西南联大(台北 传记文学出版社 2010)。