History of Dali

Dali was an independent native state in the region of modern Yunnan province that lasted during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The foundation of the kingdom of Dali was preceded by several short-living dynasties that resulted in quarrels among the local nobility after the end of the kingdom of Nanzhao. At the beginning of the 10th century when the control of the central government of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) was already quite weak, Zheng Maisi, a noble of Nanzhao, overthrew the ruling Meng family and founded a state called Da Changhe in 902. Yet already in 928 Yang Ganzhen destroyed the state of the Zheng family and installed Zhao Shanzheng as ruler of a state called Da Tianxing, only to mount the throne himself a few months later, as ruler of Da Yining. In 937 Duan Siping, military commissioner of Tonghai, conquered the capital Dali and founded the dynasty with the same name, as king and representant of 37 aboriginal lords. Duan Siping's parole had been the promise to reduce tax and labor obligations, so that he won broad support among the population. He belonged to the ethnos of the Bo that might be identical to modern Bai Nationality.

The dynastic line of the Duan family was interrupted in 1080 when Yang Yizhen, chief minister of Duan Lianyi, killed his lord and usurped the throne. Gao Zhilian, Marquis of Shanchan, and his son Gao Shengtai defeated the usurper, reinstituted the Duan family and from now on controlled the government of Dali as senior ministers. Gao Shengtai even proclaimed himself king of the state of Da Zhong Guo. The period from 1096 on is called "Later Dali" (Hou Dali or Houli guo). During the second phase of the state of Dali, the real power was exercised by the family Gao, whose chief representant bore the title of "Duke of the Central State" (zhongguo gong).

The kings of Dali declared their obedience towards the Song Empire, and in 1117 the king was officially appointed military commissioner of the Song Empire, and was officially allowed to bear the title of king of Dali. From 1132 on official markets were established at the border between the kingdom of Dali and the Song Empire. In 1253 the troops of the Mongol prince and eventual khan Khubilai conquered the state of Dali. The members of the Duan family, subservient to their new masters, were appointed as aboriginal rulers (tusi) under the administration of a field-secretariate ("province"; xingsheng) of Yunnan.

The eight administrative regions of Dali were often called "lands" (guo) although they were officially called with more concrete administrative terms. There was a capital prefecture (shoufu: Dali), two area commands (dudu: Huichuan and Tonghai), and six military regions (jiedu: Nongdong, Yinsheng, Yongchang, Lishui, Tuodong and Jianchuan). During the Later Dali period the military regions were transformed into eight prefectures (fu: Shanchan, Weichu, Tongshi/Nongdong, Huichuan, Jianchang, Tengyue, Moutong and Yongchang), four commanderies (jun: Dongchuan, Shicheng, Heyang and Xiushan) and four garrisons (zhen: Chengji, Menghe, Zhenxi and Zuining). All units were headed by members of the powerful family Gao.

The structure of the central government was interited from Nanzhao: The king was called piaoxin, and he was assisted by four ministers (qingpingguan) whose offices were called tanchuo, buxie, jiuzan, and yanzan.

The area of Dali, especially the region around Lake Kunming produced agricultural commodities of high standards. Dali was famous for its iron weapons, helmets and cuirasses, bronze tools and lacquer ware and exported felt and horses that were bred in the central region around the capital Dali. The trade between China in the north and east and the Southeast Asian states in modern Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma) was of great importance for Dali merchants. The agricultural wealth of the region contributed to in increase of the size of the population, which, on the other side, necessitated an intensive agriculture that was supported by irrigation work. Although Dali was a great exported of specialized goods, it also imported goods from China, especially books, silk and porcelain and other manufactural products. The literate class did not only read Chinese texts but also used Chinese characters to write in the local language. This kind of script serves to write down local history as well as songs, poems and stories.

Deeply influenced by the culture of the neighboring Song Empire, Dali artists produced a lot of excellent products, like Zhang Shengwen "Dali Painting Scroll" Dali huajuan, or the many stonecut works of Buddha statues that are preserved. Buddhism flourished in Dali, and even a great part of the kings abandoned wordly power and retreated into a monastery. There are several Chinese sources on the kingdom of Dali, like the Guihai yuheng zhi by Fan Chengda, or the less known books Nanzhao yeshi, and Dali xingji by Guo Songnian.

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