From pack-horse caravans to air transport.
From pack-horse caravans to air transport.
Yunnanyi (云南驿), a now nearly forgotten village along the Burma Road ones was an important location in Yunnan.
In the last ten years Yunnanyi has undergone several renovation and preservation works and is the location of two little museums. Both have closed again.
Yunnanyi was an important airbase during WW-II. From Yunnanyi the AVG (American Volunteer Group better known as the Flying Tigers) operated attacks against the Japanese Army coming up the Burma Road and played an important role in struggle over the control of the air in western Yunnan and northern Burma.
Yunnanyi means 'staging post south of the clouds' and is the origin of the name of the province. Going to Yunnan meant before going to Yunnanyi. The east/west road known as the Southern Silk Road and the north/south tea horse trails going to Tibet and Sichuan all passed the fertile Yunnanyi valley. Yunnanyi was as well laying on the pilgrim trail to the Jizu mountain Buddhist monasteries, home of the golden temple before it was moved to Kunming. The old Burma Road, the modern motorway and the railway line and the high-speed rail all pass now through the valley without stopping. The place that gave Yunnan its name is now mostly know as the name of a piss stop on the motorway, the "Yunnanyi motorway service area".
Yunnanyi was the base of the Flying Tigers (AVG) and later on the American Fourteenth Air Force near the occupied western part of Yunnan. The base in Baoshan was near the front line and therefore not protected by the early warning system set up by Chennault. Yunnanyi was protected by this early warning system and therefore the fighters could operate more effectively thus making Yunnanyi the main base in western Yunnan. The base played a role as well as fighter base for escorts that could accompany transport planes flying "the Hump" when they had to take a southerly route due to bad weather.
The Yunnanyi strip got abandoned at the end of WW-II and flight operations were moved to a new airbase nearby that was build during WW-II for use by B29 bombers and Yunnanyi became a sleepy village again.
Yunnanyi airbase got reused again in recent years but now as a base for surface launched missiles.
In Yunnanyi there is the "Transportation museum of the China-Burma-India theatre in WW-II" dedicated to the airbase and the Burma Road passing the village. Find more information on this museum below.
The revetments that were build to protect the planes but as well ammunition dumps can still be seen in the fields in front of Yunnanyi.
The U shaped revetments (protective earth walls) can still be seen from the air and on the ground (Left) (Above). Some are covered with eucalyptus trees. They show up as well in programs like Google Earth (Screenshot: Google Earth).
The diagonal line in the picture is the air strip. It can no longer be seen on the ground but shows up in aerial picture.
The museum at Yunnanyi is a typical Chinese museum with mainly enlarged copies of old pictures. The building itself might be more interesting than the collection.
In recent years the museum got completely rebuild but has not opened again since.
The little village preserved its conservative rural feel despite that Yunnanyi was swept into the reality of WW-II which saw an invasion of American and Chinese pilots and their planes and everything that belongs to that. That rural feel is still there. The "modern" Burma Road that by-passed the village is now full of ugly buildings but the old main street with its traditional houses with impressive gates is still there.
Some years ago a preservation and restoration project was started. Also this is done in the typical Chinese way which does little honour to the original but this project is probably better than nothing. The main building material traditionally used is rammed earth and adobe bricks which don't last long without proper maintenance and these buildings have a tendency to fade away. It is hoped that the restoration will not only lead to a row of tourist shops but preserve the spirit of the village as well.
Part of the Yunnanyi conservation project is the curiously named "Yunnan horse caravan cultural museum". Based in an old caravanserai the museum tries to give an impression of how horse caravans were operated.
Like most things in Yunnanyi this museum in a work in progress, also progress is not very fast. For the last couple of years this museum has been closed.
Yunnanyi is one of the places in Yunnan that is frequently used as a movie location. This especially for movies set in the thirties and forties. In January 2014 Yunnanyi was used for a movie about a bandit turned freedom fighter turned good communist.
The old parts of the village where used for outside shots while the "Yunnan horse caravan cultural museum" and the "Transportation museum of the China-Burma-India theatre in WW-II" were used for interior shots.
All over China there are Buddhist and Taoist holy mountains. In Yunnan lay the Buddhist Jizu (Chicken food) Mountains. The Jizu Mountains lay some 60 kilometres north of Yunnanyi and are the main destination for Buddhist pilgrims in Yunnan. Yunnanyi had an important role on the pilgrim trail as well.
Nowadays people not only travel to the Jizu Mountains for religious reasons but as well for hiking through the mountains. (One can now get up most of the mountain by cable car).
Some visitors stay overnight at the monasteries or at the affiliated hostel at the centre of the Jizu Mountain national park area.
Location: 25°25'05" N. 100°42'07" E.
Altitude: 1960 meters / 6430 feet.
Location: 25°58'25" N. 100°21'31" E.
Altitude: 3200 meters / 10500 feet.
The picture on the left above was given to us by aviation journalist/historian Jon Proctor.
It shows, on the right, his father Col. Willis Heath Proctor, India Commander CBI ATC at the Yunnanyi airbase in 1944.
The strange cut-out of the picture draws the attention to the name plate in the background that states the elevation of the base at 6452 feet. That is actually 22 feet higher than the base is. At a WW-II aerial picture (above) the elevation is stated to be 6100 feet. This is a full 330 feet below the actual elevation. Modern elevation measurements have the base at 6430 feet.
For more on W.H. Proctor and his remarkable career go to his son's website .
For some time these mock-ups of planes that had been used in a Chinese movie, were parked at the parking lot of Yunnanyi. A lively discussion took place at the internet what these planes were.
The green double-decker in the middle was identified as a Polikarpov I-15 but has the retractable landing gear like the Polikarpov I-16 mono plane so must be a Polikarpov I-153 which was an improved version of the I-15.
The planes, build out of metal frames covered with cardboard, have weathered away till only the frames remained and one can see now clearly from these that it were mock-ups (The car wheel landing gear was always a giveaway). Even the last frame was gone by the end of 2012.
Top Photo: A Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport plane landing with Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter planes of the Fourteenth Air Force in the foreground. (©1)
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