Translations

This is a series of translations of classic texts about Yunnan, starting from the earliest records of the region in Chinese historical sources. The translations are extensively annotated to make them accessible to those not familiar with the region or its history.

The ‘Chronicles of the Kings of Shǔ’

《蜀王本纪》

The 《蜀王本纪》 is a lost text narrating the history Shu 蜀 i.e. the ancient polities in today's  Sichuan before the region's  conquest by the rising state of Qin 秦 in 316BCE.

Yúnnán in the ‘Records of the Historian’

《史记》

The written history of south-west China begins with Sima Qiān 司马迁: his monumental ‘Records of the Historian'史记》set the model for all later Chinese history writing.

As the《史记》predates Nánzhào 南诏, the polity that rose in the 7th to dominate Yúnnán through the 8th and 9th centuries, by several centuries, it obviously cannot tell us anything about Nánzhào itself. But Sīma Qiān’s accounts established indelible reference points that later Chinese historians would inevitably invoke when writing about the region.

The Biographies of Ailao

《哀牢传》

The 《哀牢传》 is one of the oldest myths of Yunnan.

Yúnnán in the 'History of the Hàn Dynasty'

《汉书》

The《汉书》is the historic continuation of Sīmǎ Qiān 司马迁’s ‘Records of the Historian’《史记》,

which was completed around 94 bce. For the early history of China’s south-west, Bān Gù 班固 copied

the text of the earlier ‘Records of the Historian’《史记》almost verbatim, turning it into the first part

the 95th juàn. However, other sections contain scattered references to the lands and the people in

what is now Yúnnán, enhancing our understanding of the Chinese periphery during the Hàn dynasty.

Chronicles of Yǒngchāng Commandery

《永昌郡传》

The ‘Chronicles of Yǒngchāng Commandery’《永昌郡传》is a lost text thought to have been compiled

during the Jìn dynasty 晋朝, 266–420, detailing the human geography of seven commanderies (jùn

) in the region of Yúnnán, then called Nánzhōng 南中.

Yúnnán in the ‘Records of the Three Kingdoms’

《三国志》

The ‘Records of the Three Kingdoms三国志》is the official history of the three states of Wèi , Shǔ

蜀 and Wú , commonly called the Three Kingdoms 三国. For Yúnnán the work is important as it covers Zhūgé Liàng 诸葛亮’s southern campaign and the complicated power structure of competing strongmen in the region.

Yúnnán in the ‘Annals of the Hàn and Jìn’

《汉晋春秋》

The ‘Annals of the Hàn and Jìn’《汉晋春秋》was an alternate history work by the eastern Jìn 东晋

historian Xí Záochǐ 习凿齿, †384, covering the period of the Hàn dynasty 汉朝 and Jìn dynasty

The part of the ‘Annals of the Hàn and Jìn’ translated here contains the earliest reference

to Mènghuò 孟获, the tribal leader in Yúnnán against whom the prime minister of state of Shǔ

国 Zhūgé Liàng 诸葛亮 fought a military campaign in 225CE.

Yúnnán in the ‘History of the Later Hàn Dynasty’

《后汉书》

The ‘History of the Later Hàn Dynasty'后汉书》is one of the twenty-four Chinese histories, compiled

during the Liú Sòng 刘宋 period, 420–479 CE, by Fàn Yē 范晔. It covers the history of the Eastern Hàn

东汉 period from 25–189 CE, continuing the work of the ‘History of the Hàn Dynasty'汉书》.

Of its in total one hundred and twenty juàn, the 86th covers the western and southern Yí 西南夷, i.e.

non-Chinese groups in China’s south-west, including the region that is now Yúnnán.

The ‘Cuàn Lóngyán Stele’

《爨龙颜碑爨龙颜碑》

The ‘Cuàn Lóngyán Stele’ is a memorial stele in honour of a Cuan clan leader in the 5th century CE in eastern Yunnan.

Yúnnán in the ‘Commentary on the Water Classic’

《水经注》

The ‘Commentary on the Water Classic’《水经注》is a commentary on a – now lost – early Chinese

geographical work, the ‘Water Classic’ 《水经》, it contains early records and legends about the Yèyú river 叶榆河 region, i.e.  Ěrhǎi 洱海.

Yúnnán in the ‘History of the Suí Dynasty’

《隋书》

The ‘History of the Suí Dynasty’ 《隋书》is the official history of the Suí dynasty 隋朝, 581–618CE, and contains some interesting passages about the military expedition of 史万岁 into the region.

Yúnnán in Xuánzàng’s 'Great Táng Records of the Western Regions'

《大唐西域记》

The famous Táng dynasty monk Xuánzàng 玄奘, *602–†664, who from 629–645CE travelled to India to study Buddhism, never went to Yúnnán 云南. But his ‘Great Táng Records of the Western Regions’《大唐西域记》, completed in 646CE after his return to China, contains a small passage on the lands to the south-east of India, from where it is said to be possible to reach Shǔ , i.e. present-day Sìchuān 四川 via the tribal areas then south-west of China, i.e. present-day Yúnnán. This section is translated here.

The Early Tang Era ‘Records of the Local Customs of Erhai’

西洱河风土记

The 《西洱河风土记》is an early report on the life in the Erhai region, compiled by a Tang general in 648.

The Nánzhào ‘Storehouse Tablet’

《仓贮碑》

The Storehouse Tablet《仓贮碑》is a Nánzhào 南诏 relic discovered by accident in 2001 near the ruins

of Nánzhào’s first capital Tàihé 太和. It records information regarding a granary.

The Old Pagoda at Xierhe

《道宣律师感通录》

Yúnnán in the ‘Biographies of Eminent Monks in the Great Táng Quest for the Dharma in the Western Regions’

《大唐西域求法高僧传》

The Táng dynasty text called ‘Biographies of Eminent Monks in the Great Táng Quest for the Dharma

in the Western Regions’ 《大唐西域求法高僧传》records biographical details of fifty-six, mostly

Chinese, Buddhist monks who travelled to India between the years 641–691. 


The text is relevant to Yúnnán as it contains an early reference to monks from south-western China

studying at a monastery in eastern India who are said to have come from Shǔ , i.e. present-day

Sìchuān, via the Zānggē 牂牁 road, i.e. a direct overland route passing through Yúnnán.

The Nánzhào Déhuà Stele

《德化碑》

The Dehua Stele is the most important textual document of Nanzhao, explaining its early history until around 760.

The Táng Era 'Gazetteer of Yúnnán'

《云南志》

The “Book of the Barbarians", the translation given of the 《蛮书》by the famous translator Burton Watson, is the most comprehensive document about Nanzhao extant today.

The Yuán Zī Memorial Cliff Inscription

《袁滋题记摩崖石刻》

The Yuán Zī Memorial Cliff Inscription《袁滋题记摩崖石刻》is a carving into the stone at the cliffs

at Shímén 石门, the present-day Dòushā pass 豆沙关 in north-western Yúnnán 云南, a historically

important cliff path on the so-called northern road into Yúnnán.

The ‘Illustrated History of Nánzhào’

《南诏图传》

The ‘Illustrated History of Nánzhào’《南诏图传》is the most important pictorial document from the late period of Nánzhào 南诏.

Yúnnán in Huáng Xiūfù’s 'Conversations with Guests in the Thatched Pavilion'

《茅亭客话》

The《茅亭客话》or ‘Conversations with Guests in the Thatched Pavilion’ is a collection of essays by

the Sòng dynasty scholar Huáng Xiūfù 黃休復. Little is known about him or the history of the work.


The text contains an apocryphal story about a female dragon spirit in southern Sìchuān 四川 switching

its allegiance to the Táng.

The Vimalakīrti Sutra Scroll Painting

维摩诘经画卷

The Vimalakīrti Sutra Scroll Painting《维摩诘经》画卷 is a Buddhist art work given by a Dali prime minister to a Chinese envoy as a parting gift in 1119CE, during the reign of Sòng emperor Huīzōng 徽宗. It is a very rare, well-preserved Buddhist scroll painted in the lake Ěrhai 洱海 region during the Dali kingdom 大理国 period.

Yúnnán in Hóng Mài’s ‘Róngzhāi’s Random Notes’

《容斋随笔》

The 《容斋随笔》or ‘Róngzhāi’s Random Notes’ is a collection of essays by the Sòng dynasty

scholar Hóng Mài 洪迈, *1123–†1202, sobriquet Róngzhāi 容斋, hence the name of the text.


The text includes a number of excerpts from now lost historic texts about Yúnnán.

The "Ten Kings Sutra" At Freer Gallery

《预修十王生七经》

The paper scroll held by the Freer Gallery in Washington DC, USA, titled ‘The Buddha Addressing Yamaraja

at Kusinagara’ is a fragment of the ‘Scripture of the Prepatory Performances for the Ten Kings

Concerning the Sevens of Life预修十王生七经》, or short ‘Ten Kings Sutra十王经》. It is illustrated

with a frontispiece showing a Buddhist devotional assembly, followed by the first part of the sutra. 

The work is considered by some to be a Dali Kingdom art work.

Guō Sōngnián’s ‘Dàlǐ Travel Notes’

《大理行记》

The ‘Dàlǐ Travel Notes’《大理行记》is a Yuán dynasty text compiled by Guō Sōngnián 郭松年, who

travelled to Dàlǐ 大理 sometime between 1279–1288 CE. Not much known about the author or the

history of the text.

The 14th Century ‘General Record of Yúnnán’

《云南志略》

The ‘General Record of Yúnnán’ 《云南志略》was compiled at the beginning of the 14th century by

Lǐ Jīng  李京, a Chinese official who had served the Yuán dynasty government in the pacification of

Yúnnán, where he gained first-hand knowledge its indigenous population.

Yang Shen's Account of a Trip to Cangshan

杨慎《游点苍山记》

The 《游点苍山记》 is a little known text by Yang Shen 杨慎, the influential literati banned to Yunnan in 1524. It describes a trip through the Cangshan Mountains in 1530.

Lǐ Yuányáng’s “Records of a Trip to Shíbǎo Mountain”

《游石宝山记》

Li Yuanyang, a leading Dali literati, describes to trips to Shibaoshan in the 16th century, the first extant mentions of this important temple site.

The ‘Origins of the Bai Kingdom’

《白国因由》

The 《白国因由》is a Qing dynasty religious text on the origins of Nanzhao as a work of Guanyin 观音.

The 1808 ‘Brief History of Diān’

《滇云纪略》

A highly derivate Qing dynasty private history of Yunnan with some, most likely fictional, details on Menghuo's seven time capture by Zhuge Liang.