The history of Kunming dates back more than 2,000 years. Historians reckon it was capital of the State of Chu between 339 BC and 8 AD. However, little about the area was written down until the 13th century. It got its current name in 1276 from the Mongols of the Yuan Dynasty.

The city experienced many changes when the Ming Dynasty took over in the 14th century. They renamed the city Yunnanfu and built a protective city wall. But the wall did not protect it from invasion forever: in the 19th century, the city suffered attack after attack at the hands of Du Wenxiu, often referred to as 'The Sultan of Dali' during the Panthay Rebellion.

Also in the 19th century, Kunming began to be influenced by the West, with intrusions from British colonial Burma and French Indochina. This opened the city to foreign trade. During the Sino-Japanese war, the city became a refugee center for many eastern Chinese who had fled from the rampaging Japanese. To help keep the Japanese out, Anglo-American forces sent supplies to nationalists based in Yunnan and Sichuan through the famous Burma Pass.

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