An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Dali 大理

Aug 17, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Dali 大理 was an independant native state in the region of modern Yunnan province that lasted during the Song period 宋 (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 南詔.

At the beginning of the 10th century when the control of the central government of the Tang Dynasty 唐 (618-907) was already quite weak, Zheng Maisi 鄭買嗣, a noble of Nanzhao, overthrew the ruling Meng family 蒙 and founded a state called Da Changhe 大長和 in 902. Yet already in 928 Yang Ganzhen 楊干貞 destroyed the state of the Zheng family and installed Zhao Shanzheng 趙善政 as ruler of a state called Da Tianxing 大天興, only to mount the throne himself a few months later, as ruler of Da Yining 大義寧.

In 937 Duan Siping 段思平, military commissioner (jiedushi 節度使) of Tonghai 通海, conquered the capital Dali 大理 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 labour obligations, so that he won broad support among the population. He belonged to the ethnos of the Bo 僰 that might be identical to modern Bai Nationality 白族.

Map 1. Southwest China and the State of Dali
Southwest China and its surroundings c. 1000-1250. Based on Tan Qixiang 譚其驤, ed. (1995), Zhongguo lishi ditu ji 中國歷史地圖集, Vol. 6, Liao, Song, Jin shiqi 遼宋金時期 (Beijing: Zhongguo ditu chubanshe, 1996). Borders, being of a considerably volatile character, are not indicated.

The dynastic line of the Duan family was interrupted in 1080 when Yang Yizhen 楊義貞, chief minister of Duan Lianyi 段廉義, killed his lord and usurped the throne. Gao Zhilian 高智廉, Marquis of Shanchan 善闡侯, and his son Gao Shengtai 高昇泰 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 大中國. The period from 1096 on is called "Later Dali" (Hou Dali 後大理 or Houli guo 後理國). 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 中國公).

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 native rulers (tusi 土司) under the administration of a field-secretariate ("province"; xingsheng 行省) of Yunnan.

The eight administrative regions of Dali (see map) were often called "lands" (guo 國) although they were officially called with more concrete administrative terms. There was a capital prefecture (shoufu 首府: Dali), two area commands (dudu 都督: Huichuan 會川 and Tonghai 通海), and six military regions (jiedu 節度: Nongdong 弄棟, Yinsheng 銀生, Yongchang 永昌, Lishui 麗水, Tuodong 拓東 and Jianchuan 劍川). During the Later Dali period the military regions were transformed into eight prefectures (fu 府: Shanchan 善闡, Weichu 威楚, Tongshi 統矢/Nongdong 弄棟, Huichuan 會川, Jianchang 建昌, Tengyue 騰越, Moutong 謀統 and Yongchang 永昌), four commanderies (jun 郡: Dongchuan 東川, Shicheng 石城, Heyang 河陽 and Xiushan 秀山) and four garrisons (zhen 鎮: Chengji 成紀, Menghe 蒙合, Zhenxi 鎮西 and Zuining 最寧). 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 驃信, and he was assisted by four ministers (qingpingguan 清平官) whose offices were called tanchuo 坦綽, buxie 布燮, jiuzan 久贊, and yanzan 彥贊.

The area of Dali, especially the region around Lake Kunming 昆明湖 produced agricultural commodities of high standards. Dali was famous for its iron weapons, helmets and cuirasses, bronze tools and lacquerware 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 serve to write down local history as well as songs, poems and stories.

Deeply influenced by the culture of the neighbouring Song empire, Dali artists produced a lot of excellent products, like Zhang Shengwen 張勝溫 "Dali Painting Scroll" Dali huajuan 大理畫卷, 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 桂海虞衡志 by Fan Chengda 范成大, or the less known books Nanzhao yeshi 南詔野史, and Dali xingji 大理行紀 by Guo Songnian 郭松年.

Table 1. Kings of Dali 大理 938-1253
personal name reign periods
Duan Siping 段思平 (r. 938-944) Wende 文德 (938-?)
Shenwu 神武 (?-?)
Duan Siying 段思英 (r. 944-945) Wenjing 文經 (945)
Duan Siliang 段思良 (r. 945-951) Zhizhi 至治 (946-951)
Duan Sicong 段思聰 (r. 951-968) Mingde 明德 (952-?)
Guangde 廣德 (?)
Shunde 順德 (968)
Duan Sushun 段素順 (r. 968-985) Mingzheng 明政 (969-985)
Duan Suying 段素英 (r. 985-1009) Guangming 廣明 (986-1004)
Mingying 明應 (1005)
Mingsheng 明聖 (1006?)
Mingde 明德 (1007?)
Minzhi 明治 (1008-1009?)
Duan Sulian 段素廉 (r. 1009-1022) Mingqi 明啟 (1010-1022)
Duan Sulong 段素隆 (r. 1022-1026) Mingtong 明通 (1023-1026)
Duan Suzhen 段素真 (r. 1026-1041) Zhengzhi 正治 (1027-1041)
Duan Suxing 段素興 (r. 1042-1044) Shengming 聖明 (1041-1043?)
Tianming 天明 (1044?)
Duan Silian 段思廉 (r. 1044-1074) Baoan 保安 (1045-1052)
Zheng'an 正安 (1053-1059?)
Zhengde 正德 (?-?)
Baode 保德 (?-?)
Duan Lianyi 段廉義 (r. 1074-1080) Shangde 上德 (1076)
Guang'an 廣安 (1077-1080)
Usurper: Yang Yizhen 楊義貞 (1080)
Duan Shouhui 段壽輝 (r. 1080-1081) Shangming 上明 (1081)
Duan Zhengming 段正明 (r. 1081-1094) Baoli 保立 (1082-1085?)
Jian'an 建安 (?-?)
Tianyou 天祐 (?-?)
Usurper: Gao Shengtai 高昇泰 (r. 1095),
Kingdom of Da Zhong 大中國
Shangzhi 上治 (1095)

Table 2. Kings of Later Dali 後大理 1096-1253
personal name reign periods
Duan Zhengchun 段正淳 (r. 1096-1108) Tianshou 天授 (1096)
Kaiming 開明 (1097-1102)
Tianzheng 天正 (1103-1104)
Wenan 文安 (1105-1108)
Duan Zhengyan 段正嚴 (r. 1108-1147) Rixin 日新 (1109)
Wenzhi 文治 (1110-?)
Yongjia 永嘉 (?-1128)
Baotian 保天 (1129-?)
Guangyun 廣運 (?-1047)
Duan Zhengxing 段正興 (r. 1147-1171) Yongzhen 永貞 (1148)
Dabao 大寶 (1148-1155)
Longxing 龍興 (?-?)
Shengming 盛明 (?-?)
Jiande 建德 (?-1171?)
Duan Zhixing 段智興 (r. 1171-1200) Lizhen 利貞 (1172-1175)
Shengde 盛德 (1176-1180)
Jiahui 嘉會 (1181-1184)
Yuanheng 元亨 (1185-1195?)
Anding 安定 (?-1200?)
Duan Zhilian 段智廉 (r. 1200-1204) Fengli 鳳曆 (1201-1203)
Yuanshou 元壽 (1204)
Duan Zhixiang 段智祥 (r. 1204-1239) Tiankai 天開 (1205-1225)
Tianfu 天輔 (1226-?)
Renshou 仁壽 (?-1239?)
Duan Xiangxing 段祥興 (r. 1239-1251) Daolong 道隆 (1239-1251)
Duan Xingzhi 段興智 (r. 1251-1253) Tianding 天定 (1251-1253)

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