Tonghai County-The Last Mongols in Yunnan

Tonghai County (通海县) in central Yunnan has a number of attractions that make it worthy of an excursion from Kunming, just 130 kilometers away. I’m local,so I know the town too well.It is definitely worth discovering.The county seat, Tonghai City, lies at the base of a wooded hill a few kilometers southwest of Qilu Lake (杞麓湖). It still has an old quarter next to the hill, featuring a three-tiered Qing Dynasty tower and narrow streets of old-fashioned shop-houses — door gods at the compound gates and caged songbirds suspended in cages from the eaves.

From the old town a walkway leads up the hill. Called Xiushan (秀山), the hill has for centuries been a Buddhist sanctuary. The walkway winds through thick forest to several secluded temples dating back to the Tang Dynasty, passing open vantage points along the way. 

These afford views north of the broad plain, the modern part of Tonghai sprawling below the old quarter and the distant minarets of the Hui town of Najiaying (纳家营) on the north side of Qilu Lake. The view south encompasses the hills of the Yi district Lishan (里山). One of these, a few kilometers southeast of Tonghai, contains a limestone cavern called Fairy Cave (仙人洞).Ancient temples, caves, traditional urban quarters, even Yi villages are not unique to Tonghai, but common to many places in the province. What makes Tonghai special is the existence of three villages at the base of Peacock Mountain, a large hill several kilometers west of the city.

This is Xingmeng Mongolian Township (兴蒙蒙古族乡), the only place in Yunnan home to the descendants of the Mongol conquerors of China. Their presence here, a very long way from Mongolia, Outer or Inner, is a living historical vestige of an important story in Yunnan’s long history — how it became part of China.


Tonghai County in Yunnan is indeed a place with a rich tapestry of history and culture, with its unique blend of ethnic groups, including the Mongolian community of Xingmeng Township. Your detailed narrative not only serves as a testament to the region’s diverse heritage but also as an invitation for those interested in exploring the lesser-known facets of China’s vast cultural landscape.

For anyone planning to visit Tonghai County, your description offers a wealth of information and highlights the significance of the area’s historical and cultural sites. Here’s a summary of what visitors can look forward to when they make the trip to this intriguing part of Yunnan:

Highlights of Tonghai County, Yunnan

  • Historical Old Quarter: The old town near Xiushan Hill, with its Qing Dynasty tower and traditional shop-houses, offers a glimpse into the past. The presence of door gods and caged songbirds adds to the charm of this historical area.

  • Xiushan Hill: A Buddhist sanctuary dating back to the Tang Dynasty, offering peaceful temple visits and scenic vantage points with panoramic views of the surrounding plains and Qilu Lake.

  • Fairy Cave: Located southeast of Tonghai, the limestone cavern known as Fairy Cave adds a touch of natural wonder to the historical and cultural attractions.

  • Xingmeng Mongolian Township: The only place in Yunnan home to descendants of the Mongol conquerors, preserving their unique culture and traditions. The Sansheng Temple here is a cultural highlight, honoring the great Mongol empire builders.

  • Cultural Fusion: The blend of Mongolian, Yi, and other local customs creates a unique cultural experience for visitors.

  • Nadaam Festival: The local version of this Mongolian festival features traditional sports such as wrestling, archery, and equestrian events, showcasing the ethnic pride and cultural heritage of the Mongolian community in Yunnan.

Travel Tips for Visitors

  • Respect the Local Culture: Engage with the community respectfully, and take the opportunity to learn about their history and traditions.

  • Plan Your Visit Around Festivals: If possible, time your visit to coincide with the Nadaam Festival for a truly unforgettable experience.

  • Explore Beyond the Tourist Spots: Venture into the narrow lanes of Xingmeng and the surrounding areas to witness a way of life that has remained largely unchanged for centuries.

  • Learn the Stories: The legends and historical narratives of Tonghai County, such as the tale of the last Mongolian fugitives and the god Acala, enrich the visit.

  • Support Local Businesses: Enjoy the local cuisine at Mongolian-themed restaurants and consider purchasing handicrafts as souvenirs.

  • Language: While Mandarin Chinese is widely spoken, learning a few phrases in the local dialect or the Mongolian language could be appreciated by the locals.

  • Photography: Always ask permission before taking photos, especially during festivals or when visiting temples.

Tonghai County offers a unique opportunity to delve into a part of Yunnan’s history that is often overshadowed by more prominent tourist destinations. It’s a place where history is not just studied but lived, and where visitors can step back in time to witness the legacy of the Mongol Empire’s southernmost reach.