Dian Kingdom

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Dian Kingdom
4th century BC–109 BC
Bronze sculpture depicting Dian people, 3rd century BC.
Capital Not specified
Government Monarchy
 -  Established 4th century BC
 -  Annexed by Han 109 BC

The Dian Kingdom (Chinese: 滇國 or 滇王國) was established by the Dian people, who lived around Lake Dian in northern Yunnan, China from the late Spring and Autumn Period until the Eastern Han Dynasty. The Dian buried their dead in vertical pit graves.[1] The Dian language was likely related to Tibeto-Burman languages.[2] The Dian was annexed by the Han Dynasty as the empire expanded southwards. In 109 BC, Emperor Wu of Han sent a military expedition to defeat Dian and established the Yizhou commandery.


A bronze cowry shell vessel (cowry shells were once used as currency in China) with oxen and tigers, made by the Dian people during the Chinese Western Han period (202 BC – 9 AD)
Seal of the Kingdom of Dian

The Dian were first mentioned historically in Sima Qian's Shiji; according to Chinese sources, the Chinese Chu general Zhuang Qiao was the founder of the Dian Kingdom.[3] Zhuang was engaged in a war to conquer the "barbarian" peoples of the area, but he and his army were prevented from going back to Chu by enemy armies, so he settled down and became king of the new Dian Kingdom.[4] The Chinese soldiers who accompanied him married the natives. The kingdom was located around Kunming,[5] it was surrounded, on its east, by the Yelang tribes, to the west, by Kunming tribes, and to the north in Chengdu, by the Chinese, and had relations with all of them.[6]

It is said that during King Qingxiang's (Ching-hsiang) rule over Chu (298-236 BC), a military force was sent on a mission to the area which makes up the present day provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou, and Yunnan which respsectively were the lands of the Ba and Shu, Chinzong, and the Tien. Native women married the Chu soldiers, who stayed in the area.[7]

The Dian were subjugated by the Han Dynasty under the reign of Emperor Wu of Han in 109 BC.[8][9] The Dian King willingly received the Chinese invasion, in the hopes of assistance against rival tribes. It was at this time he received his seal from the Chinese, and became a tributary.[10] The Han Dynasty incorporated the territory of the Dian Kingdom into the Yizhou Commandery, but left the King of Dian as the local ruler, until a rebellion during Han Chao-ti's rule. The Chinese proceeded with colonization, and conquered the Kunming tribes in 86 and 82 B.C., reaching Burma.[11]

Royal burials[edit]

The Dian buried their kings at Shizhaishan (discovered in 1954). The burials were identified by the inscription, King Dian's Seal. The inscription was written in seal script on a gold imperial seal of investiture given by the Han Emperor.[12][13][14] Sima Qian noted that the Dian were one of only two local groups to have received an imperial seal, the other being Yelang. Both are still known - the Yelang seal emerged in 2007 from a Miao man in Guizhou, claiming to be the Yelang king's 75th generation descendant.[15]

Bronze working[edit]

Bronze sculpture of the Dian Kingdom (felines attacking an ox), 3rd century BC, Yunnan, China.

The Dian people were sophisticated metal workers, casting both bronze and iron. The Dian cast bronze objects using both the piece mould method and the lost wax method. Dian elite burials contained an impressive array of bronze objects, although late Dian burials also contained locally cast iron objects.

Large bronze drums were employed by the Dian to communicate in battle; ritual burials of Dian elites were accompanied by large bronze drums filled with cowrie shells. The tops of the drums were removed and replaced by a bronze lid.

Scythian influences?[edit]

Iaroslav Lebedynsky and Victor Mair speculate that some Scythians may also have migrated to the area of Yunnan in southern China following their expulsion by the Yuezhi in the 2nd century BC. Excavations of the prehistoric art of the Dian civilization of Yunnan have revealed hunting scenes of Caucasoid horsemen in Central Asian clothing.[16] The scenes depicted on these drums sometimes represent these horsemen practicing hunting. Animal scenes of felines attacking oxen are also at times reminiscent of Scythian art both in theme and in composition.[17]

Depiction of Dian society[edit]

Close-up face of the Dian Kingdom person. Bronze sculpture, 3rd century BC, Yunnan, China.

The bronze lids were covered with miniature figurines and structures, depicting various scenes from the life of the Dian people. The bronze lids depicted the Dian people engaged in everyday activities such as hunting, farming and weaving. Other scenes depicted the leisurely pursuits of the Dian people, such as bullfighting, dancing and music-making. The Dian people dressed in tunics over short pants and wore their hair in topknots. The bronze lids corroborated Sima Qian's description of the Dian hairstyle.

Many scenes depicted the Dian at war, often riding horses. Archaeological evidence shows that horses had been domesticated by the Dian people as early as the sixth century BC. The bronze lids also depicted the Dian decapitating their enemies (who wore their hair in long plaits).

The Kingdom was based on agriculture, the bronzes also showed head hunting, human sacrifice, and slaves as part of Dian society.[18][19][20][21]

Underwater ruins[edit]

Main article: Lake Fuxian
Belt ornament of the Dian Kingdom, 2nd century BC.

Archaeologists recently discovered the inundated remains of Dian-period buildings and pottery fragments under Lake Fuxian and were able to verify their age with carbon dating.

Other artifacts[edit]

At Dabona, a site connected with the Dian culture, archaeologists discovered a large double coffin burial; The outer coffin was made of wood and the inner coffin was made of bronze. The inner coffin was shaped like a house and weighs over 157 kg.

The Yunnan Provincial Museum holds many archaeological relics of the Dian culture.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Archaeology of Asia, pp. 247
  2. ^ The Peopling of East Asia, pp. 192
  3. ^ Patrick Manning (2006). World history: global and local interactions. Markus Wiener Publishers. p. 34. ISBN 1-55876-395-3. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  4. ^ Stephen Mansfield, Martin Walters (2007). China: Yunnan Province (2, illustrated ed.). Bradt Travel Guides. p. 7. ISBN 1-84162-169-2. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  5. ^ Piper Rae Gaubatz (1996). Beyond the Great Wall: urban form and transformation on the Chinese frontiers (illustrated ed.). Stanford University Press. p. 77. ISBN 0-8047-2399-0. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  6. ^ Jacques Gernet (1996). A history of Chinese civilization. Cambridge University Press. p. 124. ISBN 0-521-49781-7. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  7. ^ Jacques Gernet (1996). A history of Chinese civilization. Cambridge University Press. p. 73. ISBN 0-521-49781-7. Retrieved 2011-05-08. 
  8. ^ Stephen G. Haw (2006). Marco Polo's China: a Venetian in the realm of Khubilai Khan (illustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 13. ISBN 0-415-34850-1. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  9. ^ Stephen Shennan (1989). Archaeological approaches to cultural identity (illustrated ed.). Unwin Hyman. p. 195. ISBN 0-04-445016-8. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  10. ^ Patrick R. Booz (2007). Yunnan (3, illustrated ed.). Passport Books. p. 11. ISBN 962-217-210-5. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  11. ^ Jacques Gernet (1996). A history of Chinese civilization. Cambridge University Press. p. 125. ISBN 0-521-49781-7. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  12. ^ Charles Higham (2004). Encyclopedia of ancient Asian civilizations (illustrated ed.). Infobase Publishing. p. 93. ISBN 0-8160-4640-9. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  13. ^ Jacques Gernet (1996). A history of Chinese civilization. Cambridge University Press. p. 198. ISBN 0-521-49781-7. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  14. ^ David Leffman, Simon Lewis, Jeremy Atiyah, Simon Farnham, Mark South (2008). The Rough Guide to China (5, illustrated ed.). Penguin. ISBN 1-84353-872-5. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  15. ^ "Seal of ancient king made public". CRI.cn. 2007-11-01. Retrieved 2010-08-19. 
  16. ^ "Les Saces", Iaroslav Lebedynsky, p.73 ISBN 2-87772-337-2
  17. ^ "The Tarim Mummies", Mallory and Mair, ISBN 0-500-05101-1, p329-330
  18. ^ Charles Higham (1996). The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 139. ISBN 0-521-56505-7. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  19. ^ Stephen Mansfield, Martin Walters (2007). China: Yunnan Province (2, illustrated ed.). Bradt Travel Guides. p. 6. ISBN 1-84162-169-2. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  20. ^ Patrick R. Booz (2007). Yunnan (3, illustrated ed.). Passport Books. p. 11. ISBN 962-217-210-5. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  21. ^ Bradley Mayhew, Korina Miller, Alex English (2002). South-West China (2, illustrated ed.). Lonely Planet. p. 52. ISBN 1-86450-370-X. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 

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