Treaty ports in China were mostly on the seaside (like Shanghai or Tianjin) or on rivers (like Hankou, Wuhan today). However, some were not even near any large water, like Kunming. The city is best known as the gateway to Yunnan touristic areas such as Lijiang, Dali, Shangri-la or Xishuangbanna, but few people have heard about the old French presence in Kunming.
Based in neighbouring Indochina, the French started to look at a railroad from Kunming to Haiphong (port of Hanoi) in 1885.They got the right to build the link from Kunming to Laocai (north Vietnam) in 1898. The Compagnie des Chemins de fer de l’Indo-Chine et du Yunnan (CIY) was in charge of building and running the railway service. France never actually attempted to attach Yunnan to Indochina but the “Transindochinois” railroad was open in 1910 . Conveniently, Kunming became a treaty port in 1908. The train from Kunming to Vietnam still runs today, but apparently only for goods. I had the opportunity to travel on the Vietnam part of the track in 1998, from Hanoi to Laocai and back.
It’s by random that we discovered the remain of Kunming South Station (Garedu Sud, both photos up). The station buildings have become a fancy restaurant, but the building shape is still clearly visible, as well as the art deco motives on entrance wall. The station building is now hidden between ugly apartment buildings and difficult to find. Although the only one shown in the guidebook, it’s not the only reminder of the French presence in Kunming. Located next to the river, the mini French area also encloses a few private villas of western style (photos left and right) next to the station, very similar to some found in Shanghai or in Xiamen. A little hidden between the trees, they also have been turned into restaurant, but are worth a visit. Guards there are a little surprised to see westerns taking pictures having a look is no problem. Those buildings all wear a plate from Kunming municipality, so one can hope that they will be preserved.
It’s while walking in the surrounding area that we got the biggest surprise. A colonial building is hidden behind the brand new Kunming hospital. Like in Shanghai’s Ruijin hospital, building #1 of Kunming people hospital was probably the original French hospital of Kunming.
The front side in today’s hospital’s courtyard has been re-painted, but the backside (picture down) has not seen any renovation since a long time. Fortunately the inside rot iron decoration, round staircases and terrazzo’s floors are still there. Despite the age, the building still has some character. Since it also has a preservation plate, one can hope it will be kept.