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Guilin - A Scenic Town with a Vibrant History

Written by Candice SongUpdated Jan. 16, 2021

The First Thousand Years

Shi An

Though the first settlement of Guilin is dated to some 2,300 years ago, it was not acknowledged as a city in its own right for a further 200 years.

Then named Shi An by Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, the as yet unnamed Guangxi province in which it was located was resistant Imperial control. Known as the area of the 100 Tribes, it was a wild and lawless frontier land in almost constant disarray. The Empire was confronted by neighboring areas seeking dominance as well as having to fight the tribes living there, tribes that frequently fought amongst themselves.


It was to be nearly 900 years before the area had some measure of internal order, though that was still not entirely to the Empire's benefit.

In the Tang Dynasty, the dominant tribe in Guangxi, the Zhuang, came to an accord with the Kingdom of the Southern Zhao. This Kingdom controlled and was in constant battle with the Imperial armies who desired control of the region. The Zhuang's support of the Southern Zhao effectively split Guangxi into a western half under their control and an eastern area under the control of the Empire.

The Birth of a Chinese Province

For nearly two more centuries, amidst further battles and further disputes, this was to remain the situation. Then, in 971, the Chinese armies of the Song Dynasty finally took control of the entire area and Guangxi was born and named as a province of the Chinese Empire.

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The Next Thousand Years

Life on the Frontier

The Jingjiang Princes' Palace

In considering what followed - and, indeed, what has already been described - we must remember the reality of the times. China was not the unified nation it is today. It was a loosely-bound Empire, the borders of which were subject to constant change through invasion, changing allegiances and rebellions. This was nowhere more true than in Guangxi, sandwiched between the edges of the Empire to its east, the tribes of what is now Vietnam to its south and, to the west, the ever-changing political situation in what is now Yunnan.

In the late 14th century, under the Ming Dynasty, Guilin developed as a kingdom in its own right with the Jingjiang Kings (their palace is in central Guilin). Their tombs may be visited today, a testament to what was, perhaps, the most powerful Guilin was ever to be; power that was not to last.

Guilin as Command Headquarters

As one of its major cities and, indeed, its nominal capital of Guangxi for most of the period, Guilin had found itself at the front line more than most. Its first use as a command headquarters was as early as the third century CE in the Three Kingdoms Period when it served the Eastern Wu; as late as 1921 when it was used by the Northern Expeditionary Army of Sun-Yatsen. By now, armies from further afield had seen Guangxi as their marching-ground, including the French and the British. The Japanese were to follow.

It was not until 1949 when Guangxi Province joined the People's Republic that Guilin found itself free of the turmoil that had been its constant companion for the previous two thousand years.

Explore Guilin's History with China Highlights

Discover Guilin's history as well as its beautiful scenery with our customizable Guilin tours. See the list of cultural attractions on How to Plan A Guilin Tour for more historic places and our full list of Guilin attractions.

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