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Nonferrous Metal Extraction

Yunnan is rich in mineral resources with immense reserves. Of the 140 kinds of minerals mined throughout the world, 112 kinds may be found in Yunnan. Lead, zinc, tin, phosphorus and copper are five minerals with the largest reserves in the province, while the reserves of lead, zinc and tin are the largest in China. Mining in Yunnan has been going on for many centuries.


The copper reserves in Yunnan rank third among China’s provinces, copper mines operating in 42 counties of 13 prefectures throughout the province. The isotopic examination of 91 bronze articles unearthed from the Fuhao Tomb, dating back to the Shang Dynasty (11th-16th century BC) how that some of the materials were made at the Jinsha Factory located in today’s Yongshan County. Because of the rich reserves of copper in Yunnan, the ancient Dian Kingdom was famous for its “bronze civilization.” Isotopic examinations of the bronze ware discovered in Shizhai Hill prove that the raw material for the ancient articles unearthed came from within Yunnan.

Archeological discoveries of many ancient tombs located in Yunnan have shown that bronze articles for daily use were already common in this area some 2,000 years ago. Articles unearthed range from kettles, bowls, plates, tables, wine bottles, barrels, hatchets, bronze pillows to whole sets of tools for spinning and weaving, farming and fishing, and many weapons. Dongchuan, located in northeast Yunnan, is called the “capital of copper.”It is one of China’s largest sources of copper.

The so-called “capital of tin” is Gejiu, capital of the Honghe Hani and Yi Ethnic Minorities Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan. The largest tin mine in China was opened here. Its annual output accounts for 60 per cent of China’s total tin requirements. Extraction of tin in the province dates back to ancient times. Archeologists have discovered a number of ancient tombs containing relics of tin articles. These relics show us that Gejiu tin processors employed the smelting technique in as long ago as the Han Dynasty. The local smeltery developed into an industry during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

By 1883, a state-run company had been established to manage the production and marketing of tin products. In 1909,the Gejiu Tin Company imported some extremely expensive, and more advanced production equipment from France, including washing and sorting machines, smelting equipment, laboratory test equipment, cable transporting systems and power production equipment. In 1938 tin production in Gejiu reached its peak. In that year the total labor force numbered over 100,000 and the annual output of refined tin products reached 900 tons. As a result, China’s tin output at that time was fourth in the world’s tin producing countries.

The development of railways, post, telecommunication and other facilities in Yunnan began with the boom of the tin industry. The first railway linking Yunnan with Vietnam was built at that time.