The story behind the Zhongai Archway

Saiyid Ajall Shams Al-din Umar, a famous Muslim politician in the Yuan Dynasty


By Ma Tongchun, a local resident and senior English-speaking tour guide with over 30 years of professional experience. This article is based on his discovery tour on 22 August 2015. 


Today is Saturday and we had a relaxing day for searching some historical sites in the city of Kunming.

The Zhongai Archway near the Nanping Pedestrian Street

We first came to Nanping Pedestrian Street for shopping but a magnificent archway Zhongai Archway caught our eyes. The Zhongai Archway or Archway of Loyalty and Love was solemnly standing in the downtown. It was built in early Yuan Dynasty (1280) in memory of Saiyid Ajall Shams Al-Din Umar (1211-1279), a famous Muslim politician of the early Yuan Dynasty, for his excellent administration and his great contribution to the social development and the pacification among the ethnic groups when he was in the office of the governor of Yunnan Province.

Saiyid Ajall Shams Al-din Umar (1211-1279)

Saiyid's Administration in Yunnan
In the tenth year of Zhiyuan period of Yuan Dynasty (1273), Saiyid was appointed as the Governor of Yunnan Province by Emperor Shizu or Kublai Khan when he first established Yunnan Province to get rid of the inappropriate appointment of the provincial administrators and the unstable administration.


After his appointment, he visited and learned from the people who knew Yunnan's geography and social affairs, drew the map of geography, cities and towns, posts, official farming, military farming and civil farming and places of strategy. He did immediately visit the local gentlemen and scholars for important affairs beneficial to the state and the people in order to make practical decisions and policies when he came to his office next year. 


There coexisted three political powers in Yunnan at that time were Mongolian royal power, military power and Dali Duan's power and the administration right was not unified. Saiyid adjusted the relation between the Mongolian royal officials and the provincial officials and put them together into the provincial government office, set up the local military and administrative organs together under the control of the High Pacification Commissioner's Office, which was under the direction of provincial government. He changed the Mongolian system of Wanhu (ten Thousand households) and Qianhu (one thousand households) into Lu (Route), Fu (prefecture), Zhou (prefecture) and Xian (county) and gave the names in accordance with other provinces. 


Since then, all the policies were delivered directly from the provincial government, thus the centralization control of the Mongolian Royal Administration over Yunnan was strengthened. The provincial government office was moved to Kunming from Dali and then Kunming replaced Dali as the political, economic and cultural centre of the whole province ever since. 
Saiyid's Pacification Policy to the Ethnic Hereditary Headmen 
For the local upper class, Saiyid took the policy of winning the support of the people instead of military suppression. The new 37 routes followed the 37 tribes of Dali Kingdom and tried to select the local chiefs and local ethnic hereditary headmen as the officials under the route level. 


When the local ethnic hereditary headman of Luopandian (Yuanjiang area of Yunnan today) launched a rebel and Saiyid adhered to the pacification policy and had the chief surrendered together with his followers. Thereafter, the local ethnic hereditary headmen of Cheli Baiyi (Xishuangbanna), Heni (Mojiang today) and Jinchi Tribe also submit to the government. For those who falsely accused against him, he comforted them instead of punishment and appointed them to be officials. He would entertain the visiting chiefs with banquet on honour and present them gifts including clothes, hats, shoes and socks and so on. By doing in such a manner he earned the support from the local ethnic hereditary headmen.


Saiyid's Series of Measures to People's Life and Production
Saiyid took a series of measures to stabilise the people's livelihood and develop the production, such as balancing taxation, reducing the corvee, setting up public granary to relieve the victims of natural calamity, setting charitable houses to help the poor. He also called the exiles to go for production.

With the assistance of Zhang Daoli who was the agriculture development commissioner of Dali area, he taught the advanced techniques (of central China) for rice plantation and mulberry and jute growing, helped the Cuan tribes and Bo tribes improve the skills for raising silkworms and mulberry production to double the profits. He vigorously implemented the farming development in Dianchi Lake and Erhai Lake areas as the key farming besides the state farming and military farming. In addition, during his governorship the government also gave the land for the civil farming and even lent common people the buffalos, seeds and farming tools.


There were frequent flood disasters in the Dianchi Lake area of Kunming, and Saiyid launched to dredge the six rivers above the lake and built the Yanwei Dam and the Nanba Dam on the rivers and built the Songhuaba Dam on the Panlongjiang River. He ordered Zhang Lidao to lead 2,000 people to dredge and widen the exit river of the Dianchi Lake to drain out the water in order to relieve the water flood and improve the irrigation, which resulted in great increase of thousand hectares of new farmland.


Saiyid Promoted Communication, Economy and Education
He opened the post roads, built the post houses, prospered the markets, lowered the tax, and encouraged to use currency in order to promote the good exchange and economic change among the ethnic groups.


Though Saiyid was a Muslim, he ruled Yunnan according to the feudal culture inherent in China, Nanzhao and Dali. He first set up supervisors of Confucian schools in Kunming and Dali. In Kunming, besides building the Confucian Temple, schools and dormitories, he set up school lands, and selected children from official and rich families to the schools for study. 

Kunming Confucius Temple on Renmin Road

Saiyid passed away in 1279 at his post of Yunnan Governor at the age of 68. The historical documents described that his 6 years' rule of Yunnan started a new administration in the province making a great contribution to the unification of the country, especially the development of Yunnan. He was retrospectively honoured as Prince Xianyang after his death and Yunnan people built a temple and the Zhongai archway in memory of him. His sons and grandsons were appointed as the governors of Yunnan in the Yuan Dynasty and his name Saiyid Ajall became the sign of the family.


The introduction of Islam to Yunnan
A large number of Muslims came to Yunnan after Saiyid was appointed to be the governor of Yunnan, which made the source of Hui ethnic groups in Yunnan and Islam introduced to Yunnan because historical records said that Saiyid was the descendent of Mohammed the father of Islam. He had many mosques built in Kunming, Dali, Lin'an, Ludian and many other places. It was said that he built twelve Mosques in Kunming among of which the well known are the Chengna Mosque at Zhengyi Road and the Yongning Mosque at Jinbi Road.


The historical sites of Saiyid Ajall Shams Al-Din Umar

The cenotaph at on Minhang Road, Kunming

(1).The first place is the Archway of Loyalty and Love in the downtown of Kunming.
(2).The second is the cenotaph of Saiyid Ajall Shams Al-Din Umar at Wuliduo Primary School, Minhang Road.
(3).The third is the Tomb of Saiyid Ajall Shams Al-Din Umar in the Black Dragon Pool Park, north suburb of Kunming.
(4).The fourth is water tower of Songhuaba Dam in the north of Kunming. 
(5).The fifth is Jinzhihe River, the water conservancy for irrigation of Kunming farmland in the Yuan Dynasty.
(6).The sixth is Yinzhihe River, the water conservancy for irrigation of Kunming farmland in the Yuan Dynasty.
(7).The seventh is the water lock of Dianchi Lake for controlling the water elevation at Haikou Town Jinning County, Kunming.
(8).The eighth is Zheng He Park at the Moon Hill of Kunyang Town, Jinning County. Zheng He, an ocean sailor, diplomat and martial artist, is the descendent of the sixth generation of Saiyid Ajall Shams Al-Din Umar.


Genealogy of Saiyid Ajall Shams Al-Din Family 
"Saiyid Ajall" in Arabic means: Mister, Leader, indicating "the noble descendent"; "Saiyid" means "the sun of the religion"; "Ajall" means "the most honorable"; Umar means "longevity". 

(1).Saiyid, the descendent of Ali, the founder of Islamic Shia, and the son-in-law of the great prophet Mohammed. Legend said that Saiyid was the descendent of the 31st generation of Mohammed the great prophet and father of Islam.

(2).Tajik Kooloo Matin, the father of Saiyid Ajall Shams al-Din, who joined Genghis Khan with his son Saiyid Ajall and thousand cavalry when Genghis Khan launched the West Expedition to Tajikistan in 1221. 

(3).Saiyid Ajall Shams Al-din (Umar), a famous politician of Yuan Dynasty

(4).The descendents of Saiyid Ajall Shams Al-Din (Umar) Family were divided into 14 family names such as Sai, Na, Ha, Su, Hu, Ma, Sa, Sha, Bao, Din, Shan, Mu, Yang, and Hao, etc. Most of the descendents are now living in Yunnan and Ningxia Province.


Saiyid Ajall Shams Al-Din Umar had five sons 
(1).The first son Nasuladin was the Governor of Yunnan Province and later Shaanxi Province.
(2).The send son Hala was the High Pacification Commissioner and the marshal of Guangdongdao Route.
(3).The third son Huxin was the governor of Yunnan Province and then Jiangxi Province.
(4).The fourth son Zhansudin Umery was the governor of Yunnan Province.
(5).The fifth son, unknown