From the mid-nineteenth-century Hui rebellions, which challenged centralised state control, to the early-twentieth-century revolutions, which led to Yunnan’s decades-long independence, local actors shaped the history of Yunnan through their extensive cross-border networks and contradictory roles in the attempted state consolidation of this contested area. Among the local elites, the state agents, both Han and non-Han, acted on behalf of the state in the borderlands’ affairs while seeking the balance between the interests of the state and their own communities. The state agents competed with each other while utilising and wrestling with the state authorities. The dynamic relationship between the state and local actors created another contested facet of modern Yunnan’s transformation. Competing narratives emerged when local actors negotiated and reconstructed their status within the contemporary Chinese nation-state. Bandits became heroes; separatists became patriots; a vibrant regional center became an isolated, exotic, and marginal province of the People’s Republic of China.