US-China Arts Exchange


A Complete History: 1972 - 2020



President Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong meet in Beijing to sign the Shanghai Communiqué pledging the U.S. and China to work toward normalization of diplomatic relations—a pledge that would be realized on January 1, 1979.

Prof. Chou Wen-chung of Columbia University joins a delegation organized by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and visits China for the first time since his departure in 1946. He meets with artists and cultural leaders.

In 1972, Prof. Chou Wen-chung visited China for the first time since his departure in 1946
In 1972, Prof. Chou Wen-chung visited China for the first time since his departure in 1946


Prof. Chou is invited to give a lecture on the state of the arts in the U.S. to a distinguished audience of leaders at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. At this time, he proposes the establishment of an exchange program. Minister of Culture Huang Zhen facilitates communication with the People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, a non-governmental organization.


Center for U.S.-China Arts Exchange

On October 1, 1978, Chou Wen-chung, Professor, Columbia University, School of the Arts, USA, and Wang Bing-nan, Chairman, People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, PRC, establish Center for U.S.-China Arts Exchange at Columbia University to promote greater understanding and mutual cooperation through interaction in the arts.


Houston Ballet Exchanges

Ben Stevenson, Artistic Director, Houston Ballet, teaches at the Central Institute of Dance, Beijing.


Women’s Violin Education Delegation Attends U.S. Music Festival

Five-person delegation of Chinese violinists attends Aspen Music Festival.


Verdehr Trio

Verdehr Trio travels to the Central, Xi’an, and Shanghai conservatories, performing works by Béla Bartόk, Stravinsky, and others, and giving master classes.

Violinist Isaac Stern meets with the Music and Arts Education Delegation in New York City


Dancers Association Delegation

Chinese Dancers’ Association Delegation, led by You Huihai, vice chairman, Chinese Dancers’ Association, spends a week attending dance classes, rehearsals, and performances at a wide variety of dance schools and companies.


Arts Education Exchanges (1980-1995)

Arts Education Researchers and Project Coordinators—married couple and colleagues Dr. Howard Gardner, director, Harvard Project Zero; Professor, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, and Dr. Ellen Winner, Professor of Psychology, Boston College, spend three months in China, culminating the multi-year Arts Education Exchange Project observing music and visual arts classes for very young children.

Visual arts teachers Hou Ling and Chen Shoupeng spend three months visiting the United States combining observation with teaching and demonstrating.


Composer Studies in the United States

Qu Xiaosong, composer, observes and studies contemporary American music.


Pacific Music Festival

Featuring Maestro Leonard Bernstein, the first annual Pacific Music Festival (PMF) takes place in the summer of 1990 in Art Park, Sapporo, Japan. Festival activities include master classes, rehearsals, demonstrations, and the performances of a 123-member youth orchestra (PMFO) comprised of young instrumentalists and composers from regions bordering the Pacific Ocean, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and the West Coast of the United States.


“Asia-to-Asia” Exchanges Become Part of Center’s Portfolio

Integral to the Yunnan Nationalities Cultures Project and following on the success of the Pacific Music Festival, the Center diversifies its programming to include more Asia-to-Asia exchanges. Chou Wen-chung travels to Manila, Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Bali, and New Delhi to meet with arts professionals and explore involving them in the new projects in Yunnan.

Pacific Music Festival: Second Pacific Composers Project Concert

The Second Pacific Composers Project Concert is held May 13, 1992, at De IJsbreker Music Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The program, Pacific Music Festival, is based on concerts organized by the Center for the Pacific Composers Conference in Sapporo, Japan, in the summer of 1990.


Yunnan Nationalities Cultures Project (1990-1995): Inaugural Visit to U.S. by Yunnan Specialists

Seven specialists from Yunnan, led by Ma Lisan, Director, Yunnan Nationalities Affairs Commission, travel in both urban and rural areas in the United States.

Extensive list of specialists with whom they meet is available in Fall 1995, Volume 11 Newsletter.


Asia-to-Asia Music Exchange

Professor Jose Maceda, composer and Professor Emeritus, University of the Philippines, offers lectures and interacts with music faculty and students at the Sichuan Conservatory in Chengdu.


Yunnan Nationalities Cultures Project (1990-1995): Review Session

In May 1995, at the completion of two eighteen-month grants, the Center conducts a Review Session in Kunming to evaluate the work conducted in Yunnan to date and set an agenda for future work. Among the participants are seventeen specialists in the arts from the United States, the Philippines, Indonesia, and India, and members of the Center’s Advisory Council, including Gerald Adelmann, President, Canal Corridor Association, Chicago. Events include a three-day trip to Xishuangbanna, where all participants travel to remote villages of Jinuo, Hani, Yao, and Kemu nationalities.


Yunnan Nationalities Cultures Project, continued (1996-1997)

After the 1995 Joint Plan Review Session, held in Kunming and Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province, the following specialists from the U.S. continue to conduct research in Yunnan over a one-week or two-week period:

American Specialists to Yunnan
Frank Proschan (Scholar of Semiotics, Indiana University), Judy Paul Smith (American Craft Museum, NYC), Frank Proschan (Scholar of Semiotics, Indiana University), and Judy Van Zile (Professor of Dance, University of Hawaii, Honolulu)

Paul Smith (American Craft Museum, NYC)

Barry Bergey (Folk Arts Program, National Endowment for the Arts), Tom Wilson (Southwest Museum), Martin Prekop (College of Fine Arts, Carnegie-Mellon University), Gerald Adelmann (Canal Corridor Association, Chicago), and
Robert McNulty (Partners for Livable Communities)

Cities East and West: Architecture and Urban Design Exchange

In June 1997 the Center carries out an exchange in architecture and urban design entitled Cities East and West, A Comparative Study: Innovation and Tradition. Two teams of professionals make survey visits and take part in joint conferences in Beijing, Shanghai, and Washington, D.C.


Leadership Conference on Conservancy and Development

An international conference on culture and nature conservancy, in conjunction with socio-economic development, is co-hosted by the Center and the leadership of Yunnan Province. This event brings more than 180 experts and observers from around the world to Yunnan.

California College of Arts and Crafts

Stephen Beal, Provost of the California College of Arts and Crafts, arranges for an exchange of faculty members from the CCAC department of fine arts and crafts and the newly established department of indigenous arts at the Yunnan Nationalities Institute in Kunming.


Environmental Conservation Leaders Support Cultural Preservation

As determined at the 1999 Leadership Conference on Conservancy and Development, the Center begins a new trajectory to develop projects that integrate the fields of cultural and environmental conservation.

The Governor of Yunnan invites the Center to send a delegation of professionals to visit the Southern Silk Road and develop recommendations for demonstration projects. Two sites are chosen and the work is carried out over several years:

Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve
Established in 1983, the Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve was designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in October 2000. The team publishes a report of findings in 2003.

Weishan City and Heritage Valley
Located in the central western region of Yunnan, Weishan is an ancient city on the Southern Silk Road and the birthplace of the Nanzhao Empire (738-937 AD). A final report of recommendations on this project is published in 2002.


Field Museum Conducts Rapid Biological Inventory in Gaoligongshan Region (2002-2003)

A team led by the Field Museum in Chicago conducts a Rapid Biological Inventory and Social Asset Mapping of the Gaoligongshan region. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) produce a conceptual design for an eco-lodge and gateway complex for the Baihualing area of Gaoligongshan.


Baoshan Sustainable Development Conference

Conference on Conservation and Sustainable Development in City of Baoshan. Yunnan professionals meet with planners and conservationists from Columbia University, New York; Openlands, Chicago; and New York University.


U.S. Architects Design Nature Park in Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve

Specialists from Columbia University, Openlands, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, New York University, North Carolina State University, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and EDAW—the international architectural design firm Eckbo, Dean, Austin and Williams—visit Nankang at the southern tip of the Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve. They conduct a design charrette (meeting) resulting in a concept plan for a nature park.


Chicago Graduate Students Document Weishan Courtyard Houses

Photographic survey of courtyard houses in Weishan is undertaken by the Yunnan Provincial Department of Culture and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. A book of photographs entitled Old Chinese City of Weishan, is published.

Reference: Old Chinese City of Weishan. Edited by Fan Jianhua with articles by Chou Wen-chung, Gu Boping, and Vincent Michael. Kunming, Yunnan Fine Arts Publishing House, 2006.

Available at Center Collection of C.V.Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University.

Ecological Restoration Project on Gaoligongshan Western Slope

During the summer of 2006, the Center initiates an ecological restoration project on the western slope of the Southern Gaoligongshan Nature Reserve. The main partners in this project are the Kunming Institute of Botany, North Carolina State University, and the Management Bureau of the Gaoligongshan Nature Reserve.


U.S. Designers Review Tongji University Preservation Plan for Weishan

The Center organizes a team of planners from design firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Farr Associates, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, to travel to Weishan for an on-site review of the draft master preservation plan undertaken by Tongji University, Shanghai, for the City of Weishan. Written comments and recommendations result from the review.

City of Dali Hosts Review of Master Preservation Plan

Official review of the draft master preservation plan for historic Weishan is held in Dali and attended by Gerald Adelmann and Ken Hao. Based on the information gathered at this review, design firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) produces a second set of comments and recommendations.


Yunnan Sustainable Development Forum

A delegation of ten international leaders in cultural tourism, conservation, adventure travel, historic preservation, and resource management from the U.S. and Indonesia meet with Chinese officials in a two-day forum to discuss solutions for sustainable development in Yunnan Province. The focus is the over-development and commercialization of natural and cultural sites, specifically Weishan Valley, Gaoligong National Nature Reserve, and Three Parallel Rivers.

Reference: A detailed report is published in 2009: Sustainable Development: Opportunities and Challenges for Yunnan Province, published by the Center for US-China Arts Exchange, 2009.

Available at the Center Collection, C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University.


Forum Report

A draft version of the forum report was issued in December 2008 and distributed to forum participants in early 2009. In June 2009 the Yunnan Sustainable Development Forum Final Report was completed. Copies of the report were sent to partner individuals and organizations, as well as others working in conservation and sustainability. In December 2009, Ken Hao and Gerald Adelmann presented the Forum Final Report in Beijing.


Xiaodifang Ecotourism Project

Xiaodifang, a hamlet located at the southern tip of the Gaoligongshan range, begins a project of ecotourism. The villagers receive over 1,000 visitors during this period, generating an average income of RMB5,200 for the participating families.


Restoration of Degraded Forestland

Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve and the Kunming Institute of Botany conduct a project to restore degraded forestland in the buffer zone of Linjiapu and Zhaojiapo and to alleviate severe drought.


Revival and Preservation of Dai Traditional Medicine and Culture

May 2014-April 2015
During the last four years of operation in Yunnan, the Center collaborates with Yunnnan’s Center for Biological and Cultural Diversity Conservation (CBCDC) and the Nanbanhe National Nature Reserve to conduct research on traditional medicines of the Dai ethnic group. The goal is to revive herbal medicines that have been replaced by Western medicine and disseminate the information and methods among farmers in local Dai villages.

In 2014 more than 100 species are planted in Mandian villages and ninety farmers attend workshops to learn planting methods and medicinal applications. At harvest time, training workshops are held to discuss the outcome of the crop and explore ways to improve future results. In 2017 the program is expanded to include the villages of Manlu and Manyuan, and by 2018 the total agricultural output reaches 231 species of herbs.

June/ July 2016
A seminar is held on the outcomes of the planting and training workshop conducted in 2014 and 2015. Based on its assessment and recommendations, a detailed plan is drawn up to conduct a second round of planting and workshops.

April 2017 - May 2018
A second round of planting and training workshops launches in two more villages, Manlu and Manyuan; 231 species are planted.


Center Archives Donated to the C.V. Starr East Asian Library

In 2018 Professor Chou Wen-chung donates the Center’s 40-year archive to the C.V. Starr East Asian Library at Columbia University. The collection has been accessioned into the Library’s East Asian Special Collection and is located off-site. Readers must request the materials from the East Asian Library at least five business days in advance to view the materials in the Rare Books and Special Collections reading room. Single copies may be made for research purposes. The C.V. Starr East Asian Library is located on the campus of Columbia University in 300 Kent Hall, at 1140 Amsterdam Avenue.


Chou Wen-chung died at the age of 96 in New York City on October 25, 2019. For nearly a century, Chou made groundbreaking and immeasurable contributions to the realms of music composition, higher education in music, mentorship, and international cultural exchange. His legacy continues through his students and those artists, around the world, who carry on his mission of responsibility to society and cultural development.

Site Credits

Spiralis Music Trust

Design — Concentric, Development — Igicom

Kimberly M. Wang, Eardog Productions, the Spiralis Music Trust and public domain.