In December 1990, Center director Chou Wen-chung made an exploratory trip to Yunnan Province at the invitation of the Ford Foundation, which had been working in Yunnan carrying out projects of economic development, primarily in areas such as reforestation and reproductive health. The Foundation was interested in adding a cultural component to its program and sought advice from Prof. Chou. Chou then conducted a survey of activities aimed at the preservation and development of the cultural traditions of Yunnan’s ethnic minority groups.

The outcome of this research was the “Yunnan Nationalities Cultures Project” which became the focus of the Center’s work in Yunnan for the next five years. This work was supported by funding from the Ford Foundation, in collaboration with the Yunnan Provincial Government and with the partnership of major cultural and research institutions in Yunnan. During this time the emphasis was on theoretical and conceptual approaches to the cultural conservation of the living traditions of Yunnan’s minority nationalities. Specialists from Yunnan made professional visits to the U.S. and specialists from the U.S. and Asian countries travelled to Yunnan to work with cultural institutions there. During that first stage, specialists from fifteen agencies travelled to China from the U.S. and other Asian countries to consult on the formal projects established. 

Wujiepu village performers in Luxi County, Yunnan Province
Wujiepu village performers in Luxi County, Yunnan Province

In executing the Yunnan Nationalities Cultures Project, the Center concentrated its efforts on four major programs:

  • The design and planning for the Yunnan Nationalities Museum, which opened in Kunming in November 1995. Second in size only to Beijing’s China Ethnic Museum, this new museum represented the totality of Yunnan’s ethnic and cultural minorities and took on the innovative role of training students from rural areas. 
  • The establishment of the Nationalities Arts Department in the Yunnan Nationalities Institute. It was the first department of its kind in China that included village masters of traditional arts on its faculty. It also sent students and faculty to work with rural mentors in the natural setting of their community’s heritage.
  • NGO Mentorship Program. The founding of an NGO, a relatively new phenomenon in China, devoted to promoting mentorship by village master artists in indigenous music and dance. These masters would pass on living traditional arts of the minority nationalities to youth recruited from Yunnan’s rural villages.
  • The formation of the Yunnan Nationalities Cultures Fieldwork Research Group consisting of approximately twenty young social scientists studying the diverse cultures and rich history of the province. Their research was recognized and supported with small individual grants.
  • Province-wide surveys and recognition awards. Traditional artists, musicians, dancers, as well as heritage conveyors (shamans, medicine men, etc.) were identified and a database created. The central government subsequently adopted this research and presented the awardees as models for cultural preservation and development throughout China.

Joint Plan on Yunnan Nationalities Cultures 1991

In June 1991, Chou made a second trip to Yunnan to form a Specialists Group to function as a Steering Committee. The group forged an agreement called the Joint Plan on Yunnan Nationalities Cultures with a mandate to choose and carry out appropriate conservation projects. The Yunnan Nationalities Affairs Commission, i.e., Yunnan Minzu Weiyuanhui (Minwei) became the Center’s counterpart in this endeavor.

Specialists Group

  • Gao Zongyu, Director, Yunnan Nationalities Museum
  • He Yaohua, President, Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences
  • Huang Huikun, Vice President, Yunnan Nationalities Institute
  • Tian Feng, Director, Yunnan Mentorship/Apprentice Program; Composer-in-Residence, Central Philharmonic
  • Wang Zhengfang, Deputy Director, Yunnan Nationalities Commission, Yunnan People’s Congress; former Deputy Director, Yunnan Nationalities Affairs Commission
  • Ye Gongxian, former President, Yunnan Institute of Arts
  • Zhao Jiawen, President, Yunnan Nationalities Institute
  • Yin Shaoting, Secretary, Deputy Director, Yunnan Nationalities Museum

Fieldwork/Research Group

  • Deng Qiyao, Deputy Director, Nationality Literature Research Institute, Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences
  • Guo Jing, Deputy Director, Institute of History, Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences
  • Hao Yuejun, Assistant Research Fellow, Film and Video Division (Anthropology), Information and Reference Center, Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences
  • Wang Qinghua, Assistant Research Fellow, Institute of Ethnological Studies, Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences
  • Zhao Yaoxin, Head, Visual Arts Department, Yunnan Folk Arts Center
  • Zhou Kaimo, Deputy Director, Research Division, Yunnan Institute of Arts

Specialist Exchange Programs 1991-1995

June 1991

Inaugural visit to Yunnan by U.S. Specialists to discuss the proposed Nationalities Museum with planning officials in Kunming.

  • Heather Peters, specialist in anthropology, archeology, and museology; University of Pennsylvania
  • Lo-yi Chan, architect at Prentice & Chan, Ohlhausen

April 1993

Seven specialists from Yunnan traveled to both urban and rural areas in a wide variety of regions in the United States over a period of four weeks. See the Newsletter, Fall 1995 (Volume 11) for more information.

  • Ma Lisan, Director, Yunnan Nationalities Affairs Commission
  • Wang Zhengfang, Deputy Director, Yunnan Nationalities Affairs Commission; Chairman, Nationalities Museum Preparatory Committee
  • Gao Zongyu, First Deputy Chairman, Yunnan Nationalities Museum Preparatory Committee
  • Ye Gongxian, Former President, Yunnan Institute of Arts
  • Tian Feng, Composer-in-Residence, Central Philharmonic of China
  • Huang Huikun, Acting President, Yunnan Nationalities Institute
  • He Shaoying, Chairperson, History Department, Yunnan Nationalities Institute
Minority women and children in Yunnan
Minority women and children in Yunnan

May 1993

Two U.S. museum specialists met with representatives of institutions in Kunming. Becker also traveled north and west of Kunming, visiting Bai and Naxi villages, Dali, and the Stone Forest (a developed tourist site); and Kendall visited villages southwest of Kunming.

  • Stephen Becker, Director, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture
  • Laurel Kendall, Curator, Department of Anthropology, American Museum of National History (who had met with the preparatory committee)

June 1993

Composers and educators Chou Wen-chung and Jose Maceda travelled together to collect information on arts education in rural areas. They met extensively with village communities to identify outstanding nationality artists who could pass on local traditions to younger members of the communities. They also worked on drafting curricula, in conjunction with the Yunnan Nationalities Institute (N.I.) for a proposed arts department.

  • Chou Wen-chung, Director, Center for U.S.-China Arts Exchange
  • Jose Maceda, Composer and Professor Emeritus, University of the Philippines. (Returned to Yunnan in 1994 to offer lectures and discussions at both the Yunnan Art Institute and the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences.)

December 1993

Jyotindra Jain, Senior Director, Crafts Museum, New Delhi spent three weeks with the staff of the Yunnan Nationalities Museum, focusing on exhibition design and museum education—especially outreach programs. Jain also spent several days in the countryside, meeting with village cultural workers and artists to encourage their participation in the museum and its projects.

Cambodian husband-and-wife team, the Sams, who had dedicated their lives to reclaiming and developing Khmer culture, discussed with Chinese educators the parallel issues currently facing both Chinese and Cambodian artists and shared relevant strategies being implemented by Cambodian cultural leaders.

  • Sam-ang Sam, Executive Director, Cambodian Network Council
  • Chan Moly Sam, choreographer and dancer trained in the traditions of Khmer court dance and Javanese dance

January 1994

Jose Maceda, composer and Professor Emeritus, University of the Philippines, offered lectures at the Sichuan Conservatory in Chengdu, with support from the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia.

O’Neill Teachers Exchange Resumes

In January 1993, the Center entered into an agreement with the Yunnan Education Commission to transfer the O’Neill Teachers Exchange to Yunnan Province. Over the course of 1994, the Center was able to successfully carry out the remaining three sets of visits, extending this valuable project to China’s southwest and America’s midwest.

April 1994

Two music teachers from Minneapolis went to Kunming, where they observed classroom teaching, and had the opportunity to speak with teachers, administrators, parents, and students. This program was funded through the O’Neill Teachers’ Exchange Program. 

  • Dawn Allan, music teacher, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Ms. Allan, who specialized in vocal education, gave demonstration lessons of singing classes.
  • Tom Wells, music teacher, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mr. Wells, who is a brass and jazz teacher, demonstrated his music teaching methods, including improvisation.

April 1994

Two specialists from Indonesia traveled to villages in Yunnan’s Luxi County to study the living traditions and natural environments of the local nationalities. Following their village trips, the two consulted with administrators and faculty in the Mentorship/Apprenticeship Program and the newly established Arts Department of the Yunnan Nationalities Institute, where they drafted a working curriculum to which subsequent specialists also contributed.

  • Sal Murgiyanto, Deputy Rector for Administration, Jakarta Arts Institute
  • I Made Bandem, Director, Indonesian College of the Arts

June 1994

Two scholars from the Yunnan Nationalities Institute, who were visiting scholars at the University of Virginia for the spring semester of 1994, spent June 1994 in New York meeting with educators and specialists in educational administration. They also renewed their acquaintance with Laurel Kendall, Curator, Department of Anthropology, who had spent time with Chinese study group on their visit to the U.S. in April 1993, and who had traveled to China for the Yunnan Project in May 1993.

  • Huang Huikun, Acting President, Yunnan Nationalities Institute
  • He Shaoying, Chairperson, History Department, Yunnan Nationalities Institute

September 1994

Xie Mohua, Deputy Director of the Yunnan Nationalities Museum, spent three weeks in the United States focusing on all aspects of museum administration. His activities included one week’s participation in New York University’s graduate program in Museum Studies, a residency at the Field Museum of Natural History, and a four-day field trip tracing the history of the Navajo Nation in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

October/November 1994

Arts Department Curriculum Study Group: A group of specialists from the Yunnan Nationalities Institute travelled to the United States to visit departments, colleges, and schools of fine arts and music. Their trip was made in preparation for the establishment of programming and curriculum, and the training of faculty in their newly established arts department. This arts department was the first of its kind designed primarily to train students from rural minority villages in the arts and cultures of their own traditions.

  • Pu Tongjin, Vice President for Academic Affairs
  • Yang Dejun, Researcher, Nationalities Research
  • Yang Jun, Chairman Preparatory Committee, Department of the Arts
  • Wang Sidai, Associate Professor of Han Chinese Language and Literature; Director, Nationality Folk Literature Research Group

Fall 1994

Two visual arts teachers from Kunming visited elementary and secondary schools in Minnesota; and sat in on painting classes at several local universities. Their hosts were the teachers who had been to China in April—Dawn Allan and Tom Wells (see above). They attended meetings on teacher-training approaches in the United States. They were introduced to radio/TV classes, dance classes, magnet schools, parenting centers, and band practice as well as many local sites. This program was funded through the O’Neill Teachers’ Program.

  • Mr. Chen Siming, visual arts teacher
  • Mr. Wu Xinwen, visual arts teacher

November 1994

J.J. Brody, Professor Emeritus, Department of Art and Art History, University of New Mexico; Research Curator, Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico. Visited several museums in Yunnan—both Kunming and the villages—to compare various collections, exhibit designs, and philosophies to gain a better understanding of what was needed at the Yunnan Nationalities Museum.

December 1994

Carl Wolz, Professor of Dance, Japan Women’s College of Physical Education, met with members of the planning committee for the newly approved Arts Department of the Yunnan Nationalities Institute to create an appropriate and relevant dance program for the department.

Late 1994

Two visual arts teachers from Cincinnati, Ohio, traveled to Kunming and visited the Kunming Normal School (a teachers college) and the Normal School for Kindergarten Teachers. This program was funded through the O’Neill Teachers’ Exchange.

  • Georgie Ann Daube-Grosse, visual arts teacher; Montessori specialist
  • Darlene Yeager, visual arts teacher; water colorist

June 1995        

Dr. Ramon Santos of the College of Music, University of the Philippines, visited the Sichuan Conservatory in Chengdu where he gave master classes and took part in discussions with faculty and students, with support from the United Board on Christian Higher Education in Asia.

Review Session—Yunnan Nationalities Cultures Project 1995

In May 1995, at the completion of the two eighteen-month grants from the Ford Foundation, the Center conducted a Review Session in Kunming to evaluate the work conducted in Yunnan to date, and to set an agenda for future work. The event was supported by The Ford Foundation, with additional funding for Southeast and South Asian participation from the Asian Cultural Council and the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia. Seventeen specialists in the arts from the United States, Philippines, Indonesia, and India attended the Review Session, along with members of the Center Advisory Council and other interested professionals in the arts and arts administration. Events were held over an eleven-day period, and included a three-day trip to Xishuangbanna, where all participants traveled to remote villages of Jinuo, Hani, Yao, and Kemu nationalities 

Details on the Review Session can be found in the Newsletter, Fall 1995 (Volume 11).

From the United States:

  • Gerald Adelmann, President, Canal Corridor Association, Chicago
  • Stephen Becker, Director, Museum of Indian Arts and Cultures, Santa Fe
  • Barry Bergey, Deputy Director, Folk Arts Program, National Endowment for the Arts
  • Amina Dickerson, Vice President for Education, Chicago Historical Society
  • Tessie Naranjo, Director of Historic Preservation, Santa Clara Pueblo Cultural Preservation Project
  • Martin Prekop, Dean, College of Fine Arts, Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh
  • Frank Proschan, Associate Scholar of Semiotics, Adjunct Associate Professor, Indiana University, Bloomington
  • George Rivera, Director, Pojoaque Pueblo Poeh Center and Museum 
  • Paul Smith, Director Emeritus, American Craft Museum, New York City
  • Larry Thomas, Academic Dean, San Francisco Art Institute
  • Judy Van Zile, Professor of Dance, University of Hawaii, Honolulu
  • Tom Wilson, Former Executive Director, Southwest Museum

From Asia:

  • Francisco Feliciano, President, Asian Institute for Liturgy and Music, Manila, Philippines
  • Sal Murgiyanto, Senior Lecturer, Jakarta Arts Institute, Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Jutta Neubauer-Jain, Art Historian and Exhibition Curator, New Delhi, India
  • Jyotindra Jain, Senior Director, Crafts Museum, New Delhi, India
  • Ramon Santos, Professor of Composition, Theory, and Musicology, University of the Philippines


  • Carolyn George d’Amboise, photographer/dancer, New York City
  • Chiang Ching, dancer, Stockholm, Sweden
  • Yi-an Chou, floral designer, New York City
  • Mingder Chung, Program Representative, Asian Cultural Council, Taiwan
  • Sana Musasama, artist, New York City
  • Marcia K. Nielsen, educator, New York City
  • Waldemar A. Nielsen, President, Waldemar A. Nielsen, Inc., New York City
  • Anthony J. Saich, Representative for China, The Ford Foundation, Beijing
  • Helen Walker Spencer, Fund Raiser, Project Originations, Incorporated, New York City
  • Mark Studdert, lawyer, London, England
  • Carolyn Taylor, lawyer, London, England
  • Audrey Topping, photojournalist/documentary filmmaker, New York 
  • Yinyin Zeng Saich, Associate Professor, Central Drama Academy, Beijing, and Sinological Institute; Leiden, Netherlands