Leadership Conference on Conservancy and Development

Leadership Conference Objectives  

To discern the current condition of Yunnan’s ecology, culture, economy and society and its potential for change.

  • To discover how nature and culture conservancy can complement each other and jointly interface with economic and social development.
  • To consider strategies for comprehensive and sustainable conservancy while promoting economic growth in the region.
  • To evaluate whether Yunnan offers appropriate test sites for globally applicable strategies in view of its great ecological and cultural diversity.
  • To assess the value of establishing an international consortium in Yunnan for evolving and testing such strategies for conservancy and development.
All of the above will be examined in light of Yunnan’s recent proposal to develop the province as a region of "great cultural diversity," an umbrella policy conceived to subsume future efforts in such areas of development as ecology, culture, tourism, international trade and foreign investment.


  • Kunming: a modernized provincial capital
  • Lijiang: a 13th century town, designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations

September 12 through 18, 1999


Yunnan protrudes from China’s southwest corner sharing boundaries with Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, is only a short distance from Thailand and northeast India, and is contiguous to Tibet. It is only slightly smaller than France with dramatically diverse ecosystems and topography, which includes major mountain ranges and great rivers traversing through the province from Tibet to the Southeast Asian countries below it.


Yunnan’s population is approximately five times that of New York City, and one third of its population is from minority ethnic groups, referred to in China as, "minority nationalities," who are either indigenous or migrated from central China ages ago. Twenty-five of the fifty-five minority nationalities in China are found in Yunnan, sixteen of which are exclusive to the province, while thirteen share ethnic and cultural traits with ethnic groups living throughout Southeast Asia. These ethnic groups, with their numerous branches, display a wealth of distinctive cultural traits all woven into a rich tapestry of colorful costumes, music, dance, rituals, and medicinal folklore.


Not only is Yunnan an area diverse in its peoples and ecosystems, it is also a region steeped in history and cultural exchange. Parts of it are along the southern Silk Road that connected China with Europe for centuries. Ancient kingdoms once flourished here, playing an important role in spreading Buddhism. Stretching their boundaries southward, they also made significant contributions to the cultural interaction between Southeast Asia and China.


Today, Yunnan is the ambitious hub of the "Golden Quadrangle," linking Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand to become "Asia’s next growth hot spot," as Credit Lyonnais of France reported just before the Asian economic crunch took effect a year ago. This modern crosswind of change is uprooting Yunnan’s minority social and economic structures while threatening the degradation, if not the destruction, of their cultural heritage as well as their natural and built environment. Yunnan is therefore a prime location for the study of natural and cultural resource conservancy in a socioeconomic context.

The Center’s Role

The Center was established before the normalization of relations between the two countries and has been carrying out major cultural projects since January 1979.

Under successive grants from The Ford Foundation and supplementary grants from other institutions, the Center has been carrying out a cultural conservancy project, the "Joint Plan," since 1990, in collaboration with the Yunnan Provincial Government.

After an international review of the Plan’s progress in 1995, it was assessed as "a cultural development project of such unusual scope, with so many possibilities," and that "the rest of Asia needs a model like this."

The Center believes this work now leads to the consideration of comprehensive conservancy in alliance with economic development and to the formation of an international consortium to pursue this goal.


The Yunnan government will co-sponsor the conference through its NGO agency, the International Cultural Exchange Association. It will also invite participants from other regions of China as well as representatives from appropriate agencies of the central government.

With funding from the Ford Foundation, and supplementary grants from other institutions including, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Asian Cultural Council, the Center will co-sponsor the event and be responsible for organizing the conference, planning its agenda, and selecting the Yunnan speakers.


Agenda and Events

In Kunming, during the first two days, sessions will be held by Yunnan’s leading specialists to brief participants with demonstrations and illustrations on the extensive cultural diversity of Yunnan and on cultural conservancy projects of the Yunnan Plan for the past eight years. Questions and answers will follow each briefing.

Two days in Lijiang will consist of similar briefings with demonstrations on conservancy issues, including plant and animal diversity, the natural environment and modern built environment, tourism and social change. Sessions will also be held on economic and social development versus conservancy and the indigenous heritage. Visits to the "ancient city," old villages, and ecological sites will take place between briefings and discussions sessions. The third day in Lijiang will be devoted to discussions by international participants on relevant issues and on the objectives of the conference.

Back in Kunming for the last day of the conference at the all-afternoon wrap-up session, Yunnan’s leaders, administrators, and professionals will join participants from abroad. It is hoped that proposals will be made for adaptation by the Yunnan government as well as by participating organizations from abroad.

An International Consortium

The Yunnan government has agreed to the formation of an international consortium after the conference. The consortium is expected to facilitate and coordinate projects and tests at selected sites in the province for proposed strategies, particularly those applicable globally.

Yunnan’s Conservancy Policy

Our objectives were echoed in a landmark event in January 1999. The Yunnan government held a rare province-wide conference to evaluate a proposed policy statement on developing the region as a "province of great cultural diversity," which will subsume future efforts in such vital areas of development as economy, ecology, and tourism. The participants in this event consisted of policy makers, agency administrators, scholars, and professionals as well as representatives from the Central government and other regions in China. According to China’s political processes, the policy recommendations of such an event are expected to be substantially implemented throughout the province within a specified period of time, in this case, in the next few years.

Global Applications

We are confident the goals of our conference are concurrent to those in the Yunnan policy statement and our recommendations will help substantiate this praiseworthy policy with the knowledge, experience, and vision that our participants collectively possess. Moreover, we trust the strategies proposed at our conference will be conceived not only for Yunnan alone, but for global application as well.

Ultimately, this conference is about conservancy and development in any community.

Domestic Participants (tentative)

The governor, the party secretary, deputy governors and secretaries, commission chairmen and bureau directors, or their deputies, of all relevant agencies, such as Yunnan’s Planning Commission, Commission on Economy, Education Commission, Bureau of Ecology and the Environment, Bureau of Minority Nationalities Affairs, Bureau of Tourism, and the Bureau of Culture. The presidents or vice-presidents of such institutions as the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, the Yunnan Academy of Sciences, the Yunnan Institute of Art, the Yunnan Nationalities Institute and the Yunnan University. Participants from Beijing will include leaders from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and the national environmental agency.

Briefings and Comments

The briefings and comments will be provided by the top specialists in each field from the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, the Yunnan Academy of Sciences, the Yunnan branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Yunnan Nationalities Institute, the Yunnan Nationalities Museum, the Yunnan Folk Art Center, Yunnan University, the Yunnan Environmental Protection Bureau, the Yunnan Planning Commission, and the Yunnan Commission on Ecology. Additional experts will be present at all sessions as "resource persons." Most of the above are members of the Joint Plan’s Fieldwork and Research Group, organized by the Center over the past years.

Demonstrations and Illustrations

Master-artists selected from a province-wide survey conducted by the Center in collaboration with the Bureau of Culture during the past year will give demonstrations in craft making. The new nationalities art department at the Yunnan Nationalities Institute, which was established in conjunction with the Center’s Joint Plan, will present demonstrations in music and dance by teachers and students with village masters. The mentor and his apprentices at the village to be visited will give demonstrations in ritual performance.

Aside from site visits, pre-taped illustrations on ecology and the environment, as well as other subjects will be provided during briefings and discussions. Exhibits will also be seen at the Yunnan Nationalities Museum, the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, and others.


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