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Overseas anthropologists: Adventure in Chinese ethnic village "eye-opening"
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15:51, July 30, 2009

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Hillary Callan, an anthropologist from London, found herself drinking in the landscape of the Keyi village, the home of 712 Axi people, a branch of the Yi ethnic group.

The village, a three-hour drive from Kunming, capital of southwestern Yunnan Province, is believed by local residents to be the birthplace of the Axi culture.

Legend says it is the source of an epic poem telling the beginning of the Axi people. The poem, passed down from generation-to-generation, refers the village as "an auspicious place".

What struck Callan was a folk dance named "Axi Tiaoyue" or "Axi dance under moonlight", traditionally performed to celebrate harvest and victory.

"It looks fantastic and sounds joyful. I like their music, costume and dance. It is traditional and creative," she said.

Together with Callan were dozens of foreign anthropologists who joined more than 3,000 scholars to participate in the ongoing 16th World Congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) due to close on Friday.

Responding to the curiosity of foreign scholars in China's ethnic culture, the congress has arranged five fieldtrips during the five-day event to ethnic villages nearby Kunming.

IUAES President Luis Alberto Vargas told Xinhua that he found the work made by the Chinese government in relation to the minorities was "something to be known world over".

"Many countries have the same situation as China does. That is a country having multi-nationalities. But not all countries have learned to handle this situation. The way that China is doing is just one of several possibilities. I think it has to be known to the world because it's getting good results," he said.

Many participants enjoyed the change of pace the fieldtrips offered.

"It's good to see ethnic villages like Keyi and their cultural heritage are open to the national public and the international public," Callan said.

Yi, a modern ethnic group mainly living in China, Vietnam and Thailand, has a population of about eight million. It is the seventh largest of China's 55 ethnic minority groups. Its branch Axi were scattered in several counties and cities of Yunnan province, with a total population of more than 100,000.

Australian scholar Andrew McWilliams from the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies also greed that the Axi Tiaoyue Dance was one of their favorites from their Wednesday trip.

"It's amazing, and dances like that are things I have never seen before in anywhere else," said McWilliams.

The dance represented the essence of the Axi culture, such as primitive beliefs, songs, musical instruments, traditional costumes and religious rites. It has been performed in more than ten countries and regions, including the United States, Japan, Austria, Poland, North Korea and Russia.

Callan was also impressed by the way the ethnic community works together with local government for its prosperity.

"They use their own cultural heritages and resources for tourism and economic and social development. The village shows enormous potential of tourism development," she said.

Another anthropologist from Chiangwai University in Thailand, Chukiat Chaiboonsvi, thought the village’s traditional culture is "under proper protection".

“It looks very likely for the village to protect the culture and pass it to the next generation. The village is a good example of achieving economic development while at the same time protecting the precious culture," he said.

"I think the Chinese government has always been trying to support and take care of ethnic minorities. It's difficult and it takes time, but so long as the government keeps going on, it will have good results."

People from countries outside China are rarely aware of various ethnic groups in China or the government's policies towards ethnic groups, according to experts on the trip interviewed by Xinhua.

Shivendra Kumar Kashyap, an anthropologist from G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology in India, said he had no idea of China’s ethnic groups until he visited the National Museum in Yunnan this time.

"In the museum, I got to know all the ethnic minorities in China, including how they survive and how they preserve their own culture," he said.

Callan said she would encourage young people from western countries to come and explore by themselves the real China.

"China is absolutely one of the most interesting parts of the world for anthropologists. I wish I could stay longer to learn in greater depth about this country," she said.

Source: Xinhua



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