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Intercultural Development Problems in areas of High Ethnic Diversity with special reference to Xishuangbanna Prefecture,Yunnan, China

By C. H. Fernando, Department of Biology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, CANADA, N2L 3G1












This report is an attempt to sort out and analyze problems associated with development, in the broad sense, of human and other resources in situations of high ethnic diversity. The setting is global and the present case is that of the Prefecture of Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, China where there are 14 ethnic minorities of the 27 in Yunnan province.

Multicultural societies are now widespread in the world at large and growing. We can learn from their experience of attempting development and the failures and successes in different situations. We also have a historical perspective of various attempts of assimilation of ethnic minorities, often leaving long standing rancor, violence and discord. Some cases of assimilation have succeeded to various degrees. These are cases where freedom, liberty and democracy have become more and more prevalent. We must also take into account that systemic changes are taking place at a rapid rate in the world where democratically driven agendas, science, technology and ultra-rapid communication and education play an increasingly important part in improving the human condition materially, socially and politically.

One of the most astounding changes in the world, the communications revolution, accelerates assimilation of ideas and communities into a more universalized scheme of things. Changes are taking pace at a hitherto unknown high rate. This assimilation and globalization of cultures also creates serious problems of people being unable to cope with the changes and their inability to take in new attitudes and information. The older one is, the more difficult the adaptation to new cultural mores and technological innovation in our day to day lives.

Another phenomenon is the greatly accelerated global immigration of the past half century. There are problems associated with this. There are also lessons to be learned about the assimilation of ethnic minorities. One cannot dismiss the profound effects of this immigration for good and also attendant problems of slow or rapid integration into the mainstream. Democratic and otherwise open societies have had the best records of assimilation and have reaped the greatest rewards. I shall not dwell on this type of ethnic minority created by immigration now.

We can assess the situation and look at the present status of development in these ethnic communities in the broad sense. We can also look at possible alternatives and the structural changes that will happen to communities not in the mainstream of society. What are the benefits and negative costs of intervention, however well intentioned by national and international agencies? Will assistance towards the building of leadership roles in communities and education of the younger generation especially with the minimum of imposition of outside ideas directly be the best course of action? Is any intervention necessary beyond what is already in progress? Some of these questions must be explored.


The present report owes much to a long association between Josef Margraf and myself beginning in the early 1970’s and continued by correspondence and meetings over the years in Germany, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Philippines and now in China. We have discussed many problems of mutual interest in science and development and the role of national and international agencies in technological and scientific development especially through aid and cooperative programs between first and third world countries. We have in common a long-standing interest in the ecology of rice fields. The study of the ecology of rice field fauna, biodiversity and fish culture in rice fields and the global changes in rice fish culture have occupied part of my interest for over fifty years of observation, detailed study and documentation. Very recently we embarked on editing a book together with Friedhelm Goeltenboth covering a wide spectrum of subjects connected with rice fields by authors from many parts of the world. The book has now been finalized and is expected to go to press very soon. My interest has also strayed into ethical problems in science and as it concerns individual scientists. After my retirement from teaching, and research training for 32 years in 1997 at the University of Waterloo, I have spent considerable time reading, pondering and writing on such subjects as civil violence in Sri Lanka, the role of development assistance and cooperation and ethics in science. Some of this material has been published in newspapers, and read at scientific meetings and published later.

I was born and raised in Sri Lanka and received my education to BSc (Hons.) level graduating with a honors degree in Zoology in 1952 at The University of Ceylon where I started my first research as a research fellow working on fish in rice fields. I spent 3 years at the University of Oxford doing my D Phil in entomology and taught at the University of Ceylon (now called University of Colombo) for 3 years as an assistant lecturer. After resigning my job over a serious disagreement with the University together with 2 of my senior colleagues, I did a short stint as a School Inspector in The Department of Education, Sri Lanka. I spent 4 years at the University of Singapore (now National University of Singapore) and returned to Sri Lanka as a Senior Research Officer in fisheries in 1964. I left in 1965 to take up a position as Associate Professor (Full Professor in 1967) at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. During my 37 years on the faculty, and since, I have taught, lectured and done research in about 50 countries on six continents, except Antarctica. (I try to avoid extreme cold, not penguins). These countries included, Hungary, Ethiopia, Czech Republic and Slovakia, Britain, Brazil, Venezuela, Soviet Union, Sri Lanka, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines, to mention a few. Students from six continents and senior colleagues from many areas of the world worked in my laboratory. I supervised about 50 MSc and PhD students from many regions of the world. Four of these students have passed away and some children of my former graduate students and colleagues around the world students have visited and stayed with me in Waterloo. I have been in the academic world mainly for nearly half a century as a teacher and researcher. My present work consists of consulting, writing more general articles and helping to build libraries in developing countries. My life and professional career have been much enriched by my students and colleagues coming from many cultural backgrounds. I have learned about world history and world affairs in a more personal way from them, not to mention culture and even cuisine.

During my 37 year sojourn in Canada, I have come to realize that it is perhaps one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, if not the most ethnically diverse. This view has been discussed by Ignatieff (2000) in the context of the lessons that can be learned and he identifies the whole spectrum of problems that Canada faces socially, politically and in many other dimensions in such a diverse multicultural society. There is a sizeable proportion of the population (about 2.5 %) who are of First Nation Aboriginal descent. Their history since the arrival of immigrants and conquerors has been predictably tragic. Some small measure of success in self -government has been achieved. Any progress is suffused by past wrongs done to aboriginal people and the problems that aboriginal people have in deciding whether to join the mainstream or carry on their own past way of life in reserves. Many have chosen to leave reserves, but the history of aboriginal people since colonization has not been something to be proud of. About 70,000 Metis (of mixed aboriginal and colonizer blood) also live in different parts of Canada but are more concentrated in a few areas. Lamentably the whole gamut of problems facing aboriginal people cannot be easily understood by them or outsiders and any remedies and cooperation is hamstrung by misunderstandings and parallel thinking.

Immigrants from about 170 countries have found a haven in Canada and their assimilation is going on now. Unlike in USA, assimilation is not expected of immigrants at a greatly accelerated page. This creates pockets of ethnic minorities but fortunately people are not ghettoized except for short periods after arrival in some cases.

The French-speaking majority in Quebec have faced serious problems as to their place in Canada. They are not economically, politically or socially deprived in any sense of the word, although some protest strongly at past, present and ongoing wrongs done or anticipated and claim that their future is threatened too. The options considered are separation from the Canadian Federation of Provinces, a looser sort of sovereignty within or outside Canada or remaining in Canada (the strongest option recorded by past referenda). Joining the USA has also been considered, though perhaps not as strongly as the other options. The traditional historical antagonism between England and France have certainly been difficult to overcome in the minds of some people in Quebec and outside Quebec in Canada.


Development is a protean word that is used to mean many different things by different workers in different fields of study. Also the same persons may use it with different concrete or implied meanings even in the same publication, lecture or discussion. In terms of assistance for economic cultural and social development in the broadest sense, development refers to funding assistance for projects, transfer of technology and expertise training of personnel and many other forms of assistance and mutual cooperation. The goal of development assistance is eventual independence and mutual cooperation. Ideally the lines between assistance and cooperation will be blurred and disappear.

In post second world war years the need was for economic assistance to alleviate distress and rebuild shattered economies. Immense sums of money and even materials were transferred to needy countries with varying outcomes. The countries with good infrastructures and open economic systems recovered rather rapidly and some became major donors themselves. As the economic situation became more and more favorable globally development assistance was placed on a broader footing. Nagging doubts have however remained about the amount, targeting, type and geographical location of development assistance.

A very recent study pinpoints geography as a major factor in predisposing countries to poverty. Coastal access and temperate, well-watered areas deem to be at an advantage. This finding is not new. But Sacks et al (2001) have reiterated what is known and placed the data on a new and wider canvas. Distribution of mineral resources, oil and other assets may skew the pattern. Cultural and religious factors may hamstring a society greatly but perhaps this is too politically incorrect to state so blatantly. Fernando (2000) has cited earlier writings to show how the catholic religion held back the world’s richest country some centuries ago from major human achievements.

Economic priorities in development were often seriously clouded in the cold war years when the first and second world competed for the allegiance and political support of developing third world countries. Allegiances sometimes crippled third world countries by adoption of ideologies with poor prospects for development and also by creating civil wars. The donor countries did not escape scars either both at home and to their bank balances. In the post cold war era development assistance and cooperation have often inextricably mixed with trading advantages. This is a reality in a world where trade advantages mean a lot to all countries whatever their political allegiances and economic health are. As Free Trade spreads, trade barriers and ideological alliances have become passe. However a small but vocal minority who seem to have forgotten the curse of socialist economics claims that globalization (Read Capitalism and Multinational corporations) is harmful to workers (whoever these are).

The communications revolution and the spread of democracy throughout the world to a hitherto unknown high level have resulted in a volcanic change in how the nations of the world are now interconnected for better or for worse. According to Fukuyama (1992) we are reaching the end of history when the whole world will be liberal and democratic. However there seem to be some inherent aspects of our own humanity of which we have a glimmer of in the work of Blackmore (1999, 2000) on "memes" and as reported by Begley (2001), on how are brains are hard wired, that may delay this goal of democratization globally. We are certainly in a secular world or post religious era where the common story that bound communities or nations is no longer in favor. This is discussed by Somerville (2000). On the positive side some individuals have always been able to overcome brainwashing through cultural, religious and ethnic milieus to move into different beliefs and ideals by themselves. Widespread and better quality of education and openness in global communication will certainly speed up the process of democratization and freedom for individuals. The countries where the people by and large do not share one common story to keep them together have not suffered from anarchy or disintegration. There is also a strong and undeniable positive connection between development and democracy as shown by Sen (1999).

Development is more hampered today by ethnic and religious inspired conflicts, corruption and the lack of infrastructure and political will than by a lack of resources. The resolution or at least the gradual easing of obstacles to development may lie more in enlightened world opinion, and strategies to make a transition to peace more and more attractive to all contestants. This will neither be easy nor quick but the positive systemic changes to freedom and democracy in societies almost everywhere are signaling that that cautious optimism for more rapid world development can be entertained.

Sacks et al (2001) state that more enlightened aid and trade policies and even a very modest infusion of money into poor areas could alleviate poverty and accelerate development at a rapid phase to raise the GNP markedly. Science, technology and widespread education and enlightenment appear to have broken the thrall of superstition and religious and political thralldom, making such progress not only possible but more and more probable.



Xishuangbanna Prefecture is situated in The Province of Yunnan. This Prefecture borders on Myanmar and is close to Laos. Perhaps for many millennia there was no strict demarcation of this area from Myanmar, Laos and Thailand and from mainstream China. What we know as China today originally had over 700 languages that were effectively replaced by Chinese (Diamond 1997). I do not know how closely the language of the 14 ethnic minorities differs from Chinese and other languages and how closely the languages themselves are related. Xishuangbanna has an area of about 100,000 square Kilometers. The population is about 75 % ethnic minorities and 25 % Han. To an outsider like me there was no difference in physical features between the ethnic minority people I saw and the Han Chinese but in their costumes they differ rather dramatically. There is little doubt though that people and customs have mingled, how freely, is a subject for anthropologists. I noticed that the food served in a Dai restaurant during our travels strongly resembles Cantonese cooking to me.

The land is fairly hilly and is largely forest, containing dipterocarps, bamboo and cane, though recently extensive areas have been planted with rubber. Apparently the rubber plantations are being abandoned as uneconomic now that the cold war is over and rubber is readily available. There is a fine Botanic garden that is well maintained and has a range of palms and lots of Dracena. In the valleys are rice fields that extend to the plains. The cultivation of rice is sophisticated and the nursery plants are raised with a small amount of soft muddy, but firm soil in individual plastic depressions and planted from a standing position by throwing down the young plant and the soil into the soft mud. At the edge of some rice fields are fish nurseries and fishponds. Fish culture is not highly sophisticated but from the abundance of fish in the ethnic markets this must be a successful business. Tilapia, an African lake-fish, now widespread in the world of fish culture, was the main fish used but common carp, catfish and the South American Pacu, were also raised. I was told that the farmers enjoy a relatively high standard of living. The houses are large and well ventilated and maintained in a very clean condition but do not have many comforts like comfortable chairs, and large cupboards. Manufactured possessions are few though cane baskets and cooking utensils are of good quality. The lack of these and refrigeration and washers and dryers is made up by a sub—tropical climate and consumption of freshly harvested foods on a daily basis. We visited two large markets in Jinghong and in the countryside where many ethnic articles were sold. There was an abundance and wide variety of foods. The food was very healthy and contained a variety of green vegetables, squashes and lots of very hot chillies. Meat and fish were eaten at all meals and rice and noodles were basic with Chinese bread or dumplings thrown in. Hot tea was drunk at all times of the night and day and with all meals. Ethnic food specialties were also available at certain restaurants. In the towns the predominant cooking was traditional Chinese, perhaps the best food in the world.

We visited four villages of ethnic minorities. Three of them were near the border with Myanmar and one was in the vicinity of Jinghong City. We stayed one night in a house of one of the inhabitants. The sanitary conditions were far from safe and comfortable. The construction of simple, even portable toilets, could perhaps remove some disease causing parasite in humans but the pigs would lose some of the nutrition they get now. We saw the ethnic handicrafts, mainly cloth weaving and construction of garments with an ethnic stamp. Cane baskets made from rattan, common in the area were rare but perhaps we did not go to the right places for this. Much of the indigenous crafts could be saved and profitably used for all the people in the region.

I noticed as I had done in Lao rice fields, that birds were practically absent. When I inquired about this I was told that they were hunted for food. Things are changing because the most effective of saving wild life today is to increase the availability of domesticated meat and fish at affordable prices. This is happening in Xishuangbamma as elsewhere at a rapid pace and bird life may return very soon to rice fields.

Xishuangbanna is an ecologically sensitive area internationally because of rare species at the Northern end of the tropical belt in Asia. There are a number of nature reserves in the Prefecture and there are plans afoot to have these as a continuum thus making them more effective. Conservation of forests and other areas in the prefecture is part of the responsibility of the National Nature Reserve Bureau in Jinghong. This is staffed by people from many disciplines.

Ethnic minorities by definition, have remained culturally isolated from mainstream life more than their neighbors belonging to the mainstream of culture. In societies that are democratic and without religious and cultural barriers to integration this process of merging does take place as the borders between groups becomes blurred. However in the initial stages of integration, ethnic communities are liable to be swamped by powerful outside interests and the communications revolution and globalization. It is important that ethnic communities be encouraged to develop their own leadership and if necessary their own lobby groups to obtain their rights and the slice of the economic package they are entitled to as citizens. The achievements of ethnic communities must be valued, and if possible their values and achievements must be incorporated into the larger society of which they are a part. Sometimes, though not always, these values contain significant, valuable and useful achievements of the human spirit. In the United States of America, the blacks who have been enslaved, have, largely, by their own efforts, become effective parts of the society and some achievements like literature (Morrison 1977). She won a Nobel prize for literature. Many great musicians, some of whom have invented new genres of music that have influenced world music have become of immense value to the nation. Also the highest achievements in many sports us a mark of blacks in America.

All societies today have benefited from the common cultural heritage of humanity to varying degrees. These include arts, literature and science especially while religions and ideologies have contributed to societal development too. The common cultural heritage, religions and ideologies have not always been used to benefit societies because of the agendas of people who are conquerors, colonizer missionaries. These invaders were often been driven primarily by unbridled greed, confrontational religious agendas and rank imperialism (imperialistic objectives). The impacts have been to enhance divisiveness.


When different civilizations meet that have developed in complete isolation or even when they are in some degree of isolation even when contiguous or proximate, there are short and long term impacts on the people who compose these groups. This is how our societies have been shaped through the ages. The instances are too numerous to list individually but the phenomenon has occurred throughout all continents. In the ancient world the growth and mingling of Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations supplanted one another without complete destruction of thew preceding civilization. They even accepted the gods of the preceding civilization till they were obliterated by three confrontational religions that started close to one another namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Some of the consequences of the breakdown of isolation have been very dramatic. I am not talking of wars between more or less equal combatants. I am talking about complete obliteration of a religion, culture or language of the conquered.

When the Spanish and Portuguese conquered South and Central America, the initial effects were devastating to the native peoples (Diamond 1997). When in slightly later times the Western European Imperial nations conquered and colonized great areas of Asia and Africa, the impacts were serious on indigenous people but not so devastating. The longer and degree of isolation makes any sudden contact have very dramatic consequences especially on the economically weaker civilization. Also as Diamond (1997) has shown very clearly, similar conquests and colonizations and conquests have gone on through many millennia and the stronger groups have often been favored by geography, the availability of crops to domesticate and animals to bring to animal husbandry. What we have today is a much less traumatic type of collision between different nations and ethnic groups and a more measured set of events leading to intercultural assimilation and merging. The role of geography in the distribution of wealth and poverty that has been suspected, seems to be very real. Coastal access and non- tropical settings are favored other things being equal (Sacks et al. 2000). Massive wealth can come from oil, gas, diamonds and other items. Today there is also economic and political imperialism and these forces have multitudinous effects in a very short time and the process of assimilation and merging are much more rapid, thanks to technology and communications. However the communication and merging are never smooth and simple even in democratic countries. We can see both slow and rapid intercultural communications and also deliberate attempts to impede these communications and keep ethnic and religious groups apart thus reversing the process of gradual and peaceful merging of people.

The ideal situation for intercultural communication is through windows where the participating groups have some degree of autonomy regarding the rate of communication, the type of communication and also feel that they are to some extent in control of their own destinies. As integration and intercommunication and blending unfold, it is naïve to think that ethnic minorities can be maintained in some pristine conditions doing only or mainly what they have been doing for generations without facing the dire consequences of economic stagnation and becoming spectators of the rest of the world going ahead leaving them behind to watch enviously from the sidelines.

The individuals that make up nations or even smaller communities are largely conditioned by the unique ability of humans to imitate, and so copy from one another ideas, habits, skills, behaviors, inventions and stories (Blackmore 1999, 2000), not to mention accepting beliefs and cultural features. This is not to say that humans are only imitators. They have other ways of learning too as can easily be seen. Even when the imitations of various items called ‘memes’ by Blackmore (1999, 2000) occur, these memes are imitated and incorporated but are not faithfully replicated like genes but modified in subtle ways and passed on. Memes and the fact apparently that our brains are hard wired to accepting religious beliefs and ideologies readily (Begley 2001), accounts partly at least for the undeniable reality that communities of people belonging to identifiable groups have very similar gestures, habits, beliefs and other commonalities. Somerville (2000) calls these the shared stories of a nation or community that provide stability and community values. though these are not identical in every individual of the group. Nevertheless the memes conform more closely to those of their own group than to other groups. In the post -religious democracies there are no common stories for everybody but many such stories. The fact that these societies (USA, Canada, France, Australia) have thrived in modern times means that a single common set of so-called stories is not essential for social and political stability, prosperity and human rights.

Our thinking on many subjects and behaviors are greatly influenced, if not determined by local and regional values. Sometimes these values have been imposed by conquerors, colonizers or proselytizers. These ideas have often originated as religions or ideologies in the thinking of individuals. There are also universal human activities or enterprises of the mind like Science, Arts, Literature, Music and Games, to mention a few. Unlike religions and ideologies, these are less prone to dogmatism and are more open to discussion and experimentation like democracy itself (Fernando 2000).

Cultural chauvinism is a serious threat to development. It thrives in societies and nations that have been held in thrall by religious orthodoxy and by ideologies and barriers to cultural exchange. These attitudes are common in some countries afraid that their values are threatened They cannot become democratic until the chauvinism they espouse gradually fades due to education, cultural mixing and a new generation exposed to more inclusive attitudes culturally. Cultural chauvinism, even under the guise of preserving ethnic societies in pristine purity, deprive people of those communities of the cultural heritage of humanity, art, literature, science and literature that have leavened society at large and made it more tolerant. These elements of the heritage of humanity that have lead to more democratic and liberal attitudes come to us from ancient Egypt, Greece in its golden age and Imperial Rome and also influences from India, China, and many other parts of the ancient and not so ancient world.




Religions no longer provide the basis of ethics in modern societies by and large (Somerville 2000). Although there is a lingering threat that religious dogma and its highly partisan values could supersede democratic values, these possibilities are more real in theocratic societies and those that are dominated by ideologies. Societies are moving gradually to an ethical world where the sacred-religious concepts are replaced by a secular-sacred attitude to one another and to society at large and even to all living things. This is a great advance over the religious based system of morality. Also today in the world at large, intense individualism has replaced the community as the basis of ethics. Ethics is now largely based on secular values and not on "revealed" values and so—called their brand of eternal truths claimed by different religions and sometimes codified as laws like Canon Law (Catholic) and Sharia Law (Moslem). These have no validity now that human societies no longer are held in thrall by these religions. Human rights have come to mean individual rights and the rights of the community too, as pointed out by Ignatieff (2000). Individual rights and state rights are often in conflict. Unlike in the past and even the not too distant past of only 60 years ago, the state does not win automatically but now the dice is sometimes loaded against the state in democracies.

Of the common and non—divisive human enterprises over the ages (e.g. Art, Literature, Music, Games, Science). Science has had the greatest impact on the improvement of the material welfare of humanity. Thanks largely to science and its product technology, the world is living better materially and in many other ways like the reduced level of superstition. But the battle against the demon haunted world as painted by Sagan (1997), is not over by any means. If we take the example of electricity, its positive impacts have been breathtaking. It has even driven ghosts out of our lives just by providing lighting so that people could see their way around. The positive and negative impacts of science have been put in perspective by Fernando (2000).

In the past, religious movements, often with the sanction of states, nationalism, and imperialism were some of the causes for change for better or worse. These have made major changes in the world and our institutions. However they have a marked tendency to cause divisiveness that become entrenched in time in communities and even cause serious friction because of dogmatism between individuals of the same community. Science and other universal and open enterprises have achieved far greater changes in the human condition without apparent divisiveness. The support for science has grown exponentially during the past fifty years or so and the support for science now is well illustrated by the Howard Hughes Foundation in the USA that has an annual budget for research of 13.6 million dollars (Ezzell 2000). This is one of many such foundations around the globe. Science and its spin-off, Technology, has achieved positive changes to the material welfare of humans that are so great that they could hardly have been imagined a half century ago. However science and technology unfettered, can be quite destructive (Atom bombs, huge dams, unrestricted pesticide use) as mentioned by Roy (2000) and Fernando (2000). Scientific advances also raises many complex ethical questions like the use of transgenic pig organs in humans, euthanasia and reproductive technologies (Somerville 2000).

The rapid advances of science and technology have frightened people who have little appreciation of the history, nature and scope of science. They often fear the march of science and may seek easy answers that are not answers at all as evidenced by Falun Gong in China

Science and scientists should not be trammelled a limitation of their freedom to do research, think freely and discuss and express their findings. Human freedom is the most important single factor that has been responsible for advances in science and technology and the liberation of the human spirit from ignorance, superstition. Science has brought tremendous benefits to humanity at large. Fernando (2000) has discussed this subject briefly.

Science can be safely taught and technology practiced in its state of the art form in societies at all levels. Science and technology are now an integral part of education. All over the world even in remote areas.. However there are abuses of science and technology by governments and intra national groups (Fernando 2000, Roy 1999) but these abuses are uncommon and sometimes open to discussion and reversal. Science itself is also open to abuses like many other human activities as shown by Broad and Wade (1982).

Some of the conflicts in human societies at the local and national level as outlined in Ignatieff (2000), can ironically be due to increased affluence, potential wealth (diamonds, oil) and even high expectations and the demand for individual human rights. Even the indecent amounts of wealth accumulated by individuals and the high salaries and benefits coming to a small but growing number of people. There are 274 billionaires in USA and 43 in Japan, none in most countries. India is listed as 5-9, Australia, South Africa and Thailand as 1-4, Hong Kong has 13 billionaires and China and Russia have none (Doyle 2001). Millionaires are not being counted anymore, In 2000, 160 millionaires were reputedly being created each month in USA. The inequality of wealth between the rich and poor appears to be growing and this can harm societies by causing increasing tensions and having other negative effects too. More egalitarian societies (Sweden, Japan), seem to have better health for their people than less egalitarian societies like USA (Bezruchka 2001). However the relationship may not be that simple if one takes the whole world into account, as there are many factors involved including cultural differences and ingrained habits of diet and lifestyle. Even religion with its anachronistic rules could affect peoples health adversely though from time to time practices like religious belief and prayer have been bandied as promoting health


The situation in Xishuangbanna Prefecture, Yunnan , China, is not unique as regards ethnic minorities in the world today. However the ethnic diversity is quite high and different qualitatively from many other places in the world. The ethnic minorities in the Prefecture of Xishuangbanna have the advantage that they have been in physical contact and somewhat limited communication and commercial links with the other inhabitants of the Prefecture and the Province of Yunnan and the other countries bordering them. The ethnic minorities are thus in the process of active integration, albeit at a slow rate perhaps. After all China had about 700 languages that were supplanted by modern day Chinese over millennia.

As to whether assimilation and integration are good or bad per se is a moot point. It is certain though that in the era we live in with instant communications on the internet and rapid communications for people moving from one place to another, isolation is not possible for any community. Also rising expectations of higher standards of living cannot be met by ethnic isolation.

The only way in which communities that have been culturally and physically limited to some degree from the general population of a country is to move towards self reliance using modern technologies and education in general. This would lead to a standard of living comparable with the population at large. There are a number of institutions that can help ethnic communities to move towards self-reliance, self confidence, cultural enrichment and social and economic independence with a high standard of living. Much of these initiatives are centered in education and the development of leadership roles and democratic institutions.

Xishuangbanna, Prefecture is well positioned geographically to be a producer of many agricultural products like coconuts, not found in many other parts of China, because of its sub-tropical climate and availability of water. The Mekong river is a great asset and life giver to an immense population. Xishuangbanna has this great life-giving river like the Nile coursing through it. Much of the tropical agricultural produce will find a ready market in the more northern climes of China as their standard of living improves. These exotic products will be more and more in demand as in affluent areas like Western Europe and North America

This is a good opportunity to establish an agricultural college in Xushuangbanna for training of farmers and teachers of more sophisticated agriculture. The culture of rice and fish is already quite sophisticated and profitable.

It is perhaps the appropriate time now to assist in the creation of some sort of infrastructure to extend the participation of and communication of ethnic communities and the population at large. Perhaps groups with special interests and training could be the agents for change and economic development. The siting of the offices and laboratories of the National Nature Reserve Center in Jinghong and the Botanic gardens in Xishuangbanna provide excellent places for extending environmental education.

The windows of communication should allow the formation of community colleges of small size dealing with arts, architecture, crafts and literature. The ethnic communities and China at large have a long tradition in agricultural technology and perhaps this should be in the forefront of community education at the college level.

Science and technology are so pervasive that people at all levels can readily participate in both learning and practical application of techniques in their daily lives. All educational initiatives should be as open as possible and teachers and students must share the learning experience by association, seminars, conferences and study groups in addition to formal teaching in the classroom.




Intercultural communication and development in ethnically diverse communities with some degree of isolation as in Xishuangbanna Prefecture in Yunnan will be a long and difficult undertaking and must be tackled on many fronts. The experience of dealing with the problems of ethnic diversity in a development context are available but the situation in Xishuangbanna Prefecture has its own unique problems and solutions must be sought in this context using the experiences of other parts of the world. Traditional ways of dealing with the problems must be combined with modern technology and especially modern communications technology

It is impossible to avoid or even curtail the inroads of cultural and other influences reaching ethnic communities. These influences are global and pervasive. In fact it is often desirable that these influences leaven the cultural milieu of ethnic communities and bring them out of isolation. It is important though that windows of communication be established to filter some outside influences that may be heavily motivated by commercial, political and religious interests without due consideration of local conditions.

The development of leadership and the extension of education at all levels should be a priority for development and integration of ethnic groups with the rest of society


These thoughts and attitudes have benefited from my discussions with

many people on all continents by personal interviews and correspondence. Over the years I have come to realize that my own opinions from discussion and reading should also be subjected to critical appraisal by as wide a range of people as possible. However I have also realized that it is not easy for my correspondents to get into my mind and my ways of thinking.

I owe a debt to Josef Margraf with who I have discussed some of these topics and to him for giving me the opportunity to visit Xishuangbanna and see for myself a small segment of the problems facing ethnically diverse societies in another part of the world.


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