China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities

Educational Excursions

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Beijing: Minority Relations in Historical Perspective
Students travel across China to the capital city of Beijing, where Yunnan Province’s great ethnic diversity is placed in both historical and contemporary perspective. Through a combination of lectures, educational site visits, and guided discussions, the striking ethnic and historical contrast between Beijing and far-away Yunnan Province becomes clear. Beijing allows a glimpse into the roles played throughout China’s history by the majority Han Chinese, as well as by non-Han northern ethnic minorities, and their political, military, and cultural contributions to modern China.

In Beijing, students meet top Chinese academics and learn about Chinese identity and central government policies on minorities. Lecturers may include faculty drawn from Beijing’s best institutions of higher education, including Beijing University, Qinghua University, or China’s Central Nationalities University. Their lectures may focus on such diverse topics as:

  • Dual structures in China: city/country, Han/minorities
  • Government minority policies and relationships among China’s ethnic groups and nationalities
  • China's reproductive policy and its implementation
  • Ethnic identity in China

Furthering students’ understanding of ethnic minority relations over time, students visit historically significant sites of this great city, the capital of modern China and the former capital of the Mongol-minority Yuan Dynasty beginning in the 13th century and the Manchu-minority Qing Dynasty, which ended with the 1911 revolution.

Near Beijing, students see China’s Great Wall, through which Manchu-minority troops poured to create the Qing Dynasty. It was the Qing whose ultimate failure to protect China against the incursions of Western empires led to the revolutions that established the modern Chinese nation-state within the borders the Qing had established, and it was Manchuria, the ethnic homeland of the Manchus, that served as the base for the Japanese invasions of most of China during the 19th and 20th centuries. This history and these developments are explained to students by academics in Beijing and are amply illustrated in visits to the city’s great sites such as museums, the Tibetan temple of Yonghegong, and the Forbidden City of the Manchus, among others.

The Beijing excursion deepens students’ understanding of remote Yunnan’s place in the modern Chinese nation and throughout imperial times, and the distinct roles played by the ethnic minority peoples of China’s northern and southern boundary regions. In a nutshell, minorities in the south alternately resisted and accepted imperial rule, while time and time again and over thousands of years those in the north alternately threatened and founded Chinese empires (e.g.Yuan and Qing dynasties).

Corollary goals of the Beijing excursion include giving students a taste of China’s millennia-old urban sophistication, a clearer idea of the fast pace of modernization in the more developed areas of China, and an appreciation of the high degree of Chinese political centralization. To that end, in addition to group visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, students also have time to discover on their own a plethora of Beijing’s great places, including the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the Olympic Bird's Nest, fascinating markets, and many museums.

Student with a Lama at Songzanlin Monastery in Zhongdian

Day Trips and Minority Areas Field Excursion
The China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities program includes educational excursions designed to complement and enhance classroom study and field-based activities. These excursions provide students with experiential learning opportunities for a broader and deeper understanding of course content. Such excursions may include:

  • A lecture on Islam in China held at a local mosque during Friday prayers
  • An introduction to Buddhism given in a Buddhist temple complex
  • An introduction to Christianity in China given at a small Miao (Hmong) Christian village
  • An explanation of Traditional Chinese Medicine at Yunnan Provincial Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital
  • An introduction to and demonstration of Beijing Opera at a local cultural institute
  • A visit to Kunming’s Flower and Bird Market
  • An introduction to and demonstration of traditional Chinese music and instruments at Yunnan Art Institute
  • A talk on China's ethnic minorities and China's minority policies at the Yunnan Nationalities Museum

During excursions, students may witness firsthand a Dongba shaman go into a trance; the agile and fluid motions of a Daoist master; the selfless dedication of workers at a Tibetan orphanage; an audience with a reincarnate Tibetan lama; and choral singing at a Christian Miao (Hmong) minority village. Educational excursions enhance students' understanding of the region by allowing them to directly observe the dynamics affecting ethnic minority communities in China and to apply concepts introduced through their coursework.
Minority Areas Field Excursion
The two-week minority areas excursion involves deep and varied experiential learning opportunities in the Bai areas of Dali, the Naxi ancient town of Lijiang, and the Tibetan areas of northwestern Yunnan. The itinerary changes each semester to include less-visited sites and rural areas vital to understanding modern China’s vast diversity and many inequalities. Students engage with local residents through visits to religious temples and monasteries, nature reserves, local markets, orphanages, schools, and factories. Immediately preceding the Independent Study Project (ISP) period, this excursion forms the core of the travel portion of the program and exposes students to myriad possibilities and contacts for their ISP.

Yunnan Exploration Project

The Yunnan Exploration Project allows students to build upon concepts learned in the thematic seminar and to utilize their Mandarin language training. The project also develops students’ flexibility and their self-confidence in their ability to conduct fieldwork in China and prepares them for logistical challenges they may encounter during future assignments outside the classroom, during their Independent Study Projects, and on future visits and study in China.

Students identify a site or sites they would like to explore, and, individually or in small groups, arrange their own travel to these destinations, where they explore the area and interact with residents over the course of approximately five days. On their return, each small group presents the skills they used during the process of locating food and lodging during their travels, and, in individual papers, each student discusses incidents during the project that led to a greater understanding of some aspect of China’s dominant and ethnic minority cultures as well as their own culture.

Costs Dates

Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Kunming

Language Study: Chinese

Prerequisites: None


View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)

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