Power at the Periphery:  Nature and Culture in Southwest China (Anth 247 ST-B; Summer 2018) is a three week, two-credit, optional (by application only) field component to the regular (and prerequisite) Spring 2018 course (Anth 247 ST-A).  Two faculty and 12-14 students will spend 21 days exploring key issues in natural and cultural ecology and diversity in the rugged ‘Three Rivers’ region of northwest Yunnan Province, China. 

Program Dates:

  • May 22 – June 13, 2018


  • Kunming City and various locations in northwestern Yunnan Province, China
  • The Three Rivers Region of Yunnan Province is home to an extraordinary range of biological habitats and distinct ethnic divisions. The area has long been a place of political contention, and is today a key site for environmental debates over water resources and wildlife and cultural preservation.

Program Itinerary*:

  • May 22: Depart Seattle
  • May 23: Arrive Kunming
  • May 24-25: Kunming City Walking tour including the Yunnan Provincial Museum and the Kunming Institute of Botany
  • May 26-June 10: Travel by bus to various sites in the Golden Sand (Yangtze) and Lancang (Mekong) River watersheds in northwest Yunnan.  This will include well-known destinations, such as Dali, Shangri-la, and Mt. Kawagebo (Deqen), but also a host of remote locations for studying cultural and ecological diversity, including Buddhist monasteries, Tibetan Catholic villages, upland yak-breeding stations, rural industry sites, a wide range of agricultural zones and technologies, old growth forest at Laojunshan, ethnic Naxi, Yi, Tibetan, Lisu and Bai villages, and the traditional indigo dye works at Zhoucheng. 
  • June 11: Return Kunming
  • June 12: Kunming—student presentations of field research
  • June 13: Return Seattle (arrive same day)

*These are anticipated dates which will be finalized when the optional group flight has been booked.

Course Title: ANTH 247 B Power at the Periphery: Nature and Culture in Southwest China
Credits: 2 credits
Counts as:

Major credit:

  • Anthropology
  • Asian and Middle East Studies for East Asia or South/Southeast Asia geographic area
  • Environmental Studies Social Science Foundations course

Distribution credit:

  • Cultural Pluralism
  • Social Science
Prerequisite: ANTH 247 A | No Chinese language required

Course Objectives:

  • to introduce students to historical and contemporary concerns regarding natural resource exploitation/conservation and cultural integration in this remote corner of Yunnan Province, along the Burma and Tibet borders.  The Chinese state has only penetrated the region in relatively recent times, and the incredible natural and ethnic diversity creates a textbook ‘laboratory’ for understanding.
  • to understand how the major lowland rice-growing states of China, Burma, Vietnam, and Thailand have intersected with tribal pastoralists and swidden agriculturalists in the neighboring highlands over the last 5,000 years.
  • to explore issues of state power, peripherality, integration and resistance more generally.
  • to consider difficult questions surrounding water use in SW China and SE Asia, especially as concerns damming for hydropower, pollution, and population relocation.
  • to understand the complex relations between neighboring peoples with vastly different subsistence patterns, and cultural and political outlooks.


  • Participants will be expected to complete a journal with digital photos as well as an independent research project as part of this course.


  • Chas McKhann, Professor of Anthropology

Pre-Course Orientation:

  • to prepare admitted students for the course and travel to China, Professor McKhann will hold 1-2 mandatory one-hour meetings with students during the Spring semester. He will introduce students to the geographic and cultural aspects of China, provide advice on travel arrangements and, as the departure time approaches, give basic information on Chinese cultural norms and language.

Chas McKhann is a professor in the Anthropology Department at Whitman.  He has been working in northwest Yunnan for more than 30 years.  Professor McKhann's main interests concern ethnicity, religion, cultural ecology, state-minority relations, and tourism development.

Zhao Wencui is a Senior Adjunct Instructor of Whitman's Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures (Chinese).  Professor Zhao is a Naxi native of Shangri-la Prefecture in northwest Yunnan and has been leading Whitman summer programs in China for more than 10 years.

Housing will mainly be in hotels and guesthouses (2 per room) in the towns we will be visiting.

Meals: Breakfast and lunch will be eaten as a group and covered by program fees.


Crossroads: Yunnan (China) welcomes applications from all Whitman undergraduate students who:

  • are registered for (and successfully complete) the prerequisite Anth 247 ST-A, in Spring 2018
  • are in academic good standing
  • will be a continuing student in Summer 2018 (May 2018 graduates are ineligible)
  • knowledge of Mandarin Chinese is not required
  • International students at Whitman (including those from China) are welcome to apply

How to apply:


  • Monday, October 16, 2017

Group size:

  • Space is limited to 14 students


  • Applicants will be interviewed by the Faculty Directors as part of the selection process after the application deadline.

Program Fees:

  • The program fee for the Crossroads: Yunnan (China) is $2,500. The program fee covers the following:
    • Tuition
    • Housing accommodations
    • Meal stipend
    • Chinese visa fee
    • Internatoinal medical insurance
    • Pre-departure orientation on campus and in-country orientation in Kunming
    • Group travel within China, program excursions and field trips
    • Course textbooks
  • The program fee does not cover international airfare to and from China, passport fees, U.S. medical insurance, or incidental expenses such as laundry, stationery items, souvenirs, entertainment or independent travel. International airfare is separate from the program fee and estimated at $1,800-$2,100.  A group flight option will be available.
  • Total Estimated Costs: $4,600 (includes program fees and international airfare estimate)

Enrollment Deposit:

  • Students admitted into the program will be expected to pay a nonrefundable enrollment deposit of $500 no later than January 10, 2018.

Scholarships and Financial Aid:

  • Students with financial need are strongly encouraged to apply for funding.  A substantial amount of need-based scholarship assistance is available through the David Deal China Exchange Endowment funding.  Both partial and full scholarships may be awarded.
  • Students will be notified of their aid awards in their admission notification letter.
  • Students who have received financial aid previously for China trips through the David Deal Endowment, such as the Whitman Summer Studies in China 2017 program, are eligible to apply for further funding from this endowment. Questions about scholarship opportunities for this program should be directed to Susan Holme, Director of Off-Campus Studies, Mem 205.