The Thai-Yunnan Project was launched in 1987 as a consequence of relationships established during the International Conference on Thai Studies held in Canberra that year. The intention was to direct research to the region of mainland Southeast Asia and those areas of the People's Republic of China (PRC), particularly Yunnan, which have had long cultural, economic and social relations with each other. In addition the project brought together those at the ANU who had interests in that region.

Initial funding was given for a two-year post to which Scott Bamber was appointed. Dr Bamber conducted research on the medical system in the Tai Lue-speaking region of Sipsongpanna (Xishuangbanna, PRC) and in north Thailand. Translations of Chinese works on the region commenced.

The Newsletter began publishing in March 1988 and completed thirty issues. It had an international readership and international contributors. We published substantive, original articles, as well as translations, items of news, sometimes from other publications, book reviews and correspondence. 450 copies of each issue were printed and distributed free of charge. A digest of highlights from previous issues of the Newsletter, with the title The Tai World, was published in 2001. The Newsletter was replaced firstly by the TYP Bulletin from 2001 to 2005, and since then by the Thai-Yunnan Project Bulletin Board, on which articles of interest have been placed as they become available.

The late Gehan Wijeyewardene did periods of field research in the border regions of Sipsongpanna and Dehong (also in the PRC), northern Thailand, Manerplaw (Karen National Union headquarters) and Kengtung in Myanmar. Nick Tapp, who guided the project from 2000 to 2010, also has field experience of minority areas in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China. Dr. Tapp is now based at the East China Normal University in Shanghai, but continues to advise and monitor the progress of the project.

Three students were directly associated with the TYP in early days: Cholthira Satyawadhna, who worked on Mon-Khmer-speaking groups in Yunnan and Thailand; Niti Pawakapan, whose thesis was on the town of Khun Yuam, a border town in north Thailand in which three Tai languages and Karen are in regular use; and Andrew Walker, whose study of trade and traders on the Thai-Lao-Burmese borders (The Legend of the Golden Boat) was published in 2009. From the beginning, Ajarn Chintana Santilands provided ANU students working in Thailand with outstanding linguistic skills, and continues to do so at present.

Since 2000 graduate students who have directly benefited from the TYP or been associated with it in other ways include Malcolm Cairns, Antonella Diana, James Haughton, Wasan Panyagaew, Sarinda Singh, Thararat Chareonsonthichai, Warren Mayes, Nguyen van Suu, Runako Samata, Kathy Zhang, Aura Yen, Nich Farrelly, Catherine Churchman, Holly High, Mar Mar Khin, Bai Zhihong, Li Quanmin, Bo Seo and Roger Casas. The project has been host to a number of visitors, many of them from academic institutions in Kunming and Chiangmai. Visitors in the late 2000s included Amporn Jirratikorn (Luce Fellowship, University of Texas - Austin), Aranya Siriphon (Chiangmai University), Yin Shaoting (Anthropology, Yunnan University), Naran Bilik (Beijing Central University of Ethnic Nationalities). In 2011-2012, Sai Kham Mong visited from Myanmar.

Despite the sad deaths within the past 15 years of several outstanding figures associated with the TYP - first its founder Gehan Wijeyewardene (see his student Ananda Rajah's obituary article 'Gehan Wijeyewardene 1932-2000' in The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 2/1. May 2001; 89-108), then Ananda's own sad death in 2007 (see his fellow student Andrew Walker's announcement of this on the 'New Mandala' blog, 14 January 2007), Peter Hinton (Bulletin 6, 2004), and Ted Chapman (Bulletin 2, 2001) -, this new cohort of graduate alumni and associated visitors and publications guarantees the continuation of the project.


  • Bai Zhihong, Wa plants used for food and medicine (pdf, 6710KB)
  • Condominas, George (1990), From Lawa to Mon, from Saa' to Thai: historical and anthropological aspects of Southeast Asian Social spaces, trans. by Stephanie Anderson, Maria Magannon and Gehan Wijeyewardene, ed. by Gehan Wijeyewardene with the assistance of Judith Wilson and Paula Harris, Research School of Pacific Studies, ANU, Canberra
  • Downer, Gordon (2004), The Miao-Yao World: Selected Papers in Linguistics (with the Department of Anthropology, ANU)
  • Forsyth, Tim, and Walker, Andrew (2008) Forest Guardians, Forest Destroyers: the Politics of Environmental Knowledge in Northern Thailand, Silkworm Books and University of Washington Press
  • Furnivall, John (1991), The fashioning of Leviathan: The Beginnings of British Rule in Burma, edited by Gehan Wijeyewardene, Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific Studies, in association with the Economic History of Southeast Asia Project and the Thai-Yunnan Project, ANU, Canberra
  • He Ming, From Colonialism and National Crisis to Nation-state Reconstruction and Cultural Self-Concepts: Studies of Ethnic History in Southwest China, Volume 1 of the Review of Anthropology and Ethnology in Southwest China, a publication coordinated by David Lewis, Zhu Min and David Atwill for the Social Science Academic Press, China View table of contents (pdf, 48KB)
  • Hirsch, Philip and Tapp, Nicholas, eds. (2010), Tracks and Traces: Thailand and the Work of Andrew Turton, Amsterdam University Press (Also published by Silkworm Press, in English and in Thai)
  • Tapp, Nicholas and Walker, Andrew, eds. (2001), The Tai world: a digest of articles from the Thai-Yunnan Project Newsletter, Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies and The Thai-Yunnan Project, ANU, Canberra
  • Tapp, Nicholas (2010), The Impossibility of Self: An essay on the Hmong Diaspora, Lit Verlag, Berlin
  • Walker, Andrew, ed. (2009), Tai Lands and Thailand: Community and State in Southeast Asia, Asian Studies Association of Australia in association with NUS, Singapore, and NIAS, Copenhagen
  • Walker, Andrew (2012), Thailand's Political Peasants, University of Wisconsin Press
  • Wijeyewardene, Gehan, ed. (1990), Ethnic groups across national boundaries in mainland Southeast Asia, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore
  • Wijeyewardene. Gehan and E.C. Chapman, eds. (1993) Patterns and Illusions: Thai history and thought, 2nd ed. An Occasional Paper of the Department of Anthropology, RSPacS. (Originally published 1992 in association with the Richard Davis Fund and Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.)
  • Yos Santasombat (2004) Lak Chang: A Reconstruction of Thai Identity in Daikong, Pandanus Books

Papers, Articles, and Book Chapters

  • Casas, Roger (2008) 'On the Situation of Theravada Buddhism in Contemporary Xishuangbanna', in Prasit Leepreecha, Don McCaskill and Kwanchewan Buadaeng, eds., Challenging the Limits: Indigenous Groups in the Mekong region, Mekong Press
  • Renard, Ronald D. (2011) 'In Memory of Georges Condominas and His Contributions to the Anthropology of the Mekong Region' (pdf, 266KB)
  • Tapp, Nicholas (2011) 'Ethnic Isolationism in the China-Southeast Asia Borderlands', in Christian Culas and Francois Robinne, eds., Inter-Ethnic Dynamics in South-East Asia: Considering the Other through Ethnonyms, Rituals and Territories Routledge
  • Tapp, Nicholas (2011) 'The Thai-Yunnan project and the region' (pdf, 103KB), paper presented at International Conference on 60 Years of Anthropology at ANU, 26-28 September
  • Khun Sai, 'Kokang Question' (pdf, 1,619KB), from the Thai-Yunnan Project Newsletter, Issue 12 March 1991. Khun Sai is a specialist on the history of the Shan peoples in Myanmar-Burma and the Sino-Burmese borderlands who has worked as a lecturer at the University of Yangon, then at the Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok)

Thai Yunnan project forum 2011

Lahu pops: Popular music among an ethnic minority in Thai-Burma borderlands

By Associate Professor Yoichi Nishimoto, Kanazawa University

Abstract: Among Christian Lahu, a highland-dwelling ethnic minority, there is a type of music which should be called "Lahu pops". Making contrast to their traditional music, singers of Lahu pops sing Lahu lyric songs to melodies of Western popular music, accompanied by guitars. Although Lahu pops, which was born in Christian environments, sing about God and Christian teachings, they are a remarkable medium of self-expression about Lahu life and culture. As Lahu pops are only found among Christian Lahu, the music serves as a marker between Christian and traditionalist Lahu groups. The fact that VCDs of Lahu pops are distributed and sold in China, Burma and Thailand shows that the music also serves to formulate Christian Lahu identity, in the name of (unmarked) "Lahu", regardless the countries within which they are now living. Study of Lahu pops will show us an interesting relation between an ethnic minority, their own expression about their life and culture, and music as media that goes beyond national boundaries.

Negotiating the Changing Space of 'Zomia': Aqkaq Tseir Kaq Tiq Kaq Ma? or Ten Akha are the Same as One?

By Micah F. Morton, PhD candidate, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Abstract: Wherever Akha may be, and regardless of the country where they reside, we all share the same 'heart'. (Aryeevq Tivq, personal communication, February 26, 2010)

In my paper I present findings from ongoing fieldwork on the post-1980s efforts of members of the Akha minority group in Thailand to construct a more formal transborder sense of belonging among Akha residing in the borderlands of Burma, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam - a region referred to as 'Zomia' by Willem van Schendel (2005[2002]), James Scott (2009) and others. Formerly Akha maintained a transborder sense of belonging rooted in a mythology of a common genealogy traced back over sixty generations to the first Akha. Certain factions of Akha in Zomia are now transforming this mythical sense of transborder kinship into an actual transborder movement and sense of cultural citizenship in a deterritorialized imagined community.

The Akha saying, Aqkaq Tseir Kaq Tiq Kaq Ma, has meaning on two levels, that of the individual and the group. On the individual level it expresses solidarity and the sense of a shared cultural identity with other Akha. On the group level it stresses that while we may belong to different Akha sub-groups we are all part of the larger Akha group (Wang, personal communication, February 27, 2010).

In the first part of my paper I discuss the position of Akha in relation to Scott's notion of 'Zomia' as well as the current work of an indigenous Akha scholar in developing a revisionist history of the formation of the Akha ethnic group. In the second part of my paper I offer a preliminary description of the transborder movement currently evolving among a certain faction of Akha in 'Zomia' today and begin to consider the various local, national and transnational factors that are contributing to the movement's rise. I then conclude with brief discussions of the degree of receptivity towards the transborder movement among members of the general Akha population, the extent to which the transborder movement entails the scaling-up of Akha ethnicity in 'Zomia' and finally the ways in which Akha transborder efforts reflect as well as transcend the shifting geopolitical, sociolinguistic and religious borders that have come to define Akha identitarian politics during the latter half of the twentieth century.

Thai-Yunnan Project Bulletins (2001 - 2005)

Issue 7, March 2005
Issue 6, Jun3 2004
Issue 5, November, 2003
Issue 4, February, 2003
Issue 3, August 2002
Issue 2, November 2001
Issue 1, July 2001

Thai-Yunnan Project Newsletters (1988 - 1995)

Issue No.01
Issue No.02
Issue No.03
Issue No.04
Issue No.05
Issue No.06
Issue No.07
Issue No.08
Issue No.09
Issue No.10
Issue No.11
Issue No.12
Issue No.13
Issue No.14
Issue No.15
Issue No.16
Issue No.17
Issue No.18
Issue No.19
Issue No.20
Issue No.21
Issue No.22
Issue No.23
Issue No.24
Issue No.25
Issue No.26
Issue No.27
Issue No.28

Steering Committee & Editorial Board

  • Prof. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development, Chiangmai University.

  • Dr. Wasan Panyageow, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Chiangmai University.

  • Dr. Joy Bai (Bai Zhihong), Centre for Southwest China Ethnic Borderland Studies, Yunnan University, Research School of Ethnic Minority Studies, Yunnan University. or

  • Prof. He Ming, Centre for Southwest China Ethnic Borderland Studies, Yunnan University, Research School of Ethnic Minority Studies, Yunnan University.

  • Prof. Nick Tapp, Department of Sociology, East China Normal University, Shanghai.

  • Prof. Kathryn Robinson, Department of Anthropology, ANU.

  • Dr.Philip Taylor, Department of Anthropology, ANU.

  • Dr. Helen James, Adjunct Professor and Visiting Fellow, Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute, ANU.

  • Editorial Assistant : Roger Casas, Administrator and Research Scholar, Department of Anthropology, ANU.

Useful links

  • Chiang Mai University
  • Jinan University
  • Yunnan University

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster