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The Akha in China

The Akha of China are called the Aini and are grouped together with the Hani, a much larger group, also known as the terrace builders of China.

There are approximately 250,000 Akha in China, mostly in the area of Jing Hong referred to as Xishuangbanna. A government website in English for this region can be seen here:

In Kunming there is the Yunnan University of Nationalities (YUN) which is worth a visit if you would like to join their international program. The old university is just across the street from Yunnan University and many of the new university campuses have been moved to a town called Chen Gong (sp?) which is about an hour away. The #212 bus leaves from 121 street near both universities at 7:30 and 9:30 and has return trips in the afternoon.

There is the Minorities Museum and Park, two places worth visiting in Kunming. the Park has a showcase of the minorities of Yunnan and the Museum has a large collection of textiles and other work of the minorities but I think it gets overlooked a bit by most of the tourists who visit the Park.

There is also a Govt. Minorities Bookstore in west Kunming.

The Akha in China have full citizenship and access to university education. In villages which I traveled to I saw that the government makes assistance to the villages and also that the government supports and encourages the culture of the Akha people as worth protecting.

From our investigations it appears that the mostly American missions working in Yunnan intend to follow the same sort of colonizing outreach as they have followed in Thailand with the minorities. Some organizations prefer to identify themselves as a project producing and selling something but references in their literature give away the obvious, that they are in fact a missionizing organization, there to make sure their western take on religion and culture gets put in place. Most of the missions were a bit sneaky and didn't want to talk about it, avoided the subject, etc. Others were more forthright, avoiding the topic of culture, but telling what they do and why and how and in the end its obvious the culture has to go too as it has many "demons, spirits, darkness". The same mantra of course.

The goal of using the "converted" Akha of Thailand to move into China and take a grip on the Akha of China has heavy political overtones. This reminds one of the days when the KMT Chinese were driven into Burma and later Thailand. In fact the KMT Chinese or the Taiwanese Chinese represent significant problems for the Akha of Thailand in the way they run their missions there for converting the Akha. Two large groups are the Maesai Baptists and Bethel Bible Institute and also Operation Dawn.

The high focus of missions on the minorities of Yunnan doesn't go without notice, more focus than any other part of China. Focussing on the most vulnerable to manipulation it would seem. It can not always be argued that the minorities are the poorest. Certainly there are many poor Thais in Thailand but the hill tribe get the focus. In part because the work the missionaries do and the heavy handed fashion in which they do it in the Akha villages of Thailand would not go over well in Thai communities.

There are 25 minority groups in Yunnan out of 50 plus nation wide. SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) has its national office in Kunming, which should be reason for concern to anyone familiar with SIL's work with minorities in South America. The focus on "overrunning" the minorities of Yunnan is no different really than the strategy that missions have used on the minorities in Thailand, when the government turns a blind eye to what ever the missions do. However in China the government is much more concerned with what is happening to the minority groups and who is working with them.

In our discussions with American missions in Yunnan, they were quite clear, regardless of what lip service their publications made to culture, that culture had to go, that it was in the way of "religious progress".

Missions can present themselves as doing medical aid, growing coffee, exporting coffee, being involved in textiles and many other projects. But the name of the game at the end of the day if you measure it as to what will become of Akha culture, is always the same, Akha culture will only be allowed to exist as the missions decide. A pretty much "top down" view.

In studying missions it is always interesting to notice where their founders hail from, what states in the US, Bible belt etc.

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