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South of Colorful Clouds: A Bridge for Cultural Exchanges between China and Southeast Asian and South Asian Countries


Sun Xiqin

Yunnan is located at the junction of China, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos, connecting the three major economic markets of China, Southeast Asia and South Asia, and is a key land transportation hub for China to reach Southeast Asia and South Asia.

Unique geographical environment, beautiful mountains and rivers, picturesque scenery, known as “the south of colorful clouds.” Yunnan is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious province, where many ethnic groups, such as Han, Yi, Bai, Dai, Hani, Zhuang and Miao, have lived for generations, and various ethnic groups have formed rich and colorful folk culture through long-term exchanges and blending.

Yunnan is also the province with the largest number of religions in China. Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam and primitive religions are all found in Yunnan, which is called the “religious kingdom” of China. Yunnan has a long history and culture. As early as the fourth century BC, Yunnan was already one of the important passages of the ancient Silk Road. With the evolution of history, Yunnan has gradually developed into a multicultural intersection, where various cultures collide, communicate and merge with each other, forming a unique Yunnan culture. Yunnan is one of the cradles of Chinese culture and a shining star in Chinese cultural circle.

Culture is a relatively stable way of life formed by historical precipitation, which is characterized by artificial creation and common compliance by groups. Because the countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia are geographically adjacent to Yunnan and have similar topography, climate and natural resources, excellent natural conditions have laid a solid foundation for the mutual integration and communication between the two sides.

Yunnan has a long history of cultural exchanges with South Asian and Southeast Asian countries. As early as ancient times, Yunnan’s tea, silk, porcelain and other commodities spread to South Asia and Southeast Asia through the Silk Road. Yunnan also absorbed cultural elements from South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, such as Buddhism, Islam, and the culture, art and customs of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Cultural exchange not only enriches the cultural connotation of Yunnan, but also promotes the friendly relations between Yunnan and South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.

Since the founding of People’s Republic of China (PRC), Yunnan’s cultural exchanges with South Asian and Southeast Asian countries have experienced an evolutionary process from the initial stage to the mature stage. In the initial stage, Yunnan took advantage of its geographical and cultural advantages and became a cultural bridge connecting the mainland of China with South Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Since the reform and opening up, cultural exchanges between Yunnan and South Asia and Southeast Asian countries have become increasingly frequent, and the content of cultural exchanges with South Asia and Southeast Asian countries has gradually expanded through trade routes such as the ancient tea-horse road.

Now, the cultural exchanges between Yunnan and South Asia and Southeast Asian countries are maturing. Yunnan not only maintains friendly exchanges with neighboring countries through traditional communication methods, such as art festivals and cultural festivals, but also enhances the depth and breadth of cultural exchanges through modern scientific and technological means, such as digital museums and online cultural activities.

At present, Yunnan Province has become a bright pearl in the cultural exchange between China and the world. The multiculturalism in Yunnan not only enriches the connotation of Chinese culture, but also makes important contributions to the development of cultural diversity in the world. In the future, with the continuous improvement of cultural communication and influence in Yunnan Province, it will be even more dazzling and contribute more to the development of world culture.

[This is a phased research achievement of the project of Yunnan Social Science Planning Social Think Tank “Research on Strengthening the Construction of Cultural Influence Communication of China (Yunnan) to Neighboring Countries” (project number: SHZK2023208)] 

*The author is an associate researcher at Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences. 

**The views in this article are the author’s own and may not represent the views of The Diplomatic Insight. The organization does not endorse or assume responsibility for the content.

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