CERS has been involved with culture conservation for over two decades. It started as documentation of many indigenous cultures unique to China's minority nationalities, many of which were in the process of disintegration, assimilation, or simply eclipsing in modern times. We gradually moved into the design and implementation of culture projects, at times involving entire local communities. We preserve both material and intellectual culture. In the former we sometimes conserve and restore entire ensembles of architecture, up to twenty houses or more in some projects. In the latter we document and support collections of ethnic music and legends. CERS is also an important repository of many old records, select pictures and films.

A former headhunter’s festival

Wong How Man
Khamti, Myanmar

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Tribal chief with hornbill beaks on headdress. Young Naga warrior with ornaments. Lady with tattooed face. Naga family with multiple children.“Mind your head,” said my interpreter as I entered a Naga home. Too late, as my cap shaded my view of the low-hanging doorway and I banged my head. But that phrase of warning rang deeper and went back centuries into time immemorial for the Naga living along the border of Myanmar with India, up near the foothills of the Himalayas. Headhunters the Naga were, up until at least 1983, perhaps even into the 1990s, as one account puts it.

Thus visitors in the past always had to “mind their heads” when traveling among the jungles of the Naga hills. When the Naga hit, like guerillas coming out of the jungle, they took no hostage, just heads. Some of these raids among villages netted not just one head, not even a dozen heads, but hundreds. Feuds among neighboring tribes could last for generations, at least until the British colonial power finally extended their rule and penetrated the remote region with an attempt to pacify the area and put an end to such barbaric tribal warfare.



Wong How Man
Lashio, Myanmar

Train crossing the famous high Goktiek bridge over 100 meters above the canyon below.“Your tickets are for upper class,” said Klai Klai my driver. With that he handed me a scrubby and coarse piece of paper, a printed form with some handwritten Burmese on it. Our names were written on it, together with our passport numbers behind.

Momentarily something flashed into mind. Is upper class like the many pick-up trucks around the country, with people sitting on the roof? Or is it like some of the Indian trains I have seen in pictures with passengers sitting on top? After all, Thirty-six US Dollars for the three of us to ride from Mandalay to Lashio, a lengthy sixteen hours ordeal on a local train, hardly promises to be an Oriental Express or Road to Mandalay experience.



Wong How Man
Ali Shan, Taiwan – 9 December 2011

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Early Tsou man with teeth knocked off (circa 1930). Anmo of the Tsou people today. Ritual house recreated today in Ali Shan. Thatch-roofed home of the 1930s. An Da-ming’s face has a shiny copper-tone to it, just like his cousin An Xiao-ming, whom we called by his nickname Anmo. Whether such tan skin came from long exposure of working under the sun or was their natural complexion I could not tell. Strangely, both men’s wives have much fairer skin though they too share their load of chores in the field. For Shu-yun, wife of the former, it is their tea farm, whereas for Hui-ling, Anmo’s wife, their field of crops and vegetable. The men’s features are more robust, with eyes sunken below the brows, high nose lines and cheek bones.

Both are of the Tsou minority of Ali Shan, deep inside the mountains of Taiwan. The Tsou has a population of barely 5000 individuals and are indigenous to the island. Under the Japanese rule from 1895 to 1945, followed by over half a century of the Nationalist rule, many of the traditions and customs of the Tsou people were eclipsed. First to go was the old tradition of head hunting by the Tsou, once a proud occupation of the Tsou warriors against intruders or when faced with outside threats. Dutch and Portuguese explorers and early settlers described such “barbaric” and horrifying behaviors in their encounters with the Tsou. Today while recounting such acts by his ancestors, Anmor spoke with no sign of inhibition or regrets. Instead I could almost sense an air of pride in his tone.



Wong How Man
Garcho, Tibet - 10 July 2010

During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, the People’s Commune was hailed as the epitome of a society model. Entrance with signage to local government“People’s Commune is Good” was a political slogan that ruled the day. I came to China early enough (1974) to have visited many communes, from large ones like the Red Star Commune outside of Beijing, to small ones like the Three-Eight Commune in the countryside of rural Guangdong, deriving its name from its earlier market days of 3 and 8 of the monthly calendar.

But such exposure to the social fabric of China’s more “progressive” days has long become tiny threads of memory. Ever since Deng Xiaoping unleashed his economic reforms in 1979, and subsequent distribution of land to its tillers in the countryside, the communes have become a word of the past, existing only in history books. I thought the once-revered practice of co-operatives had disappeared altogether. That is, until I visited the most remote part of northern Tibet on a recent expedition.


Thirty-five years before and after

Wong How Man
Suzhou, Jiangsu Province – 26
July 2009

1974 - The Grand Canal at Suzhou"Above there is heaven, and below there is Suzhou and Hanzhou.”
For centuries, this adage has circulated widely, reflecting the two cities’ serene beauty.

I first visited Suzhou in 1974 and again in 1977, 1986 and 1988. I am back again after a 20-year absence. In 1988, I was disappointed at the fast-changing scene which dulled many of my earlier memories of this unique city with its myriad canals and bridges.



Wong How Man
Cizhong, Yunnan - 12 April 2009

Yao Fei offering communion at EasterFather Yao Fei sports a crew-cut and stands about five foot four inches. Despite his short stature, when dressed in a long white gown, he stands tall among his followers. Here in this mountain enclave, Fr Yao leads as well as serves his Tibetans devotees of Christ in a pristine valley along the Mekong River.

He has been here for just over a year, as shepherd to his flock in a village where 80% of the population is Christian, rather than Buddhist – a religion to which almost all Tibetans traditionally adhere. Yao’s original home is Inner Mongolia but he was trained and later ordained as a priest in Beijing 18 years ago. He became a Catholic at the age of 20 and is now 45 years old.



Wong How Man
Hong Kong - 14 December 2008

Old city wall of Xian as seen from the airBetween 1933 to 1936, German pilot Graf zu Castell flew for Eurasia, an airline founded in 1930 between the Chinese government and Germany’s Lufthansa Airlines. The purpose of this airline was to provide aerial access and service to remote areas of China. The cooperation was very successful and a route was opened between many cities during its first year, connecting Shanghai, Nanjing, Jinan, Beijing, Linxi and Manzhouli. Later more connections were opened from Shanghai to Nanjing and Loyang, and onward to Xian, Lanzhou, Suzhou (in Gansu), Hami, Urumqi, reaching as far as Chuguchak at the Russian-Mongolian border.