The Yao Dao Project is built on the foundation of collaborations with various academic and governmental institutions. The consortium (MOU 2016-2021) between the National Library of Laos, the University of Münster (Germany) and the University of Hong Kong (China) constitutes the core framework for the Yao Dao Project in the Lao PDR.
Since 2018, collaboration began with the Center for the Study of Chinese Religions, National Cheng Chi University to trace links between the Lanten Yao manuscripts and texts in the Daoist Canon, as well as to compare the ritual structures of the Lanten with those of ritual traditions in Southeast China.
In 2020, we began a collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures of the University of Hamburg, in order to learn new methods and approaches to the study of manuscripts in ethnographic contexts.
Another collaboration in Germany aims at the digitisation of the Yao Collection (220 manuscripts and 10 paintings) preserved at the CATS Library, University of Heidelberg. As part of this collaboration, Joseba Estevez co-curated (manuscripts in use, photographies) the exhibition “Brücke zu den Göttern Taoistische Ritual-Manuskripte der Yao” (May-October 2020; now virtual) organised by the the CATS Library.
We have also begun collaborations with the Institute of Anthropology of the Dept. of Sociology of Zhejiang University and the Yao Research Committee of the Society of Yunnan Nationalities to initiate research on the Landian Yao manuscripts and ritual traditions in China.
In 2021, we look forward to beginning exchanges with the Institute for the Study of Yao Culture at Kanagawa University.
JOSEBA ESTÉVEZ is a Senior Research Assistant in the Asian Religious Connections [ASIAR] research cluster, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (HKIHSS), at HKU.
His regional specialisation is South-East Asia, where he has conducted long-term social anthropological fieldwork on the role of the Lanten Yao (Yao Mun) rituals experts in Luang Nam Tha Province, Laos, from 2010 onward. He is in the last stage of completing his PhD in social anthropology under the supervision of Prof. Emeritus Josephus Platenkamp at the Institute of Ethnology of the University of Münster, Germany. His research interests include ritual, cosmology, exchange, social morphology and social transformation, the comparison of ideologies, animism, Lanten Yao studies, Chinese religion and Daoism.
He is the initiator and director in Laos of the projects “A Digital Library of the Lanten Textual Heritage” (EAP 791, EAP 1126) and “The Lanten Oral Stories”; he is also co-producer of two documentaries about the Lanten. He is the Co-Director (Co-I) of the Yao Dao Project grants at the University of Hong Kong, and collaborator for Laos and Thailand in the cluster’s project Infrastructures of Faith: Religious Mobilities on the Belt and Road [BRINFAITH].
DR DAVID A. PALMER is a Professor jointly appointed by the HKIHSS and the Department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong, which he joined in 2008.
After completing his Ph.D. at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (School for Advanced Research, Université Paris PSL), he was the Eileen Barker Fellow in Religion and Contemporary Society in the Department of Sociology of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and, from 2004 to 2008, Director of the Hong Kong Centre of the French School of Asian Studies (Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient), located at the Institute for Chinese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
He leads the Asian Religious Connections [ASIAR] research cluster at the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, where he directs the major projects Yao Dao (P-I) and Infrastructures of Faith: Religious Mobilities on the Belt and Road, namely, BRINFAITH (P-I).
MARTIN TSE has been awarded as HKU Presidential PhD Scholar at the Asian Religious Connections [ASIAR] research cluster, HKIHSS. He has been working with Prof. Palmer as Research Assistant, Assistant Lecturer and M. Phil student in the HKIHSS since 2014 and is currently writing a book together with him on a Daoist/Buddhist ritual tradition in Yingde, northern Guangdong, China.
His PhD research is an ethnographic and textual study of the Daoist ordination rituals among the Lanten Yao in Laos, which attempts to reveal the articulation of the relationship between the Chinese core and ethnic periphery formulated by the Lanten Yao people in their rituals and religious texts.
Taking up the research initiative set out by the team, Martin has been coordinating the textual research tasks and is developing a new research approach of “textual anthropology” to unpack the social structures embedded in the Lanten Yao texts. His latest publication is “Guanyin’s Limbo: Icons as Demi-Persons and Dividuating Objects” (American Anthropologist, 2019, co-authored with David A. Palmer and Chip Colwell).
Research Staff and Students
AN WEI is a Senior Research Assistant at the Asian Religious Connections [ASIAR] research cluster, HKIHSS, HKU.
She received her PhD from Peking University in July 2014. Trained in literature studies, she is researching the stories of female deities found in the Lanten Yao religious texts, which constitute an inextricable part of the gender system developed by the ethnic group. She catalogued the texts collected in Laos in the Yao Dao project and is currently studying several selected materials related to gender and literature.
HELEN FU is a Research Assistant at the Asian Religious Connections [ASIAR] research cluster, HKIHSS, HKU.
Trained in Chinese Literature and Library Science, she previously worked as a journalist, columnist and editor in a Chinese newspaper in Hong Kong. She is now contributing to the research team by her expertise in Chinese-text editing and has been the main contributor to the task of manuscript transcription of ritual books used by the Lanten Yao priests and masters, which lays the bedrock for further textual analyses and book publication projects.
SUN JIAYUE is an MPhil candidate at the Asian Religious Connections [ASIAR] research cluster, HKIHSS, HKU.
His MPhil research on the Lanten Yao manuscripts and narratives (oral and written) gives shape to an important research dimension—the narrative structure that repeats over and over again in different texts and stories. His work on identity articulation among the Lanten Yao, employs an interdisciplinary methodology that incorporates cultural sociology, history and anthropology, providing the foundation for comparable analyses between Yao communities and other ethnic minorities in China.
GUO HUIWEN is an MPhil candidate at the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies in the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Since 2018 she has coordinated the cataloguing tasks for the Lanten Yao manuscript collection. She has developed a distinctive method of categorization that incorporates both ethnographic findings and textual evaluation to sort out the key ritual manuscripts that give shape to the religious ceremonies among the Lanten Yao. Her current MPhil research on the texts of the “Pacifying Dragons” and “Chanting Spirits” rites among the Lanten Yao attempts to unpack the relationship between Buddhist and Daoist elements in Lanten ritual.
ZHANG MENGTING is a Research Assistant at the Asian Religious Connections [ASIAR] research cluster, HKIHSS, HKU.
Trained in landscape planning, her research focuses on ecologically and culturally complex and contentious landscapes in developing regions. Applying analytical cartography, she is creating visualizations and infographics on the various historical and modern narratives of cosmology and migration of the Lanten Yao in the transboundary region of northern Laos, northwest Vietnam, and southwestern China.
TONG YUE is Multimedia Development Assistant at Asian Religious Connections [ASIAR] research cluster, HKIHSS, HKU.
Driven by her passion for arts, culture and spirituality, she is the media content developer of the team. Her work forms the presentation framework that conveys the Yao Dao findings to a wider audience. She is also a proficient writer and reporter who has the capacity to formulate promotion campaigns to disseminate research content to the public via various platforms of social media, newsletter, and podcast, and so to promote academic conversations and public engagement.
HKU Students Illustrators for Oral Stories
Liu Yao Jun Dora (Bachelor of Arts, major in French and Chinese Literature, graduate in 2022) is currently a Student Research Assistant at the Digital Literacy Lab at HKU. Since childhood, she has always been curious about creative means of expression, such as painting and creative writing. In her spare time, she loves to create illustrations and animations and posting them online (under the name of Mr. Arod). In recent years, she started her own freelance business mainly on motion design. With a keen interest on cultures, stories and children illustrations, she joined the Lanten Oral Stories Project hoping to promote their unique culture with creative media.
Lam Chin Yui Jeanne [Bachelor of Social Sciences, major in Psychology and Fine Arts, graduate in 2022] is passionate about digital drawings and loves creating portraits and characters. She is currently a freelance graphic designer for a healthcare company and had experience working in major art exhibitions and auctions. As a social sciences student, she is keen to raise awareness of global issues through art. Combining her interest in humanities research and passion for character design, she hopes to present a series of colourful and dynamic Lanten Yao stories in comic style artworks.
Wong Yuet Tung Jessica (Bachelor of Science in Actuarial Science, graduate in 2024) , from a young age, has shown a keen interest in creative arts and anthropology, particularly in oral tradition and mythology. In her free time, she is involved in creative writing, illustration and drama, participating through school and independently as a freelance artist. Through this program, she aims to translate traditional texts and stories into art, doing her part, through more fluent and digestible storytelling and format, in the preservation of a unique culture.
Tam Wing Huen Raven [Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies, graduate in 2023] is an Archi beginner, manga fan, and cinephile.
Collaborators at the National Library of Laos
Khanthamaly Yangnouvong (centre), Bounprasith Viladeth (left), Bounchan Phoutavang (right),
and Joseba Estevez with Saotula Khounphomxay (behind).
Yao Mun Collaborators
Our local collaborators include several senior Lanten ritual experts who assist the Yao Dao Project as consultants, informants, and translators.
International Advisory Board
Asian Religions Connections – ASIAR
Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences
The University of Hong Kong
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