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 (Taipei) 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. Within this framework, the Yao Dao Team also collaborates with the Asian Highlands Manuscripts research group. 

Another collaboration in Germany has digitised the Yao Collection preserved at the CATS Library, University of Heidelberg, and comprised of 211 manuscripts and 10 paintings. As part of this collaboration, Joseba Estevez co-curated (manuscripts in ritual use and their visual documentation) the exhibition “Brücke zu den Göttern Taoistische Ritual-Manuskripte der Yao” organised by the CATS Library in May-October 2020 [now virtual).

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.

Starting in 2021, a close collaboration – including workshops, international conferences, and an ongoing research project – connects us with the Institute for the Study of Yao Culture at Kanagawa University, in Japan.

Team Leaders

DR JOSEBA ESTÉVEZ is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (HKIHSS), the University of Hong Kong (HKU).

His regional specialisation is South-East Asia, where he has conducted long-term social anthropological fieldwork on the role of the Lanten Yao (Mun) rituals experts in Luang Namtha Province, Laos, from 2010 onward. He presented his PhD thesis Conquering Demons, Taming the Forest: The Ritual Roles of the Lanten Priests and Masters 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” (EAP791, EAP1126) 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] and Global China Local Cultures.

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

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.

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.

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.

Pak Hei Nam (Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies, graduate in 2023) is an aspiring architect. His interest in exploring vernacular culture began during his final years of secondary school, where he had the opportunity to do voluntary work overseas, engaging with various foreign communities. Through this project, he hopes to contribute towards the preservation of cultural diversity, as well as to expand his cultural sensitivity and awareness, a valuable skill that translates into the architectural practice.

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.