Experiencing Culture in Yunnan
Artfully arranged rice terraces, a variety of traditions,and a bustling metropolis at over 2,000 meters: the Porsche Museum sends historical vehicles on a fascinating journey to southwestern China.
The fog ascends the steep slopes, shrouding the historical vehicles from Zuffenhausen in a mystical veil. They are on a journey through Yunnan to carry lessons from the past and present into the future. With over forty-seven million inhabitants and covering over 400,000 square kilometers, this province in southwestern China is larger than Japan. Bordering Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar, Yunnan represents an extraordinary variety of cultural and geographic differences—from snow-capped peaks and karst mountains to limestone cliffs, jungles, and volcanoes.
The first leg of the tour takes the participants—journalists from Asia—to the Hani community, one of more than fifty officially recognized ethnic minorities in the People’s Republic of China. They live in mushroom-shaped houses, built with natural materials such as bamboo, wood and clay, and the roofs are covered with straw, which has a warming effect in the winter and a cooling effect in the summer. Their ancestors in southern Yunnan built rice terraces into the steep slopes of the Ailao Mountains some 1,300 years ago. These masterpieces of landscape architecture are reminiscent of artful drawings in violet, green, yellow, and blue.
The hospitable locals carry on the tradition to this day, passing down their knowledge from generation to generation. The Hani people’s rice terraces in Honghe have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013. Over the centuries, sophisticated irrigation systems using bamboo pipes and small ditches were developed. The Hani still live with and from nature. Fish farming is also integrated into the rice cultivation system. They swim in the terraces, eating weeds, pests, and grasses, and providing natural fertilization.
Li Zhou of National Geographic Traveler tells of the song with which the Hani welcomed their visitors, a song that is included in UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The song is in a language in which there is no word for “war,” because community cohesion is an existential necessity for the people who live in the steep mountains. The province of Yunnan is like a concentrate of extraordinary features. For Zhou, the colorful Porsches are a perfect fit: “To me, what was so outstanding about the trip was the concept of placing historical vehicles in a context with traditional customs.”
The competition among attractions is fierce in the region with its many World Heritage sites, including the three parallel rivers in the mountainous northwest. Without ever meeting, the Yangtze, Mekong, and Salween rivers run for over 300 kilometers from north to south through deep gorges, past 6,000-meter glaciated mountain ranges. Some 500 kilometers further southeast lies Lijiang with its enchanting old town, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. Winding alleyways, traditional architecture, small streams and canals—and around 350 bridges. The door panels adorned with elaborate carvings represent the culture of the Naxi, another recognized ethnic minority.
The capital of Yunnan, by contrast, is a pulsating metropolis of millions. Kunming sits at a stately 1,892 meters on the East Yunnan plateau and stretches along the Dianchi, the largest freshwater lake in the province. Due to its relatively mild climate, Kunming is also known as the “city of eternal spring.” It is the biggest center of flower production in China, and known primarily for azaleas, orchids, and primroses. In addition to agriculture, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and metallurgy—including copper production—are important economic sectors in the metropolitan region. Those who visit the city with a view toward the sky will note the many solar heating systems on the roofs. Residents cover up to two-thirds of their hot water requirements with state-of-the-art systems. In the center of Kunming lies Green Lake Park, an urban park more than fifty hectares in size. Traditional bridges connect four lakes. Originally a water reservoir for the city, the park is now a meeting place for walking, making music, and relaxation.
Preserving, opening, and conveying culture—that’s Porsche’s mission on this trip as well. With its sports cars, the brand created a unique driving culture that it now spreads all around the world. “Giving so much weight to heritage without standing still could be one of the secrets of Porsche,” writes Lei Yu in his travel reporting. Five models from the company’s collection are traversing the southern tip of China. A Porsche 356 B 1600 Super 90 Coupé and four Porsche 911s from different eras have embarked on a tour of discovery. Participant Kiwi Zhou reflects: “The road winds through the terraced fields for a long time. It is almost indescribable in words what it feels like to drive a classic car, with vibrant Porsches in front and behind you whose colors mesh so harmoniously with the landscape of Yunnan.” Especially impressive is the stop at a scenic overlook, where Koko Tang gives insights into the traditional life of the Hani. The thirty-five-year-old managing director of Yunnan Vinetree Tourism serves as a cultural representative responsible for the preservation of Hani culture. Originally from Yunnan, Tang went on to work in New York and later Africa, where she encountered tent cities that would inspire her to bring the idea to her home region and open a hotel group with such tents. Tang explains to the tour group how important the topic of sustainability is for the Hani, how her team builds hotel tents beyond the mass tourism industry, and leaves each place as if travelers had never been there. Culturally sensitive and environmentally conscious. Tang calls it “ecotourism with wild historical roots.” It follows the Chinese worldview of Daoism, according to which humans cannot exist independently of nature and regard it as the highest source of wisdom in all existence. At the end of the stop, Tang asks the participants to look into the distance: a single moment unites four and a half thousand picturesque rice terraces, wrapped in a sea of clouds like cotton balls.
The travel group continues on its way. Locomotion as a means of cultivating culture—it’s about intensive experiences and value preservation, about actively living tradition and exchange. The participants practice the art of bamboo weaving and catch fish with their hands in the rice terraces. Their dinner. Then they beat rice porridge with traditional handicraft techniques and bamboo tools. But the most important part of this trip is the journalistic transmission of intercultural encounters.
SideKICK: Heritage Experience
With the Heritage Experience, the Porsche Museum has created an innovative format that focuses on topics such as identity, respect, and cultural sensitivity. The aim is to experience and learn from other cultures. Prior to the pandemic, the Heritage and Museum department’s new program provided journalists with unforgettable insights into history and culture. The vehicles from the company’s collection form the link between the two and initiate dialogue.
In this way, the Heritage department promotes culturally diverse reporting and sharpens understanding of Porsche’s origins. The second edition of the program is planned for the USA in mid-October 2021.