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Kunming warily hosting postponed academic conference

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One year after its postponement due to Olympic jitters, the global congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) is being held in Kunming from today through Friday, July 31.

This week more than 4,000 academics from more than 100 countries will be in Kunming to discuss developments in anthropology and ethnology. The five-day event will cover topics including cultural diversity, the environment, social change, immigration, language, education, the family, women and children's issues, architecture and corporate social responsibility.

The Kunming congress is the fourth global congress organized by the IUAES, which is headquartered at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Previous editions have been held in Kolkata, India; Pardubice, Czech Republic and Cape Town, South Africa.

The congress was originally scheduled to take place in July 2008, but it was postponed by the China Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in May, with no official reason given during a time when cultural events were being canceled nationwide in the runup to the Beijing Olympics.

In the wake of recent riots in Xinjiang, the Kunming government seems determined to minimize the chance of anything not going according to plan at the congress this week.

Yunnan University, which is hosting the congress, is off limits to the general public – entry is only granted to registered participants who must display passes. Additionally, the university's perimeter is under heavy police watch.

No official explanation for barring the general public from Yunnan University's main campus has been given, there are several possible reasons, including the attendance of Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu at this morning's opening ceremony.

In his address to the congress, Hui said that "pushing forward dialogues and cooperation among different civilizations is a joint responsibility of individuals and governments."

Despite Hui's upbeat statement, the recent ethnic violence in Xinjiang that left hundreds dead is likely a cause for ramped up security. Another potential reason for government uneasiness may be the occasional overlap between anthropology and intelligence gathering operations.

IUAES Secretary General Peter JM Nas has published a statement against the mixing of anthropological research and spying, summed up by his last sentence: "The values of openness and honesty ultimately trump those of deception."

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They have recently tightened up the rules for in which hotels foreigners can stay as well. I actually ran into a psb officer at one of the hotels I tried to book at. He said the tightening of procedures were to protect us mentioning Xinjiang and Uighurs and stuff like that.

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