John Flower

Current Focus

I most recently completed the digital ethnography, Xiakou: Moral Landscape in a Sichuan Mountain Village, co-authored with Pamela Leonard, funded by an ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship (2008), and published through the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the University of Virginia. Moral Landscape is an online monograph and multimedia archive about the historical experience of Xiakou Village in the border region of western Sichuan Province, focusing on the changing interactions between local people and their physical and cultural environments. I have done fieldwork and archival research in Ya’an Municipality, Sichuan Province since 1991. My research on local history in Sichuan is interdisciplinary, combining archival and textual sources with ethnographic fieldwork to explore the cultural history of rural China; historical memory, landscape studies, and GIS spatial analysis; infrastructure development and hydraulic engineering; folklife, folk music and popular religion. In addition to this longitudinal research in Xiakou Village in Sichuan, I also led the Preserving Living Traditions international collaborative research project on Tibetan folk music in the Tibet Autonomous Region in 2000, and have carried out field research in Han-Tibetan border regions of Baoxing and Hanyuan Counties since 2004.


  • 2008 – 09, Visiting scholar, East Asia Center, University of Virginia
  • 2008, Fellow, American Council of Learned Societies Digital Innovation Fellowship
  • 2003– 2007, Associate Professor, History Department, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • 1996 – 2003, Assistant Professor, History Department, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Ph.D. University of Virginia (History of modern China), 1997
  • MA University of Virginia (U.S. intellectual history), 1990
  • BA Haverford College (Philosophy), 1982


  • Local history, cultural landscape, popular religion, and development issues in western Sichuan
  • Digital Humanities and historical GIS
  • Border studies and ethnic interactions
  • Folklife and traditional music
  • Cultural exchange programs


  • Director of the Chinese Studies Program at Sidwell Friends School, Washington DC (2007 – present, responsible for student and faculty exchanges, curriculum development, summer travel study and learning service programs, speaker series, cultural activities programming)
  • Consultant for National Public Radio reporting from Sichuan (2004, 2008)
  • Director of the Preserving Living Traditions research and cultural exchange project on Tibetan and Appalachian folk music (1999 – 2001)
  • Musician, bluegrass and old time music; (1998 – 99 musical tour of China)
  • Grant awards from ACLS, NEH, Department of State


  • Moral Landscape in a Sichuan Mountain Village: a digital ethnography of place Digital monograph in multi-media format based on archival sources and fieldwork over the last sixteen years in the village of Xiakou, Sichuan. Development and publication through IATH at the University of Virginia, funded by ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship (2008).
  • “Ecological Engineering on the West Sichuan Frontier: Development Socialism as Policy, Practice, and Contested Ideology.” Social Anthropology (March 2008). Companion digital version with interactive historical GIS map funded by NEH Digital Initiative Summer Stipend (2007) will be published as an essay in Moral Landscape.
  • “A Road is Made: Roads, Temples and Historical Memory in Ya’an County, Sichuan” (Journal of Asian Studies 63:2, August 2004).
  • with Pamela Leonard, “Bifengxia Nature Park: the Ownership of Landscape in Post-Reform China” (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Papers, 41. 2002).
  • “Peasant Consciousness,” in Pamela Leonard and Deema Kaneff eds., Post-Socialist Peasant? Rural and Urban Constructions of Identity in Eastern Europe, East Asia and the former Soviet Union (New York: Palgrave, 2002).
  • “Folk Music of Tibet” Tibetan and Himalayan Library (2001). Articles on Tibetan folk music and digital archive of video and audio recordings.
  • with Pamela Leonard, “Defining Cultural Life in the Chinese Countryside: The case of the Chuanzhu Temple,” in Eduard B. Vermeer, Frank N. Pieke and Woei Lien Chong, eds., Cooperative and Collective in China’s Rural Development: Between State and Private Interests (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1997). Chinese translation in Zhang Minjue, Zhejiang Academy of Social Sciences, eds., The Second Revolution in China: China in the Eyes of Western Scholars, (Beijing: Shangwu Publishing House, 2001).
  • with Pamela Leonard, “Community Values and State Co-optation: An Ethnographic View of Civil Society in the Sichuan Countryside,” in Chris Hann and Elizabeth Dunn eds., Civil Society: Challenging Western Models (London: Routledge, 1996).

Selected Presentations

  • Co-organizer (with Peter Bol and Michael Szonyi, Harvard University): “Mapping New Directions in Chinese Local History.” Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University (May 2008).
  • “Frog in the bottom of the well: metadata, axes of inquiry, and a collaborative database model for local history of China.” Conference presentation, “Mapping New Directions in Chinese Local History.” Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University (May 2008).
  • “Ancient Town: Historical memory and the re-enchantment of place in Western Sichuan.” Association of Asian Studies Annual Meeting, Atlanta (March 2008).
  • “Ecological Engineering on the West China Frontier: Development socialism as policy, practice, and contested ideology.” Conference paper, “Trajectories of Socialism in Contemporary Asia.” University of Oxford (July, 2005).
  • “Mountain to Mountain: an exploration of Tibetan and Appalachian folk music”
    Multi-media presentation and performance: Convocation Address, Augustana College (March, 2005); East Asia Institute, Columbia University. (December 2003); Plenary session presentation, AISANetwork Annual Meeting, Greenville, SC (April 2003).
  • “The Socialist Hearth: Domestic and Common Space in a Chinese Village, 1950-2000” American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, Chicago (November, 2003).
  • “Body, Belief and the State in Contemporary China: cases from the Sichuan Countryside” Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford (December, 2002).
  • “Bifengxia Nature Park: the Ownership of Landscape in Post-Reform China” Keynote presentation to the “Workshop on property relations in post-socialist states.” Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Germany. (February, 2002).
  • “A Road is Made: Roads, Temples and Historical Memory in Ya’an County, Sichuan” Conference paper, “Civilizing Discourses and the Politics of Culture in 20th Century China.” Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University, (May, 2001).
  • “A Digital Approach to Teaching Folk Culture and Local Identity in 20th Century China” presentation at the NEH conference, “Interpreting China: Tradition and Contemporary Challenges”. University of North Carolina at Asheville, (March 2001).
  • “Folk Music of Tibet” Presentation at the American Folklore Society annual meeting, Columbus Ohio, (October, 2000).
  • “Planning a Digital Archive: the Preserving Living Traditions cultural exchange project.” Presentation at “The New Media Classroom” NEH Faculty Development Program, Vanderbilt University (May, 2000).