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Last updated:
May 3, 2002

'Asian Hero' Named UW-RF 2002 Distinguished Alumnus

An explorer who has drawn international acclaim for his work in conservation and preservation, and who has been hailed as an "Asian Hero," is the Distinguished Alumnus for 2002 at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Wong How Man, the president of the China Exploration and Research Society and a former photojournalist and expedition leader with the National Geographic Society, will be recognized by UW-RF at its Spring Commencement Ceremony on May 25.

During his visit to campus, Wong will participate in several activities that are free and open to the public:

In announcing Wong's selection as the Distinguished Alumnus, Chancellor Ann Lydecker said that his accomplishments are exceptional.

"Wong How Man has accumulated an extraordinary record of exploration throughout China and Asia that have opened new doors to understanding the cultures of its many peoples. His documenting of those cultures and his remarkable efforts to preserve their historical and culturally significant sites are untiring.

"Wong How Man is held in the highest esteem throughout Asia and the world for his life's work. We are delighted to be able to add his alma mater to the lengthy list of organizations who have celebrated his resolve and success."

Among those who most recently recognized Wong are the people of Asia, who in a poll conducted by cited him as an "Asian Hero" for his work. ("Leaving It Better Than He Found It").

The Hong Kong-based explorer, who Time called "China's most accomplished living explorer," shared that honor in April with movie star and producer Jackie Chan.

As Wong told Time Magazine, he has concentrated on those areas of China that have not been yet been modernized. One result is the knowledge, he said, that "everywhere I went I encountered people and customs that I knew were going to vanish almost as soon as I'd photographed them. I realized that to be an explorer in today's world, you can't escape becoming a conservationist."

Wong began his career in 1975 after graduating from UW-River Falls with a double-major in journalism and art. He worked as a free-lance journalist for Asian magazines and Architectural Digest. In 1979 he began exploring the remote areas of China and its minority peoples. Then in 1982 he led the first of six major exploration and photojournalism expeditions for the National Geographic Society.

In 1985 he led an expedition for several months across thousands of miles that culminated in him being credited with finding the true source for the Yangtze River in the rugged plateau regions of Tibet. His work on this and then producing an educational interactive CD earned 11 international awards. A subsequent educational program on his explorations of Tibet earned Wong another five international awards.

In 1986 Wong founded CERS while living in Los Angeles and relocated to Hong Kong in 1994. Its mission is to explore the remote regions of China, while conducting multi-disciplinary research, implementing nature and culture conservation projects, and sharing that information through education and the media. Since then he has led numerous expeditions and has initiated a dozen conservation projects.

Among them are preservation of the "hanging coffins" of the extinct Bo people of Yunnan province; locating, in concert with imaging from NASA, cities buried in the sands of the Silk Road caravan routes; documenting poaching of the world-protected Tibetan Antelope; initiating Tibetan mural conservation projects; protecting the endangered Black-necked crane, and preventing a natural destruction of a remote Tumu Monastery.

Media world-wide have reported on Wong's work, including CNN, NBC, ABC, the BBC, the Discovery Channel and the National Geographic Channel.

Wong lectures widely throughout the Pacific Rim and is an adviser to higher education institutions and government agencies in the People's Republic of China. He also has found the time to publish a quarterly magazine, "China Explorers," as well as the bi-lingual books, "Closer to Heaven" and "Closer to Earth."

In 1999 his book, "From Manchuria to Tibet," won the prestigious Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Gold Award.

As UW-RF Distinguished Alumnus, Wong joins such other luminary recipients as former NASA First Astronaut and Space Shuttle Commander Daniel Brandenstein and Dr. Michael Ebersold, a neurological surgeon at the Mayo Clinic who has included among his patients President Ronald Reagan. A sampling of Wong's photography will soon be on line at

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