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Heritage Trail project

A’er Village Qiang Minority Cultural Revitalization Project’s Initial Surveying Report

As the sun set on September 30, 2009, CHP volunteers Wang Yunxia, Luo Jihua, and Gao Wei reached A’ercun, an ancient village at the center of Qiang country.

Thanks to its remote location and lack of contact with the outside world, A’ercun has remained relatively untouched by modernity. The village on the edge of the clouds, as A’ercun is called, is a living relic of Qiang Minority culture. Unfortunately, the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake wreaked untold damage on the village, resulting in a massive loss of life and property, and gravely threatening the centuries-old unique Qiang culture. The group made this trip to get in touch with local Qiang volunteers and lay the foundation for the beginning of the project in mid-November.

1)    Basic Situation
A’ercun is composed of four separate villages, the lowest of which is 2200 meters above sea level. The damage the earthquake inflicted continually exceeded our team’s expectations. Because many houses collapsed and pipes with running water were never properly repaired in two of the villages, many residents had to move to the other village. The team arrived in early October 2009, and discovered that many of the villagers were still living in emergency tents provided after the earthquake in May 2008.

On this trip to A’ercun, the group stayed in the home of Yu Shihua, who holds the position of shibi, a special authority figure in the Qiang religion. Yu Shihua’s father passed away two years ago and was the Qiang’s most revered shibi. The Yu family is full of famous shibi and our team used every opportunity to learn more about the Qiang culture through them. Through the work of the local project director, Gao Rongjin of the Wenchuan Country Culture Center, a group of over ten A’ercun residents were enlisted as volunteers. The local residents and the volunteers greatly assisted and actively participated in CHP’s Gao Wei’s filming of the area.

Because of poor communications networks, the team was unable to contact local cadre Wang Xuelin for the first two days they were in A’ercun. On the evening of October 2, Wang was able to meet up with the team and attend a meeting where they explained the meaning and goals of the A’ercun project. In order to properly explain how the team would carry out the project, Wang was given a copy of the Mengma Archives, a previous CHP production. The team later convened a meeting to discuss the project, which is set to begin in mid-November when the farmers will be finished with the harvest season. Unfortunately, only seven volunteers were able to attend because it is incredibly difficult to contact the villagers.

On October 3, the team conducted research on Baduozhai Village and the surrounding area. Due to poor road conditions between A’ercun and Wenchuan, the nearest city, the team had to leave a day earlier to catch the bus back to Chengdu from where they returned to Beijing.

2) Potential Challenges

A) The funds for the A’ercun project remain limited, and CHP is therefore unable to give any direct financial assistance to the villagers. The project will also require the active participation of many locals and will consume much of their precious time. Furthermore, the area has already received considerable help and donations from other groups, and the villagers have been deceived by con men coming in the name of charity. These two factors will raise their expectations for the project as well as keep them cautious about cooperating with CHP.
B) There are already some feelings of ill will among the villagers and it seems that everyone has a different attitude toward the project.
C) The Qiang have no written language, thus making it difficult to record their culture and present it to the outside world.
D) After the post-earthquake reconstruction, the millenia-old village completely changed. The new school has already greatly damaged the appearance of the village and many of the new homes look nothing like the traditional Qiang dwelling places.

3) Ways of addressing project difficulties
A) By continually explaining that the project is valuable and rooted in respect for the local culture, the team should be able to overcome skepticism the locals may have.
B) In order to deal with the villagers’ possible animosity, all work, without exception, will be conducted in the open and with the support of the local party. There will be no agreements made behind closed doors.
C) Recording Qiang culture remains challenging. CHP will work with local volunteers and villagers to record as much as can be recorded on DVD. Chinese characters will remain the primary written language for recording.
D) The project team will work together with villagers to help with rebuilding as much as possible and will call on the government to fund the reconstruction of the more ancient and culturally significant structures.

 

 

The protection and proper restoration of the appearance of the village was not originally within the scope of the project. But since CHP has conducted work on minority culture preservation, it has considerable knowledge and expertise in this field, and should bring those resources to the people of A’ercun.

Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center A’ercun Qiang Cultural Protection Project Team
October 15, 2009

CHP would like to thank our volunteer translator, Michele Scrimenti, for his outstanding translation of this article.

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