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Qiang Minority Cultural Revitalization Project’s Second Progress Report

Report Overview:

In September-October 2009, CHP Volunteer Group made a visit to A’er Village to conduct an initial survey as the Qiang Minority project has officially entered its second stage. The report highlights the project progress in four main steps – Stage Two Preparation, A’er Village Visit, Achievements, and Reflections. Prior to the village visit, CHP Volunteer Group provided A’er villagers a general project outline and necessary technical equipment. Once the CHP Volunteer Group arrived the A’er Village, they met with the Village Chief, exchanged ideas with local volunteers, and assisted them in recording techniques. They also participated in the three volunteer conferences and acted as an active force in preparing and conducting the Qiang New Year Celebration at the A’er Village. The Qiang Minority Cultural Revitalization Project has met a reasonable success up to this point. The CHP Volunteer Group led local villagers in submitting a letter, appealing to the government for a proper protection of the ancient Qiang watchtower, which was damaged by the earthquake. By the time when the Report was written, the number of local volunteers increased from 13 in September to 125 in November 2009.

By the end of this visit, CHP Volunteer Group concluded that the key to cultural revitalization success is to ensure respect of the villagers’ opinion and cultural rights. As set forth in the accompanying article in this issue of Heritage Update, CHP believes that the key to cultural revitalization success is to place primary responsibility with the communities themselves, with outsiders assisting them to exercise their cultural rights. CHP’s Qiang project is an example of putting that belief into practice in a specific project. CHP volunteers are there to provide support and basic training to the Qiang community, but ultimately the strong buy-in of the community is the best indication of the success of the Qiang Minority Cultural Revitaliation Project.

Below is the full detail of the report.

Stage Two Preparation (16 October – 12 November 2009)

Outline

A general outline was created by the CHP Volunteer Group to help A’er villagers run the project. The aim of the outline is to provide support to but not influence villagers on the direction and methods they choose to document their own culture.

Volunteer badge

A volunteer badge was designed by local project leader, Gao Rongjin, to strengthen the volunteers’ pride and responsibility in their work. Only 100 were originally created but due to overwhelming support from the villagers a total of 600 have now been produced.

Technical equipment

Necessary equipment was purchased for villagers to record their culture, including a video camera, two digital cameras, two hard drives, three voice recorders and four USB drives.

Shibi visit

Three Qiang shibis, core volunteers in the project, came to Beijing in early November. CHP’s Volunteer Group discussed with them the general outline, about holding the first Qiang New Year celebration since the Sichuan earthquake, and approaching the government to rebuild their ancient watch tower.

A’er Village Visit (12  November – 22 November 2009)

On 12 November, the CHP Volunteer Group again visited A’er village.  It was early winter and a foot of snow covered the village and its surrounding areas. This was worrying the villagers, as heavy snow kills their crops and animals. Extreme cold also causes the water pipes to crack, forcing villagers to walk long distances to collect water. It was estimated that the economic loss from the snow would reach over one million RMB. Daily, the CHP group braved the snow to visit each local volunteer’s house. With all these difficult conditions, the villagers were still enthusiastic, which strengthened the confidence of everyone involved with the project.  During this second visit to A’er village, there were six main focuses:

1. Meeting the Village Chief

    The CHP group met with the Village Chief to explain the project, expectations and discuss holding the first Qiang New Year since the earthquake. The chief said they were currently busy trying to petition the government to list A’er Village as a Sichuan Provincial Level Historic Cultural Village. If successful, it would result in complementary work being done by both the government and an NGO to assist the Qiang people.

    2. Visiting local volunteers

      The CHP team visited each local volunteer’s home to listen to suggestions and talk about the project. Since there were no local women involved, several women were approached and joined the project, including the Women’s Federation Director and the only Qiang female shibi.

      3. Volunteer conferences

        Only one conference was originally planned, but the CHP Volunteer Group soon realized this was not realistic. Separate meetings were therefore held for the three different village groups: Bai Jiahuo, Ba Duo and A’er. At the meetings, small groups were formed with nominated leaders and the technical equipment was given to the Chief. Volunteers signed a letter showing their commitment to the project and were given a volunteer badge.

        4. Training

          The CHP team provided training to the villagers on written recording techniques. They also gave technical training to the relevant local volunteers.  

          5.       Cleaning and leveling temple base

            To encourage the tradition of Qiang New Year, villagers cleaned and readied the temple base that is essential to their celebrations. The foundations are all that remain of their ancient temple.

            6. Conducting Qiang New Year

              The Qiang New Year is their national traditional holiday and celebrates a plentiful upcoming harvest, asks god’s graciousness and formulates new local rule.  However, the event had been losing its significance and was not being held as regularly amongst the Qiang people. It was at risk of being forgotten in the Qiang culture. During the visit, Qiang New Year was enthusiastically celebrated by locals for the first time since the earthquake.

              Stage Two Achievements

              In this stage of work, the following progress was made:

              • The number of villagers registered as volunteers is now 125; the youngest is 11-years-old and the eldest 83-years-old. All volunteers have now signed the letter of participation.
              • Organization of the local volunteer groups and each group’s leader, and the set responsibilities of the volunteers.
              • Move to protect the ancient Qiang watchtower, which was damaged by the earthquake. With support from the CHP Volunteer Group, the villagers appealed to the government with a letter signed by many villagers. The letter was entrusted to CHP to deliver.
              • Training of volunteers regarding the project, recording styles, writing methods and technical training to use equipment.
              • Promotion of cultural protection awareness to the villagers and as a result encouraging the Qiang people to hold their first New Year celebration since the Sichuan earthquake.

              Stage Two Reflections

              Some of the experiences and reconsiderations have been:

              • Participants have more trust for the project and each other. The villagers have different backgrounds and therefore different points of view, but the end goal is consistent amongst everyone.
              • Being able to quickly adapt to situations is required for this project. There were situations, such as the weather and practicality of having only one conference, that needed to be addressed by the CHP Volunteer Group.
              • Ensure respect of the villagers’ opinion and cultural rights. They are most authoritative voice on their own culture and therefore need to be supported but allowed to choose how they want to preserve their history.
              • The CHP volunteers are there to provide support and simple training, without any judgment on the cultural documentation. However, there more guidance may be required in the next stage of work. This includes how to divide work amongst the many volunteers and how each group’s leader should approach this.
              Sichuan Provincial Level Historic Cultural Village
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