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Heritage Trail project

Congjiang Archive Project: 7th Report

The Volunteer Project Team for the Congjiang Archive has produced a Congjiang Archive 7th Visit Report after having recently visited the area to review  the project’s progress. A UNESCO Officer accompanied the team. Activities included training, working with villagers to produce a cultural calendar and cultural map, and conveying to the local government about the project’s successes through a Midterm Progress Report.

Written by CHP Congjiang Cultural Project Manager: Wang Xiao Wang

A farmer in the fields

After the Midterm Evaluation meeting, Ms. Li Jiangping from UNESCO joined the Volunteer Project Team for our most recent trip to Congjiang. Before leaving Beijing, I called the local focal point Mr. Liang Quankang. His feedback about the timing of the visit was not perfect as he said everyone was busy farming. I consulted other recorders, but they said the weather was too dry and that they were waiting a few more days to begin seeding. As we reach the middle of this project, this has been an ongoing problem: lack of consistent information on when the villagers are busy, and what are they busy doing.

Midterm Evaluation Results

1) Congjiang County government officials have been encouraged by the positive site evaluation and assessment by UNESCO, and now are paying even more attention to the project. For example, after receiving the Midterm Progress Report and inaugural newsletter, the Deputy County Director immediately shared the report, and asked all county government representatives to watch the documentary on Congjiang agricultural heritage. Also, another Deputy County Director shared his experiences at the agriculture exhibition in Beijing with the Deputy County Director in charge of cultural mapping. Both showed strong confidence in Congjiang’s application to become classified as an agricultural heritage site. This was a breakthrough compared to previous government involvement.

2)The Midterm Progress Report and newsletter allowed various stakeholders at the county government to receive a full perspective of the project’s progress. Some were quite impressed that the villagers could give such a vivid description of their day to day living. The newsletter was a good idea, as text supplemented with photos worked better than casual conversations about the project, and will have a longer and wider impact. Our local focal point suggested that the newsletter should be distributed to all the villages where the project is being implemented. One village head, however, didn’t allow the project team to use the office computers as he was very concerned that some inappropriate images might come off the site.

3)Three recorders were much motivated by the midterm evaluation meeting. Fan Xibiao started to discuss with the people in his villager about how to revive the tradition of bull fighting as a regular event.

4)The Country Culture and Broadcasting Bureau staff set up a project board at Xiao Huang and Ba Sha. Although regrettably, no community awareness activities were organized, this itself helped gain wide attention. Some senior officials also joined the training workshop on 6 June – an unprecedented occurrence.

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“Cultural Calendar” and “Cultural Drafting” training

1) UNESCO officials have organized two cultural revitalization activities based on this specific cultural project: Cultural Calendar and Cultural Map.

a) Cultural Calendar: Villagers have been asked to select a village photo taken by their village recorder or other volunteers, one New Year blessing, and important dates for the New Year. The end product will be that each village household can have their own Cultural Calendar specifically related to their own village and customs.

b) Cultural Map: Starting from the Congjiang cultural map drawn by Liang Quankang and Yang Guangqian, all pilot villages will discuss among their fellow villagers what needs to be pinpointed on the village map and then hand draw a village cultural map.

2) The training was conducted in a participatory manner. The recorders from the different villages formed three groups, first discussing among themselves about the procedures of working out the calendar. While many are not familiar with this approach, everyone was forthright and determined.

3) The discussion outcome was intriguing, and some ideas were surprising. One of unexpected outcomes was regarding the pictures for the Cultural Calendar. Most recorders assumed that their village committee would select a panoramic view photo of their village, but Xiaohuang village selected a phone of their one-thousand-person choir in front of the drum tower. Other villagers wished to use a combination of several photos. When identifying significant cultural dates for the calendar, it was highlighted that special days are not always fixed, and that some ill-omened days are selected by the Shaman on an ad-hoc basis. For the New Year wishes, some calendar participants felt they knew enough to make the selection, but some recorders wanted refer to the villagers to discuss and decide. As not all villagers could join the discussion, there was an extra wait period of three days to collect further comments before the final decision was made.

4) This simple discussion session was quite demonstrative of a problem of the project, which is that a people of authority often make the decisions without collaborating with the villagers. Although purpose of the calendar and map is to encourage more participation by the villagers, at the implementation level there is a habit to centralize decision-making at the grassroots level. Because of this, the trainer stressed again that both the process and result are important, and only when the villagers participate in the process can they fully experience the value of their culture. And only when they express themselves, can others understand them. All project activities aim to build up community cohesion and this is the core objective of this cultural revitalization project. At the wrap-up of the session, the trainer followed the villagers’ preference of photos and dates.

5) The discussion and process of reaching agreement became a core part of the training content. During the process, some recorders improved their understanding on certain areas, and examples of participation and democracy were given to encourage good village management. We believe that all recorders now have clearer understanding of key points during the implementation. The Cultural Calendar work plan was finalized after the meeting.

6) Cultural Mapping training was also completed during the meeting. When the trainer asked recorders to invite women to identify important cultural sites, one recorder commented “how much can a woman know!” This reflects the prevailing gender discrimination that has existed in this region for many years – a problem the project wants to address (also a Millennium Development Goal). The trainer gave a detailed explanation of this specific Millennium Development Goal and gave examples on how to encourage women’s participation in community activities. For the first time, a woman recorder from Xiaohuang Pan Peihua participated in the training.

7) During the training, participants discussed about how Gun Shuige and Laing Quankang were refused by Biasha villagers to record their rain praying ceremony. The trainer mentioned the story of Australian aboriginals and clarified that the point of this cultural mapping project is not to probe into community secrets and that it is not for academic research. All cultural records collected by the villagers will receive due respect. If villagers wish to share the records with outsiders, we will help them to do so. If they wish to keep it to themselves, there is also no problem, as it is true that some traditions are not supposed to be shared outside the village. During the project implementation, it needs to be remembered that it is important to respect the decisions of the culture’s owners. Through this real example, the group gained a better understanding of project goals and methodology. Some even offered suggestions to Gun Shuige on how to solve this problem. Gun felt that the most effective way is for him to be patient and sincere with villagers so that they would not continue to be defensive and mistrustful. All hoped that through the project, Biasha villagers can regain their cultural self esteem. This is a difficult task, but Gun said he would like to give it a try.

8)Some project volunteers and two village government representatives from Xiaohaung attended the training. The training fell on the critical rice planting day. Villagers had been waiting for rain for a long time, and when it finally started raining on the day of the training, the training was shortened to one day so that recorders could go back to the field for their farming.

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Follow up results

1) After the training, we asked to visit Yang Tongrong in his new house (he had lost his previous house because of a fire). To our pleasant surprise, the Congjiang Cultural Map was already up on the wall. Seven days later, it was the Dragon Boat Festival. Yang’s village (Gaozeng) was one of the few Dong villages that celebrated the Dragon Boat Festival. We went to Gaozeng again and found that next to the Congjiang cultural map, Yang had already drawn a draft of a cultural map for Gaozeng. Apparently, when he was farming, he had already visualized his village cultural map.

CHP would like to thank our volunteer translator, Qiao Yuhong, for her outstanding translation of this article.

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