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Heritage Trail project

The third progress report of A’er Village Qiang Minority Cultural Revitalization

It is nearly one year since the creation of a Local Volunteer Team in A’er Village for our A’er Village Qiang Minority Cultural Revitalization Project. Recently CHP’s Project Volunteer Team paid another visit to A’er Village to talk with the local volunteers about the project’s progress and to identify any project problems. The local villagers provided insightful feedback on areas they believe need improvement, as well as how they have been documenting their traditions and cultural heritage.

Between July 5th and 8th 2010, CHP volunteers Wang Yunxia, Luo Jihua and Gao Wei, as well as the local project leader Gao Rongjin visited A’er village again. Since the establishment of the local volunteer group in mid-November last year, villagers have begun to document their Qiang culture by themselves. The aim of this visit was to communicate with the volunteers in order to share information about the project’s progress, analyze shortcomings and plan the next phase of the project.

1. Basic Situation

Concrete roads are being built in all the villages along Longxigou, to meet the need of the post-earthquake reconstruction and to carry out government’s plan to build Longxigou into a tourist destination. Construction sometimes shuts down the road in and out of the village entirely, limiting traffic severely. It takes the villagers a few hours to trek across hillside paths to go in or out of Longxigou. The CHP volunteer group was lucky enough to be allowed to drive the van all the way into the village. On the road, the group discovered that large tracks of dirt linked stretches of concrete together to form the new road. Since the road was built near the waterways along the mountain, landslides are common. In these places, the road was covered with gravel and soil, and in some places, it was completely impassable. There will need to be constant maintenance of the thoroughfare after construction is completed.

Since the start of the project, the local project leader Gao Rongjin has ridden between Wenchuan County and A’er Village several times on his motorcycle. He is enthusiastic, responsible and highly confident in the project. Because he has to work in the county on weekdays, he gave up time with his family on weekends in order to work with the local volunteers in A’er. His mother, however, has some complaints. “Why is he so busy,” the octogenarian groused to our volunteers, “What is he up to?”

There have been quite a few changes in the village. Most villagers’ houses have finished construction and are now awaiting the final touches to be made to the architecture. Concrete and red brick walls will be covered with local materials like stone flakes and yellow clay so as to give the traditional look back to the newly built houses. The workers are working overtime to build the Shibi Culture Transmission Center. It is the season for corns, potatoes, cabbages and hot peppers. But since rainstorms have led to lower-than-usual temperatures, villagers are worried that they may have a lackluster harvest. “The hot peppers were usually one foot tall at this time of the year in the past. But they are still small seedlings in the field now,” a senior villager Yu Shibo said, “Maybe we should go into the sacred hills to pray for better days.”

A) Visiting local volunteers

On July 6th and in the day of July 7th, the CHP volunteer group walked around the village and visited the local volunteers to find out how well documenting Qiang culture was going.

B) The volunteer conference

Between 8:30 to 11:30 pm on July 7th, a volunteer conference was held at Yu Zhengguo’s in Shibi which 18 core volunteers attended. Following are three main goals of the conference:

First, the CHP volunteer group talked with the local volunteers about the progress of the project. The group introduced series of cultural activities held in Beijing by the volunteers there, including the lectures at the People’s University and Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in 798, the media response to the project and the result of the appeal letter about the protection of the ancient Qiang watchtower. The CHP volunteer group analyzed the volunteers’ recordings, talked about the problems in these documents, and what volunteers should pay attention to in the following work. Moreover, according to villagers’ suggestions, two village project leaders were selected to make the work go more smoothly. They are Zhu Jinyong, the principal of A’er primary school, and Yu Zhengguo, a young Shibi. The duties of the village project leaders were to keep in touch with the local project leader Gao Jinrong, to hold volunteer conferences in the villages and to discuss about the progress of the project and the following tasks.

Secondly, the volunteers discussed about the project’s progress. The seven team leaders of the project put forward their opinions about the work they are responsible for and talked about what should be added and improved. The volunteers all gave suggestions and encouraged the teams which had not finished the documenting tasks.

Thirdly, an agreement was signed between CHP and A’er village board. According to the agreement, the intellectual property rights belong to the A’er villagers. The aim of the agreement is to ensure A’er villagers’ ownership of intellectual property rights of the final result, and to dispel their doubts about it.

C) Interviewing volunteers

The CHP volunteer group interviewed the volunteers in A’er about several aspects, including why they wanted to participate in the project, how to record the Qiang culture, what they have written about it, how they feel about the volunteer work. These interviews were all videotaped.

2. Stage Three Achievements

A) Text results

14 local volunteers have recorded Qiang culture in writing, and the documents total now more than 70,000 characters. Each aspect has been covered according to the outline made in last discussion. Zhu Jinyong, who has compiled the most documents, has written more than 90 pages in his notebook covering a variety of topics. Three shibis, Zhu Jilong, Yu Shirong, Yu Zhengguo, and others recorded the shibi culture in the village. Yu Shihua has described the Qiang’s traditional culture of house constructions. Luo Xiuqiong has recorded Qiang’s diet, embroidery and medicine. He Xingli has written about the ancient Qiang watchtower’s unknown stories. Yang Bo has documented the ancient legends about A’er. Yu Zhengguo has offered to type up the recordings into the computer since most villagers use notebooks.

B) Video results

The CHP volunteer group gave local volunteers a portable video camera, two digital cameras and two recorders earlier. In this visit, local volunteers have come up with quite a lot video recordings and there are many pictures about the Qiang culture as well. Whenever there are important events like weddings and funerals in the village, you can see volunteers screen their culture from their own perspectives using the tools given by the CHP group.

C) Draft of “Introduction of Conversations in A’er Qiang Language”

The book is one of the final results of the project. Volunteers have chosen the commonly used expressions in Qiang’s every day life as the main content and compiled a 1700-character elementary conversation booklet.

3. Stage Three Reflections

A) The lack of participants in documenting culture

185 local volunteers applied to take part in the project, but only 14 submitted text records. The CHP volunteer group hopes that core volunteers in the village can motivate more volunteers to participate in the project and start recording.

B) The inadequacy of recording content

Although local volunteers have recorded A’er Qiang culture in various aspects according to the outline made earlier, the content is still inadequate. There are legends about A’er village in the “Introduction to A’er” chapter, but there is no information about the current status of the village. In the “Housing” chapter, there is no documentation about the Qiang’s traditional woodwork. Although there are a large number of legends handed down in the village, there are only brief introduction to some of the legends but no detailed description, and most of the legends are not recorded in text.

C) Equipment problems

Because there are more volunteers than equipment, there are some problems with usage. Some volunteers said that they lost very good recording chances because of the lack of equipment. And other volunteers lost some materials they recorded because they did not go to Yu Zhengguo’s house to store them into his computer.

D)Lack of communication with volunteers in A’erzhai

Since A’erzhai is located in a higher mountain, volunteers there have had little contact with those in Baduozhai and Baijiaduozhai. There are now two volunteer leaders in A’erzhai, Ma Zhiwu and He Xiaojiang. In the volunteer conference in July 8th, they said that volunteers there have done quite a few recording, but the content is not complete. They stayed until 11:30 pm when the conference ended, and climbed to go home with the help of torches late in the night.

The CHP volunteer group will work hard to solve these problems. First, the group will enlarge the volunteer team in documenting culture with the help of local leaders and core volunteers. Second, the group will enrich the content of the existing recording materials. Third, the group will accelerate photographing and video recording. On this basis, the group hopes to finish the initial editing of the project’s results.

CHP would like to thank our volunteer translators, Rong Xiao and Michele Scrimenti, for their outstanding translation of this article.

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