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Heritage Trail project

Congjiang Archive Project: The Eight Visit Report

Xiaohuang Village

Xiaohuang Village

Xiaohong Village

Xiaohong Village

Read Beijing and local project volunteers’ feedback on the Congjiang Archive project on their 8th visit to the county.

Recorder training: Looking back to year one
On the first day of the training session, volunteers shared experiences about the Archives project that took place over one year. The volunteers had gained much from their work: a better understanding of their culture and history, pride in their origins, and deeper interest in the other cultures that inhabit their hometowns.

Fan Xibiao summed up many of the volunteers’ feelings about their involvement in the project. “What we have done is good for the people because all of this culture has been passed down for generations. What we’re doing is saving the history of our people, which could only be seen as a good thing.” Liang Quankang added that he had discovered how protecting minority culture is good for China’s stability, while Director Liang had filed a report on the subject with the local government.

The recorders also talked about areas that need more work. Villagers were still not very active in supporting the volunteers’ efforts and lacked an awareness of cultural protection.

Ji Yuanjin, a volunteer from Xiaohuang Village, requested if his village could be given a recording device to take down the Dong Minority songs after the Congjiang Archives project concludes. He said that he had already organized a “Xiaohuang Dong Music Recording Team” but needed more time and the proper equipment to complete his project.

Training Session

Training Session

The Congjiang Archives was successful at bringing a group of villagers from five generations to work together. Volunteers agreed to complete the first stage of cultural protection before the Spring Festival of next year. After the first phase completes, the volunteers would work together to produce a brochure outlining the highlights of the project.

The volunteers planned to visit each of the eleven project villages before writing the brochure. Despite numerous challenges, it would strengthen the team’s cohesiveness and help build better relationships among the volunteers.

Culture Calendar and Culture Images

In June, the recorders submitted the first draft according to their schedule in the “Culture Calendar.” The articles included photographs, quotes, and a list of holidays from each village. This activity brought the highest level of villager’s participation.

Xiayao Villagers gather to select their favorite sayings for the project. Gaoliang Village Leader Pan Guanwu (crouching in the middle) gathers villagers together. Zengchong Villagers discuss their part of the project.

Xiayao Villagers gather to select their favorite sayings for the project. Gaoliang Village Leader Pan Guanwu (crouching in the middle) gathers villagers together. Zengchong Villagers discuss their part of the project.

Beijing volunteers Guan Pengfei and Cheng Jie devoted much of their free time developing and designing the calendar. They decided how to mark the special dates for the project based on their understanding of the local cultures. At the meeting, the volunteers agreed that catchy-but-empty slogans could not properly represent minority cultures and therefore went back to the villagers for advice.

Yang Tongrong sees the first photo being used incorrectly.  Everyone was unhappy with the second photo; it is poorly composed, dark, and does not showcase the Drum Tower symbol in a positive light. In the third photo, a Shui women’s smile wins everyone’s approval, even people who opposed using images of villagers in the first place.

Yang Tongrong sees the first photo being used incorrectly. Everyone was unhappy with the second photo; it is poorly composed, dark, and does not showcase the Drum Tower symbol in a positive light. In the third photo, a Shui women’s smile wins everyone’s approval, even people who opposed using images of villagers in the first place.

The local Culture Promotion Bureau suggested that the Basha Village idiom, “it takes patience to drive out demons, and it takes tolerance to be a good person”, should be changed, As it could possibly scare tourists away.

After sharing everyone’s archiving experiences, the group discovered that most of the villages only came up with concrete symbols of their culture, overlooking their intangible heritage.

  Yang Tongrong (first from the left) and villagers work on the Cultural Images project together.

Yang Tongrong (first from the left) and villagers work on the Cultural Images project together

Individual project village comments

Ancient Gaoliang Village

Gaoliang was the epitome of a remote mountain village. You had to ford streams and climb hills to get to it. Luckily, there was now a road passing through and volunteers could rent cars to go there. Although the Gaoliang was only fifteen kilometers away from Xiajiang Town, those fifteen kilometers were made up of rough terrain that it took two hours to get there by car.

A husband and wife couple crossing the river with recorder Pan Guanwu.

A husband and wife couple crossing the river with recorder Pan Guanwu

There were two Shui Minority villages in the area. Villagers’ highest educational level is fourth grade.

  Pan Guanwu’s father is 80 years old (right). The village’s bronze drums are said to be over 1800 years old. They are used during the most raucous Shui festivals.

Pan Guanwu’s father is 80 years old (right). The village’s bronze drums are said to be over 1800 years old. They are used during the most raucous Shui festivals.

Holy books are passed down from Shui ancestors.

Holy books are passed down from Shui ancestors

A shaman conducts an oracular ritual.

A shaman conducts an oracular ritual

Recorder Pan Guanwu has been Village Leader since he turned nineteen 20 years ago. Aside from Pan, his brother is the only other person to have received a middle school education. He is now the principle of the school in the other Shui village. Pan organizes events and festivals for the villages. “We were fortunate enough to receive some education, so we need to do something for the people,” he said. “What’s the good if my family does okay and the village suffers? It’s only meaningful if the whole village prospers.”

Dangweng Village

Getting to a recorders’ training event in Dangweng Village is already a challenge in itself. Flood and poor road conditions, among other factors often delayed participants’ arrival to the meeting.

Dangweng Village’s “village girls”

Dangweng Village’s “village girls”

The village girls stitch clothing in their local style. Long Xiaochui said that the stitch work is a good representative of local craftsmanship.

The village girls stitch clothing in their local style. Long Xiaochui said that the stitch work is a good representative of local craftsmanship.

After Chixin Festival in early September, the villagers go to a nearby village to play reed instruments.

Dangweng Village’s reed pipes are bronze while most other villages’ are green. (Left) Wang Daoyou, a 68-year old, is the tuner. Like a piano tuner, he has his own special tools to ensure the sound of the instruments.

Dangweng Village’s reed pipes are bronze while most other villages’ are green. (Left) Wang Daoyou, a 68-year old, is the tuner. Like a piano tuner, he has his own special tools to ensure the sound of the instruments.

The old man has lost much of his hearing, but is still happy when he plays.
The old man has lost much of his hearing, but is still happy when he plays.
The reed festival

The reed festival

Xiayao Village

The trip here took well over an hour on motorbike, not including the walking along the way due to poor road conditions. The village had a total of 109 families spread out in six smaller locations.  Although the upper reaches of the village were less than 3 kilometers away from the lower settlements, the trip between the two seemed like a mountain-climbing expedition for city folks.

Recorder Huang Haisheng gave the villagers their photos and played them the UNESCO documentary. They particular liked the section “The Road and the Trees” which tells the story of the punishment a village received for tearing down forest area to make way for a thoroughfare.

Huang was great at getting people together. Dozens of people participated in the discussion on the Cultural Image project and expressed a sophisticated level of awareness of cultural protection. The villagers had organized a Zhuang concert earlier this year, which was their first time singing traditional songs in a long while.

Excited to hear that the villagers organized the events themselves, Huang (Right photo-first from the left), treated them a meal. Sitting in the middle of the right photo is Huang Chunlei, who recorded the performance and put it on a disc.

Xiaohuang Song Festival

The event was a highlight of Xiaohuang village’s culture. Unfortunately, the village didn’t promote the festival well enough. A few dozen outsiders attended the event on the first two days while the last day of the festival saw practically no visitors. Attendees were either minority culture enthusiasts or hard-core travelers getting off the beaten path.

Xiaohuang Village warmly welcomed visitors; the villagers didn’t ask for any compensation from those who came to eat and stay. In other villages, households could charge visitors up to 200 yuan a night for a room and 100 yuan a day for meals.

The village’s traditional housing was in disrepair. Meeting basic health and sanitation standards proved to be the village’s great challenge. Visitors found the new loud speaker a distraction and would rather hear the songs sung directly by the village chorus. Some old villagers were living on 400 yuan a month – barely enough to get by even in such a remote place.

Over 5,000 kg of meat are consumed by villagers and guests during the festival

Over 5,000 kg of meat are consumed by villagers and guests during the festival

Recorder Pan Peihua is one of the main organizers for the village’s events

Recorder Pan Peihua is one of the main organizers for the village’s events

Visitors give donations

Visitors give donations

The village leader arrives

The village leader arrives

  The opening ceremony finally kicks off, six hours behind schedule

The opening ceremony finally kicks off, six hours behind schedule

Dadi Village’s performance

Dadi Village’s performance

Good fun for the whole family!

Good fun for the whole family!

Evening performance begins

Evening performance begins

Kids’ performance

Kids’ performance

Women’s choir performance

Women’s choir performance

The male elders wait back stage (left) and get ready to perform (center)

The male elders wait back stage (left) and get ready to perform (center)

  Computerized photo sellers have too many customers to handle (left). Visitors take a look at village practices. (center & right)

Computerized photo sellers have too many customers to handle (left). Visitors take a look at village practices. (center & right)

  After receiving donations, the village accountant prepares a donor list. CHP also made a small donation.

After receiving donations, the village accountant prepares a donor list. CHP also made a small donation.

Overall the festivals’ atmosphere remained relatively pristine. Many acts were performed and the villagers were very involved in putting them on. These events and traditions are part of what we try to keep alive. Meanwhile, visitors also found the experience enriching. We believed that Xiaohuang villagers could potentially benefit from tourism in the future, if the interest pool continued to grow. Positioning Xiaohuang as a tourist destination, however, must be carefully calculated as the influx of visitors could lead to the adulteration of the culture that draws people there in the first place. The villagers, visitors, and local governments need to work together to ensure sustainable tourism for the area.

Report prepared by Wang Xiaowang, Congjiang Archive Project Manager

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

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