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Heritage Trail project

Local conservation group sets sights on ethnic Qiang village in Sichuan

Beijing Today, July 29, 2011

Ethnic Qiang culture is being preserved by the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center

By Yao Weijie

The Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP) announced Saturday it will try to protect the cultural heritage of A’er village, focusing on recording its ethnic Qiang culture and villagers’ customs.

After the Wenchuan Earthquake in 2008, A’er, where a large group of Qiang people live, was badly destroyed.

The remote village is located deep in a valley on the Tibetan Plateau near the upper reaches of the Min River. Due to its isolated location, the village has become one of the last major repositories of traditional Qiang culture.

CHP, which is partially funded by the US and Swiss embassies, began a revitalization effort in 2009.

Six volunteers, experts in film and TV, science and law, were chosen online in Beijing.

“The trip to the A’er village was unforgettable,” said Wang Yunxiao, a professor of law at Renmin University and the leader of the group.

Wang led the group in helping A’er villagers one step at a time. They organized a team comprising shibi, who are authoritative intellectuals from Qiang culture, village officials and warm-hearted villagers.

They celebrated the new Qiang calendar year with villagers in heavy snow amid ruins, and eventually won their trust.

In the end, the volunteers helped villagers compile and publish a book about their culture.

Before the earthquake, there were many writers, sociologists and activists who visited A’er to investigate their unique culture. The villagers were getting used to their visits. Gradually, villagers realized they had something unique, said Guo Ping, a volunteer. “But they never told their own stories to the outside world.”

The most recent project tried to get villagers to tell their own stories.

“We tried not to be subjective, but listened to the villagers’ narration,” Guo said. “The villagers are the subjects of this project. Perhaps their words aren’t as polished, their photos not as vivid, their films not perfect, but they presented something that was real and came from the heart.”

“We still have many regrets,” Wang said.

Because villagers were not involved in the fullest possible extent, communication was not always direct and open, she said.

During the project, village volunteers tried to record every aspect of Qiang culture. The older villagers who could not read or write told their stories and were recorded; villagers who were getting married also invited volunteers to record their ceremony.

While the book is complete, volunteers are currently working on editing a documentary to be shown around the country.

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