Project to record family history picking up steam with youth
A nonprofit is urging more Chinese to engage with their genealogies through a project, titled Family, Spring and Autumn.
The annual program asks college students to record their family histories orally and present short documentaries that are judged by a professional panel.
Founded in 2014 by Cui Yongyuan, formerly a popular TV anchor, the Beijing Yongyuan Foundation aims to back efforts by ordinary people to preserve family trees through interviews and video recordings.
The nonprofit awarded prizes to the top videos for this year at a function in Beijing on Sunday.
Though symbolic in nature, the ceremony is meant to encourage young Chinese to participate in the project.
“I interviewed my greatgrandmother, my grandmother and my father to trace our family history,” says Pan Chao, a student of Beijing University of Chemical Technology.
“While they are my closest relatives, I began to understand them better once I saw them narrating their stories in front of the camera.”
Pan, whose roots lie in southern China, says older generations in his family have given him something that will transcend time.
“I will show the video to my children and tell them where we came from, if they aren’t able to see my hometown in the mountains firsthand.”
Cui says: “Oral history can complement history books that often neglect people’s habits or anecdotes. It can even correct wrong records and overcome stereotypes.”
According to Xiang Xiaojing, also from the nonprofit, the project last year featured 147 short documentaries that were submitted by some 100 colleges nationwide.
The themes covered a wide spectrum — from dying folklore in the countryside and patients of rare diseases to war veterans.
So far, the videos have together garnered about 2.6 million hits on major Chinese streaming sites Youku and Sina. But in the project’s early days in 2014, only a handful videos were submitted.
Wang Xintong, from Nanjing University in East China’s Jiangsu province, is a winner this year.
He interviewed elderly alumni about vicissitudes faced by the university during World War II, when the campus was moved to Chongqing in the country’s southwest, after Nanjing was invaded by Japanese troops.
“The physical remains of National Central University (the predecessor of today’s Nanjing University) in Chongqing don’t exist anymore,” Wang says.
“But my interviews record the students’ resilience back then amid the Japanese occupation.”
For Xiong Jingming, a professor of folk history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who is also a judge on the awards panel, the recording of oral history is of much significance in today’s China.
In 2013, Xiong found the annals of her county hometown in Southwest China’s Yunnan province, written by her grandfather in 1925. She was surprised by it, because Xiong remembered her grandfather as amanwith “a serious face who smoked opium”.
“He was almost a negative entity for me. How could he have written something like this?”
If stories about previous generations are written, much more than ashes will be left behind after Xiong says.
Chen Danqing, an artist and a guest at Sunday’s ceremony, recalls that when he was young, the world outside his home interested him more than the details of his family tree. But he is glad that Chinese students today are looking to have such conversations with their parents.
A dialogue between generations is among the most natural forms of communication, he says.
Submissions for the coming year’s project are now being received at five universities, including Nanjing University, Sun Yat-sen University and Communication University of China. The campuses will work as incubators for students’ ideas and recordings of oral history.
Chinese internet company Tencent will soon add to the project via a regular display of the videos. their deaths,