Project to record fam­ily his­tory pick­ing up steam with youth

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - ByWANG KAI­HAO wangkai­hao@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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,

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