Turn­ing the tide on van­ish­ing vil­lage life

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - 7 Life - By XU HAOYU xuhaoyu@chi­nadaily.com.cn The Great Tribe. Con­tact the writer at chen­jie@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Ac­cord­ing to the third an­nual China Na­tional Con­fer­ence on His­toric Vil­lages, tra­di­tional Chi­nese vil­lages are van­ish­ing at an alarm­ing rate due to hu­man or nat­u­ral fac­tors.

Over the decade from 2000 to 2010, the num­ber of an­cient vil­lages dropped sharply from 3.6 mil­lion to 2.7 mil­lion. As of last year, a to­tal of 1.6 mil­lion vil­lages had dis­ap­peared across China, and this num­ber is con­tin­u­ing to de­cline at an av­er­age rate of 1.6 per day.

With the pur­pose of rais­ing peo­ple’s aware­ness about this so­cial phe­nom­e­non and the pre­cious­ness of tra­di­tional Chi­nese vil­lage cul­ture, a fo­rum was held in Bei­jing on May 14.

Hu Bin­bin, the di­rec­tor of the Re­search Cen­ter of Chi­nese Vil­lage Cul­ture at Cen­tral South Univer­sity in Chang­sha, Hu­nan prov­ince, stressed the im­por­tance of vil­lages at the event.

“You may not come from the coun­try, but the older gen­er­a­tions in your fam­ily must have lived there. Be­cause vil­lages came first, be­fore the cities. Vil­lages are the foun­da­tion of cul­ture.”

Hu as­serted that vil­lages are the car­ri­ers of tra­di­tional cul­ture, and the key link be­tween an­cient peo­ples and with those in the mod­ern age.

Rejecting the ar­gu­ment that the dis­ap­pear­ance of vil­lages is a nat­u­ral and rea­son­able con­se­quence of mass in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion and mod­ern­iza­tion, Hu main­tained that no devel­op­ment should come at such a huge cost.

“Be­tween the mod­ern and the tra­di­tional, the past and the fu­ture, we should not lose our ori­gins, but in­stead find a con­nec­tion,” said Hu.

Li Wuwang, the founder of the Great Chan­nel, an on­line doc­u­men­tary chan­nel, has been try­ing to cre­ate an archive of all the vil­lages be­fore they exit the stage of his­tory with his doc­u­men­tary,

The pro­duc­tion team trav­eled to 326 vil­lages to scout for lo­ca­tions for the se­ries. They cre­ated a 20-page pre­sen­ta­tion to as­sess the dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter of each vil­lage, and com­pare the his­tory and en­ter­tain­ment value of the sto­ries be­hind each lo­cale. For the first sea­son, the team paid field vis­its to 18 vil­lages be­fore se­lect­ing the fi­nal ten. On lo­ca­tion, they in­ter­viewed over 200 vil­lagers about mat­ters that they re­ally cared about, rather than sim­ply documenting their daily lives from a dis­tance. The team trav­eled more than 33,700 kilo­me­ters to com­plete the filming of the first sea­son.

Li shared a be­hind-thescenes story about the vil­lage of Xunlu vil­lage in the forests of the Greater Hing­gan Moun­tains in North­east China's Hei­longjiang prov­ince, which only has a cur­rent pop­u­la­tion of around 100 peo­ple.

Be­cause of the low tem­per­a­tures in the for­est, lo­cal res­i­dents of­ten turned to al­co­hol to keep them­selves warm. The orig­i­nal choice for the lead

di­rec­tor of the Re­search Cen­ter of Chi­nese Vil­lage Cul­ture at Cen­tral South Univer­sity char­ac­ter in the episode drank so much that he died be­fore filming could be­gin. The film crew met his son who had re­turned from the city, and he reck­oned that the vil­lage would dis­ap­pear within 10 or 20 years.

“We cre­ated ar­chives of around 100 vil­lages,” Li said. “I wish more peo­ple would pay at­ten­tion to these vil­lages, or record them be­fore they van­ish. Peo­ple should know there’s some­thing more to life apart from the tiny screen of a smart­phone or com­puter.”

Meng Hao­fan, an ar­chi­tec­tural de­signer, came up with one so­lu­tion to stem the ex­o­dus from one vil­lage in Zhe­jiang prov­ince.

Last year, he re­built a num­ber of old houses in a mod­ern ar­chi­tec­tural style in Dongziguan vil­lage in the Fuyang dis­trict of Hangzhou, in a bid to en­cour­age re­verse mi­gra­tion.

His mod­ern take on a tra­di­tional Chi­nese vil­lage im­me­di­ately at­tracted wide­spread at­ten­tion, draw­ing tourists from all over the coun­try.

Posters were pro­duced and a one-day tour was de­vel­oped. Vis­i­tors flocked to take self­ies with the stylish new houses as their back­drop. One pain­ter even recorded the mo­ment for pos­ter­ity.

Meng in­tro­duced mod­ern aes­thet­ics to the vil­lage as his way of feed­ing the ru­ral econ­omy.

“Pro­tect­ing vil­lages helps them fur­ther de­velop, it’s a dy­namic re­la­tion­ship,” Meng said.

Chen Yi­huan runs a project named Di­daofengwu, which was launched by Chi­nese Na­tional Ge­og­ra­phy magazine. The project is aimed at help­ing peo­ple to dis­cover lo­cal spe­cial­ties and help them to share their findings through so­cial me­dia, or in a se­ries of books of the same name.

He claimed that be­low the county level, there was al­most no vil­lage or town that could ar­tic­u­late its cul­tural char­ac­ter­is­tics clearly. This made him de­ter­mined to raise peo­ple’s aware­ness of their na­tive cul­ture and help en­cour­age ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to be­come more cul­tur­ally con­fi­dent.

Hu Bin­bin,

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