Cul­tural au­di­to­ri­ums help­ing to re­vi­tal­ize vil­lage economies

China Daily - - LIFE - By XU-PAN YIRU xu­pa­nyiru@chi­nadaily.com.cn

“The Yueju Opera troupe is com­ing!” It is the big news of the day for the res­i­dents of Yangjia, East China’s Zhe­jiang prov­ince. They can barely con­tain their ex­cite­ment and keep an­nounc­ing the news to ev­ery­one they meet. Since the vil­lage has con­structed a cul­tural au­di­to­rium, op­eras, per­for­mances and movies have be­come the ob­vi­ous de­light of its res­i­dents.

“I am a Yueju Opera lover, and I can­not wait to see it! ” says Pan Hengy­ong, a res­i­dent of Yangjia, who ar­rives at the au­di­to­rium half an hour be­fore the opera to make sure he se­cures a good view­ing spot. Peo­ple from nearby vil­lages also join the crowd.

“Thanks to the cul­tural au­di­to­rium,” says Pan, “I find my life en­riched.”

Since 2013, over 10,000 cul­tural au­di­to­ri­ums have been built in ru­ral Zhe­jiang. Most of the au­di­to­ri­ums have ex­hi­bi­tion halls, read­ing rooms and con­ve­nience ser­vice cen­ters; some even have dig­i­tal the­aters. Ru­ral res­i­dents en­joy the shows pre­sented in the au­di­to­rium, learn the his­tory of the vil­lage through ex­hi­bi­tions, hold ac­tiv­i­ties to cel­e­brate fes­ti­vals in the cen­ters, or sim­ply en­joy us­ing the au­di­to­rium as a so­cial space.

“The con­struc­tion of the cul­tural au­di­to­rium is an in­no­va­tive way to re­vive the ru­ral ar­eas of Zhe­jiang,” says Yang Guiqing, pro­fes­sor of ur­ban plan­ning at Tongji Univer­sity.

Seek­ing cul­tural roots

The con­struc­tion of such au­di­to­ri­ums is part of the ru­ral re­vi­tal­iza­tion strat­egy launched by the pro­vin­cial govern­ment in 2013. Em­pha­siz­ing the dis­tinc­tive­ness of vil­lage cul­tures, the project seeks to show­case and pre­serve the tra­di­tional cul­tures of Zhe­jiang’s vil­lages.

The au­di­to­ri­ums are vastly dif­fer­ent across vil­lages. With themes that range from farm­ing cul­ture to canal cul­ture, the au­di­to­ri­ums fea­ture the nat­u­ral and his­tor­i­cal en­dow­ment of the place in which they are lo­cated.

Vil­lages in Xin­chang county in Shaox­ing have built au­di­to­ri­ums that serve as a po­etry work­shop, be­cause the county has his­tor­i­cally in­spired many an­cient po­ets — 1,505 po­ems by 451 po­ets were writ­ten in the area.

The au­di­to­rium in Yu­cai vil­lage in Haiyan county fea­tures “wood cul­ture”, ex­hibit­ing a col­lec­tion of more than 20 kinds of wooden uten­sils com­monly seen in the re­gion south of the Yangtze River.

Xin­jie vil­lage in Huangyan has opened a “ferry me­mo­rial hall” in its au­di­to­rium. It recre­ated an in­door ferry to com­mem­o­rate the vil­lage’s more than 300-year his­tory in the field.

For places that are en­dowed with fewer his­tor­i­cal re­sources, the cul­tural au­di­to­ri­ums are of­ten built on plots that used to host lo­cal an­ces­tral shrines. In South China, where an­ces­tral ven­er­a­tion is a com­mon prac­tice, the sites that wor­ship an­ces­tors are sought out, pre­served, and ren­o­vated to host the new au­di­to­ri­ums.

“The cul­tural au­di­to­rium is an im­por­tant ma­te­rial car­rier in re­viv­ing ru­ral cul­ture,” says Yang. “It fully ex­ca­vates, re­fines and dis­plays the out­stand­ing tra­di­tional cul­tural re­sources of the coun­try­side. Through the con­tem­po­rary cul­tural and artis­tic forms com­bined with the ex­pres­sions of lo­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics, it cre­ates a cul­tural at­mos­phere in which the vil­lagers love and can ac­tively par­tic­i­pate in, thus es­tab­lish­ing the cul­ture of the vil­lage.”

Green devel­op­ment

The cul­tural au­di­to­ri­ums not only en­ter­tain ru­ral res­i­dents, but also prom­ise po­ten­tial eco­nomic growth. Tourists flood into the vil­lages to learn the lo­cal cul­ture and en­joy shows and cel­e­bra­tions in the au­di­to­ri­ums.

In July, Chang­shan county launched the first batch of seven “ru­ral cul­tural au­di­to­rium tourist routes”. The ru­ral cul­tural au­di­to­ri­ums are be­com­ing pop­u­lar at­trac­tions by hold­ing pro­mo­tional con­fer­ences and seek­ing co­op­er­a­tion with travel agen­cies. So far, the tourist routes have re­ceived more than 200,000 vis­i­tors. In Nanhu, Ji­ax­ing, over 200,000 ne­ti­zens joined the vil­lage’s res­i­dents in cel­e­brat­ing Spring Fes­ti­val through on­line broad­cast­ing last year.

The boom­ing tourism also pro­motes pub­lic aware­ness about en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. In Jian­guang vil­lage in Jin­hua, every house­hold has a pair of waste bins (one for re­cy­clables and the other for non-re­cy­clables) in front of their doors with their names on the bins. If any waste is placed in a wrong bin, the house­hold in charge will be made re­spon­si­ble.

“Our vil­lagers were get­ting sick be­cause of en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion, but af­ter years of ef­fort, our vil­lage is much cleaner,” says Chen Rong­gui, a lo­cal. “Now that the vil­lage is de­vel­op­ing tourism, my fam­ily sup­ports it whole­heart­edly.”

Yang says: “The cul­tural her­itage of the vil­lages con­verges in the au­di­to­ri­ums. By ex­ca­vat­ing and up­grad­ing the cul­tural re­sources that best re­flect the lo­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics, cul­tural au­di­to­ri­ums cre­atively form a link be­tween cul­tural for­ma­tion and in­dus­trial devel­op­ment.”

The con­struc­tion of the cul­tural au­di­to­rium and fol­low-up work need in­vest­ment. In prac­tice, var­i­ous lo­cal­i­ties have ex­plored a va­ri­ety of fundrais­ing meth­ods, such as “pub­lic wel­fare fund­ing”, “vil­lage crowd­fund­ing” and “on­line crowd­fund­ing”. Crowd­sourc­ing makes it a sus­tain­able project and in­cen­tivizes and sparks the cre­ativ­ity of ru­ral res­i­dents.

Ac­cord­ing to a white pa­per on the im­pact of Zhe­jiang ru­ral cul­tural au­di­to­ri­ums in 2017, nearly 77.17 per­cent of a sur­vey’s re­spon­dents pos­i­tively as­sessed the ru­ral cul­tural au­di­to­ri­ums. By 2020, 80 per­cent of the to­tal ru­ral pop­u­la­tion in Zhe­jiang is ex­pected to have ac­cess to its own cul­tural au­di­to­rium.

The con­struc­tion of the cul­tural au­di­to­rium is an in­no­va­tive way to re­vive the ru­ral ar­eas of Zhe­jiang.” Yang Guiqing, pro­fes­sor of ur­ban plan­ning at Tongji Univer­sity

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Ru­ral res­i­dents gather out­side the cul­tural au­di­to­rium of Tan­tou vil­lage in Kai­hua county, Zhe­jiang prov­ince.

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