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Photos/Video: Celebrating Chinese New Year’s Eve in a Historic Village in China

Experience the sights and sounds of Bishan, a rural village in China’s Anhui province, on January 30, the eve of the Year of the Horse.

Read the full story here.

In Bishan village, at the heart of the historic region of Huizhou in Central China, architectural heritage, once an afterthought, is now beginning to attract attention as a potential source of economic development. Leah Thompson of our partner ChinaFile is documenting the story as it unfolds. Take a look at her photographs here: http://scty.asia/1j5x0C8

Leah Thompson Assistant Director, Asia Society Center on U.S-China Relations. Assistant Editor Sun Yunfan covers culture for Asia Society’sChinaFile website. The two are grantees of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Over the next few months, the two will share notes from the field as they visit, report and film their ongoing project in rural Bishan village in China’s Anhui province.

pulitzerfieldnotes:

Wang Shouchang, a 67-year-old farmer living in Bishan village, has volunteered as a librarian for once a week since 2011 when the Bishan Village Reading Room first opened. This reading room is part of a state-funded effort established in 2007 to set up a library in every village in China by 2015.

The initial government endowment provided the reading room with one computer and about 1,600 books. Since most young adults from Bishan now reside outside the village as migrant workers in urban areas, the readership of the village consists primarily of children and their grandparents. Wang told us that although he himself is most interested in the books on Chinese history, the most borrowed books are children’s books and pregnancy and parenting books.

The Bishan Reading Room has benefited from attention garnered by the Bishan Project. Visiting urbanites have attracted domestic media interest and resulted in donations to the Bishan Village Reading Room. In early 2013, Zuo Jing, co-founder of the Bishan Project, called out for donations on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media website. Wang said the library has been receiving books in the mail from across the country ever since, adding up to over 1,500 books from different individuals and organizations. As a result, the range of books available in Bishan library now extends far beyond the original scope of the government’s offerings, and “even junior village officials from nearby villages come here to borrow books,” said Mr. Wang.

Yu Qiang, the Party Secretary of the Biyang township, told us that of the 25 villages he oversees, Bishan village has the most active readership. “The reading room in Bishan has a larger collection. Villagers actually borrow books here,” he said.

But the literary options for the Bishan community are still on the rise. The Librairie Avant-Garde, a Nanjing-based bookstore which CNN named “China’s most beautiful bookstore,” is scheduled to open a branch in Bishan village in November 2013. The bookstore is committed to periodically donating books to the Bishan Village Reading Room.

— Pulitzer Center grantees Sun Yunfan and Leah Thompson. Images by Sun Yunfan via Instagram.China, 2013. (Follow her: @eighthday)

Images:
1. The youngest reader at the Bishan Village Reading Room.

2. Wang Shouchang, one of the four volunteer librarians, standing at the entrance of the Bishan Village Reading Room.

3. Wang Shouchang showing us a journal that records book borrowing history.

4. Wang Shouchang standing in front of the private donation book shelves, with an recent issue of Chutzpah, a literary magazine edited by Ou Ning, the co-founder of Bishan Project.  

Leah Thompson Assistant Director, Asia Society Center on U.S-China Relations. Assistant Editor Sun Yunfan covers culture for Asia Society’s ChinaFile website. The two are grantees of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Over the next few months, the two will share notes from the field as they visit, report and film their ongoing project in rural Bishan village in China’s Anhui province.

pulitzerfieldnotes:

A few days into our trip to Bishan village in rural Anhui province, we decided to venture into the Yixian county town located five miles away from the village and explore the town market. We had just mastered how to operate motorized scooters, and were quite excited for the opportunity to utilize our new mobility. 

While in the market, we noticed a small group of men and women walking single file through the stalls wearing raw linen caps and hoods that fell below their waists and a piece of black cloth pinned on their left sleeves with the Chinese character for xiao, meaning filial piety, printed on it. The man at the front of the procession carried a can which he jingled as he asked for donations. Every few minutes someone would drop money into the can.

Locals informed us that we were witnessing a Yixian county mourning tradition. According to this tradition, if your relative dies at the age of 81, the family should leave their home for three days and beg for money in the town and nearby villages until they collect 81 donations to resolve the potential 81 tribulations both the spirit of the deceased and the remaining family members are doomed to encounter.

Although no one we talked with could pinpoint the origins of this tradition, they testified that long-standing rituals such as this are still widely practiced in Yixian county, which is in itself quite remarkable. Yixian is a part of the historic Huizhou region, which during the Ming and Qing dynasties was known for its numerous Confucian schools, strong kinship ties, and grand ancestral halls. But since the 19th century, a series of events ranging from the Taiping Rebellion to the people’s communes and the Cultural Revolution led to devastating social and economic destruction. And now the large and rapid exodus to nearby cities and towns seems to have dealt the final blow to the rural social structure in Huizhou. Today, most people in China believe that the tradition of Confucian filial piety is dead. Some even argue that there is no need to actively restore the many decaying ancestral halls that remain in the region because no one actually performs ancestral worship rituals anymore. But in front of us at the market, as the family begged for 81 donations for their dead relative, we saw evidence of a more complex reality. 

— Pulitzer Center grantees Sun Yunfan and Leah Thompson

Leah Thompson Assistant Director, Asia Society Center on U.S-China Relations. Assistant Editor Sun Yunfan covers culture for Asia Society’s ChinaFile website. The two are grantees of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Over the next few months, the two will share notes from the field as they visit, report and film their ongoing project in rural Bishan village in China’s Anhui province. 

pulitzerfieldnotes:

A small convenience shop is located next door to the Buffalo Institute where we are staying in Bishan village. Every morning we walk over to buy vegetables to cook for breakfast. Hu Yongfeng, the shop owner, is a 61-year-old Bishan native. In the late 1990s, she opened one of the first private shops in the village, where villagers could buy fertilizer and farming tools. But even by that time the demand for farming supplies had already started to decline as villagers left to become migrant workers.

Large-scale farming has made farming less profitable for individual farmers across China, but the fast-expanding nearby towns provide Bishan villagers with a variety of opportunities to make money. While most Bishan locals still grow some rice every year, many households have stopped growing vegetables. In 2006, Hu started selling a small selection of vegetables in response to changing customer demand. As farming in the village continues to decline, her selection has grown. Today her shop also offers meat, eggs, tofu, baked goods, cigarettes, snacks and drinks.

Hu wakes up every morning at 4:30 to drive five miles to the Yixian county town market, where she buys fresh produce to sell in her shop. Today villagers are more dependent on buying food from the county town, or from village retailers like Hu in a complete reversal of the traditional supply-demand relationship between rural and urban areas.

Hu and her husband stopped farming completely in 2009. Hu’s family is relatively affluent in Bishan. On top of a daily revenue of over 1000 RMB from the convenience store, they also own two other businesses in Yixian county town: a curtain store and a truck transportation outfit, which Hu’s husband manages. Their son works as a deliveryman in nearby Huangshan city, and their daughter helps out in the curtain store. The couple often subsidize their children and grandchildren because it is difficult for the young families to sustain themselves on meager salaries in urban environments. But Hu doesn’t think the answer to this financial insecurity lies in a return to farming either. She told us, “In the future, nobody is going to farm in our village anymore. Our generation is farming less and less, and the next generation doesn’t farm at all. My children have never farmed in their lives, and they live in town. They don’t even know where in the field our farming land is located.”

— Pulitzer Center grantees Sun Yunfan and Leah Thompson. Images by Sun Yunfan (@eighthday on Instagram). China, 2013.

Images:

1. Hu Yongfeng (second from left) played on the Bishan village basketball team during the Cultural Revolution. (Yixian County Photo Archive)


2. Hu Yongfeng peeling edamame in her convenience shop in Bishan.


3. Vegetables on sale in Hu Yongfeng’s shop are all purchased from Yixian county market.


4. Yixian county market is located in the Yixian county town, approximately five miles away from Bishan village.

 

Leah Thompson Assistant Director, Asia Society Center on U.S-China Relations. Assistant Editor Sun Yunfan covers culture for Asia Society’s ChinaFile website. The two are grantees of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Over the next few months, the two will share notes from the field as they visit, report and film their ongoing project in rural Bishan village in China’s Anhui province. 

pulitzerfieldnotes:

The first week of August begins a two-week rice harvest season in rural Anhui province, China. In Bishan village, people used to grow three crops of rice each year. But since the 1990s, many villagers have been working in nearby cities as migrant laborers, and the less profitable rice farming has been limited to only one crop per year.

Today, most farmers in the village have given up the traditional way of rice harvesting, which involves cutting the crop with handheld knives. In recent years, a young enterprising couple from neighboring Jiangsu province has driven a rice combine harvester to the region to provide a mechanized harvesting option to villagers during the harvest. Yu Jiansan, a 59 year old farmer in Bishan village, told us that the price for the combine service in this region is much higher than in other parts of the country because local gangsters charge these outside service providers “protection fees” of 60 to 70 percent. Yu said he is not making much money from the 1.4 mu (0.23 acre) rice field he planted this year. The rice, if sold, could bring in approximately 1000 RMB (162 USD), but the cost of renting the combine is 350 RMB after bargaining.

The majority of Yu’s income comes from raising silkworms and doing construction work in town. While not lucrative, rice farming seems to be a tradition that the local Bishan villagers are not ready to part with yet.

— Pulitzer Center grantees Sun Yunfan and Leah Thompson

Top image: A rice combine harvests a rice field in Bishan village. A couple from Jiangsu province has brought the machine to the region for the annual rice harvest. Photo by Leah Thompson. China, 2013.

Bottom image: Yu Jiansan, a 59 year old farmer in Bishan village. He is gleaning the straw from his field, after the combine has harvested the rice crop. Photo by Leah Thompson. China, 2013.

Leah Thompson Assistant Director, Asia Society Center on U.S-China Relations. Assistant Editor Sun Yunfan covers culture for Asia Society’s ChinaFile website. The two are grantees of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Over the next few months, the two will share notes from the field as they visit, report and film their ongoing project in rural Bishan village in China’s Anhui province. 

pulitzerfieldnotes:

On our first day in rural Bishan village in China’s Anhui province, Yao Lilan, a 67-year-old retired schoolteacher showed us around the village. Yao is one of most enthusiastic local advocates of the Bishan Project, an experimental development initiative working to sustain Bishan village. Deeply interested in the area’s history, he shared with us a map he drew of the village. He showed us Bishan’s numerous vacant houses, left by villagers who, like millions of other Chinese, were drawn to urban areas in search of economic opportunities. 

The Bishan Project is working to create economic incentives to stay. Yao took us to see the traditional way of raising silkworms, a source of income in the area, and the construction site of the Bishan Bookstore in an old ancestral hall, scheduled to open in fall 2013.

Stay tuned for more about the Bishan Project and rural China. 

— from Pulitzer Center grantees Leah Thompson and Sun Yunfan. Images by Leah Thompson. China, 2013. Thompson and Sun are in the field in China.


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