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Fang Lili:Globalization and People on the Cultural Fringe:The Lives of Miao Migrant Workers

[日期:2010-05-10] 来源:本站  作者:Fang Lili 阅读: [字体: ]

Globalization and People on the Cultural Fringe:

The Lives of Miao Migrant Workers

Author:  Fang Lili 

Translator:   Luoyifei  

 

Abstract:

Even in a remote mountainous area in Guizhou Miao Village, the impact of globalization is felt everywhere. The establishment of the Ecomuseum accelerated the opening up process of these villages. Young males and middle-aged labourers have gone out to work in the cities ,  They left their traditional cultural envirorments and entered into a new modern cultural envirorment, so they became the people on the cultural fringe. They had to adjust to the new cultures and had to change their traditional cultures as well. This was not easier for them, so they hoped the new generation can adjust to new cultural enviroments. In order to enter the system of Modern globalization, even in remote rurals in china, especially the minority ethnic groups which can’t read and speak Mandarin, they are trying to rapidly accept modern education. In these areas, social changes are taking placeculture and social structure are changing,  and reconstruction and reorganization are taking palace now.

 

Key words:  GlobalizationPeople on the Cultural FringeWorkerStudy

 

  Establishment of the Ecological Museum Among Isolated Villages

In this Article, the author will discuss a cultural phenomenon occurring in remote villages in China inhabited by a minority group, specifically people living in Suogia  (梭嘎) in Guizhou Province, once an extremely isolated mountainous area closed to the outside world.  What kind of relationship would these people have after coming into contact with the outside world and why put the two together in a discussion?

Before starting this discussion, we first need to define the concept of globalization. Globalization signifies the compression of the world and a corresponding increased awareness of the integration in the world.  The word “globalization” was made popular only recently: before the 1980s, academia did not acknowledge it as an important concept. In contrast, in today’s environment, whenever we discuss problems or issues, we cannot do so in isolation.  We must relate them to the world, because the effects of globalization are felt in every corner of the world.

Globalization’s influence is felt even in remote mountainous villages where people who have lived and worked the land all their lives have started to migrate to the cities.  These villagers leave behind their familiar cultural systems and immerse themselves in a new, completely unfamiliar cultural system where they are the cultural outsiders.  On the one hand, the uprooted people must adapt to the rules of the new culture, while at the same time, they want to let go of parochial restrictions imposed on them by their traditional culture. Not knowing exactly how to make these adjustments, they tend to place all their hopes on the next generation.

This author’s research focuses on a mountainous village inhabited by the Miao minority group in the Suogia (梭嘎) region of Guizhou Province. The village is comprised of four walled villages : Longga (陇戛)Gaoxing (高兴)Xiao Beiba (小坝田) and Bukong (补空). During 2007 Chinese Lunar New Year Celebration, the author conducted a series of interviews with and studies of migrant workers from Longga (陇戛) and Gaoxing (高兴) who returned home for the celebrations.

There is a compelling reason why the author chose to undertake research in these two villages: eleven years ago, the governments of Norway and China jointly developed the first ecological museum in Asia, which was named “The Ecology Museum of Suojia Liuzhi Guizhou China”. This museum resulted from both cooperation between the two governments and cooperation in research between the two nations’ scholars. In 2005, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Ecology Museum, Guizhou hosted an international conference on ecological museums attended by more than 100 scholars from 15 countries and regions.  The founder of the ecology museum concept, the Frenchman Hugo Davilan (戴维兰) said, “The ecology museum has a story with a long history.  In modern times, this story is taking place in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Rim.  In these areas, many such ecological museums co-exist with the local village residents.  This new type of museum has made a tremendous contribution toward preventing the decline of indigenous cultures.  In fact, these museums are able sustain the multi-faceted cultures and contribute to the continuous development of village social life.” These words express the hopeful support of a scholar.  However, how would such ideas, based on the European experience, be transformed into reality in an extremely remote and isolated Miao village in China? What would affect the local people’s culture and way of life after the establishment of Suojia Ecology Museum? In addition, after such a transformation in those villages, would their traditional culture, that is, the intangible aspects of the culture, be preserved?

With this thinking in mind, our eight-person task group came to Suojia in Guizhou Province  and spent the next three and a half months based at the Documentation Centre of the Ecology Museum. We hoped that through close contact and long-term research, we could learn useful information about current research concerning intangible cultural heritage protection in the area. At the same time, our objective was to complete the task first undertaken by Fei Xiaotong of the Chinese Department of Culture in the 2001 research project entitled “The protection, development and utilization of the human resources in China’s western areas.”

Fei Xiaotong  (费孝通)  once said, “A native anthropologist’ job, in fact, is not carried out on just one single frame of reference.  For instance, in the field of my research, there are two kinds of cultures used as my frames of reference: my personal experience gained  from “travels” around the world and cultural knowledge derived from social anthropology and other scientific studies.  Fei Xiaotong delineates two kinds of cultures: one foreign, i.e., outsider, and one native, i.e., grass roots. Both cultures might provide a helpful frame of reference for understanding one’s own culture.Our research primarily targets the popular grass roots culture of the minorities and farmers living in Western China.  Hopefully through this kind of investigation, we can better understand the current situation prevailing among Western China’s people; at the same time, we could gain a deeper understanding of China’s culture and society as a whole.

We came to the Suojia villages of Guizhou Province in the summer of 2005.  Most of the villages’ able-bodied men were working elsewhere, so almost all the people we came into contact with were women, children, and the elderly.

We learned that the villagers protected by the Suojia Ecology Museum belong to a branch of the Qing Miao minority group called by the locals “the Long-Horn Miao”  who live among the 12 walled villages in the six special regions of Zhijing County (织金县) and total about four thousand people. With no written language of their own, they pass down orally everything in their culture and history from generation to generation.  Their long history of isolation means that their culture has been almost completely preserved and protected from the outside world.  Theirs is a very rich intangible cultural heritage which accounts for the establishment of the Ecology Museum.

The Suojia Ecology Museum is without borders; it consists of all 12 of the Long-Horn Miao’s walled villages.  Its goal is to preserve the cultural heritage in its natural environment, including that of local residents, who carry on this traditional culture. Working to preserve this current lifestyle without any changes whatsoever enables outsiders to observe the traditional lives that no longer exist elsewhere. Such preservation is the objective of the “Original Ecological” cultural tradition.

Before the establishment of the Ecology Museum, almost all the girls living there did not attend school.  Women could neither read, nor speak Mandarin.  Before the 1960s, the villagers, both men and women, were illiterate and unable to do basic mathematics.  Instead, villagers used rope knots and carving on bamboo to record events. Even today, the elderly still use the twelve signs of the Chinese Zodiac to record important events, but they know neither the Lunar nor the Solar Calendar.

In the post-1960s era, the government established farming communities which required a record-keeping system in the form of work points – a requirement that forced the local people to start learning numbers. A Yi minority young man, who was a middle school graduate, came here to teach and established the first school that taught Chinese language and history.  At that point, the male villagers here learned  Chinese characters and, at the same time, they learned how to speak some Mandarin which was the first introduction for the villagers to the Han culture which remained in the rudimentary stage, because even those considered educated here only finished the second and third grades of elementary school. Students only learned how to write their names in Chinese, barely knew some basic form of counting, and could speak just very basic Mandarin. This level of education, however, was considerably more advanced than that of the women, most of whom did not bother going to school;

therefore, they couldn’t speak Mandarin nor count in numbers. Women were afraid to go to the markets on their own and must be accompanied by men who themselves only ventured out within a radius of a few hundred kilometers because they realized that far away places had a radically different culture that would be incomprehensible to them.

This group of people living in the Ecology Museum for the past eleven years have seen dramatic changes. The biggest change is that over 90% of the girls now attend school; and the young and able-bodied men are now mostly working elsewhere.  This would have been unthinkable in the past.  The author wished to meet these villagers, who are the living carriers of their culture. Their experiences could surely reveal a lot about the development of this people’s traditional culture – and perhaps tell about its future.

 During the 2006 Spring Festival, our research team came back to the village.  The migrant workers whom we had not been able to meet during the previous summer all returned to their homes to celebrate the New Year.  Their home-coming obviously added more liveliness to the festivities. We were told many stories related to their new lives in their work places. The people we were facing were no longer farmers who worked the land, but city workers who held various occupations.  Their home-coming was brief, and they would return to their work places after the festival -- such has been their life since 1998.

Since the establishment of the Ecology Museum, these villages have begun to have contact with the outside world.  Before that, the few better-traveled young men who ventured outside the village went only as far as Guiyang City.  Most of the villagers had not even been to the county,  but after the Museum was built, the villages have been visited by Chinese people and foreigners as well.  The villages now have not only roads, but also electricity, and even televisions.  Television connection provides an important tool for the local people to learn about the outside world, which enables villagers to participate in the global media experience.  It also allows the villagers to learn about the outside world -- a world that was previously so unfamiliar to them.

Ever since the establishment of the Suojia Ecology Museum, these once-shielded, isolated villages have become very lively with the focus on their culture and  attention from around China and beyond. Donations from various poverty fighting programs sponsored by the Chinese government, from many foreign NGOs, and from domestic companies have changed the villagers’ way of life.  Some of the young men have started taking up studies and moving out of the village, going into a strange world that had been only seen on TV before.

Only when they left their mountainous homes and went into the cities have villagers realized that they have entered not only a physically different world, but also a completely strange cultural space. The effects of this kind of dislocaton are especially noticeable among the older and less educated people. The cultural knowledge, taboos, and rules familiar since childhood were completely useless in their new environment. The Miao people who came out of their walled mountain villages had no understanding of the concept of  “global consciousness”; however, they needed to learn and understand the way cultures not their own work.

 

  The Migrant Workers

In the Longga (陇戛) and Gaoxing (高兴) villages, the author conducted a series of interviews with migrant workers who were taking a break at home  during the Spring Festival holiday. They had worked hard throughout the year, and now they gathered together at their homes to celebrate the new year with drinking, singing, and chatting.

The Longga (陇戛) village with a total of 134 families totalling 546 people has an old section and a new section. Originally, everyone lived in the mountains, but  after the establishment of the Ecology Museum, the local government started to expand the village at the base of the mountain in order to provide better living conditions.  This new section has new houses built to accommodate the villagers whose old houses were about to collapse or simply too dangerous to live in any longer. The author conducted a census study in the old section of the village and discovered it has 80 families with a total of 370 residents.  The male working age group (18 to 50 years old) has 75 people, 54 of whom are migrant workers (i.e., 72%.)  There are no female migrant workers.  A similar count was conducted in the Gaoxing village ( 高兴) .  It has 88 families, totalling 372 residents.  The male working age group has 74 people, 52 of whom are migrant workers (approximately 70%.)  The female working age group has 68 people, and 8 are migrant workers (12%.)  The author conducted individual interviews with each migrant worker and selected 10 of them for detailed interviews and analysis. Through these interviews, the author learned about their lives and their difficult living conditions.

 

 

Age Group (years old)

total

percentage

 

15 to 20

21 to 30

31 to 40

41 to 49

Working Age (Male)

 

 

 

 

52

 

Working Age (Female)

0

2

1

1

4

 

Illiterates

1

3

3

2

9

16.07%

Elementary school

2

19

14

3

38

67.86%

Middle school

1

9

2

1

13

23.21%

Breakdown in education levels of Gaoxing village migrant workers

Through our investigations, we learned that over 10% of the Miao migrant workers from Gaoxing village are illiterate; more than 60% finished elementary school; and the rest attended middle school.  Most of those who attended middle school are between 20 and 30 years old. Migrant workers 30 years or older had rarely attended middle school, and not one migrant worker in the village had ever attended high school.  Because of their lack of education and of understanding about anything beyond their own culture, the migrants are not prepared to deal with many things in their new work environment.  Often they end up taking the most risky, dirtiest, and most exhausting jobs or jobs with the longest working hours and the lowest pay.

 

 

Total Migrant
Workers

Miners

Construction
Workers

Mason
Workers

Carpenters

Factory
Workers

Longga

54

31

16

3

3

1

percentage

 

57%

30%

6%

6%

2%

Breakdown of type of work for Longga Village migrant workers

Note: All 54 migrant workers in the LongXia Village are younger than 30.

 

 

Total Migrant
Workers

Miners

Peeling Bark
Workers

Brick
Making
Workers

Pine

Oil Workers

Gaoxing Village

60

44

12

2

2

percentage

 

81%

22%

4%

4%

Breakdown of type of work for Gaoxing Village migrant workers

Note: Except for the miners, all other migrant workers from Gaoxing Village work out of Guizhou Province.

 

Total

Guiyang Suburbs

Within Guizhou province

Jiangsu province

Guangdong
province

Jiezhang province

Anhui province

Longxie Village

54

34

3

16

1

 

 

Percentage

 

62.96%

5.56%

29.63%

1.85%

 

 

Gaoxing Village

60

31

16

 

 

11

2

Percentage

 

51.67%

26.67%

 

 

18.33%

3.33%

Migrant workers’ geographical placements

From our investigations, we learned most of the migrant workers work within Guizhou Province; only a very few would venture to other provinces.  Those who work outside of the province tend to be younger in age and also relatively higher in education.  Basically, all their jobs are the toughest and require the greatest physical labour.  Working in a mine is one of their typical jobs. There are two reasons for this: one is that Guizhou is a major coal producing province.  Within the province, the Miao people do not have a language barrier; they can work closer to home; and they can easily group together. The other reason is that for an uneducated worker, mining pays slightly better than other occupations.

Even with higher pay for mining work, wages range roughly from 1000 RMB to 1500 RMB per month, and some jobs pay even less. Because of their lack of education, the workers often do not understand the details of the contracts they have to sign.  Whenever an accident occurs at the mine, such as physical injury or even death, the compensation paid-out by the owner completely depends on the owner’s generosity and conscience. If the mine owner pays out inadequate monetary compensation, the workers would not know how to complain, let alone file a lawsuit against the owner, since these workers are unable to read.

The author conducted many interviews.  One particular interviewee, Yang Zhongquan, a 40-year old villager had only one year of elementary school education,

so basically he was illiterate.  He could write his own name, but not much else. He digs coals at a mine called Juziya (锯子崖) , located in the suburb of Guiyang city.  He told the author during an interview that the coalmine was about 100 meters long, uneven, and sloping. The miners would have to dig out the coal, load it on the carts, and push the carts out.  If the tunnel was tall, they could dig standing up; however, when it was narrow, they would have to dig from a kneeling position.  Sometimes a tunnel could be really narrow, in which case the miner would have to dig in a prone position.  After being dug, the coal was put it in a basket carried on the miner’s back; then the coal was carried to the cart and unloaded.  Finally the full cart was pushed outside.  One basket of coal weighs about 75 KG, and one cart weighs about 1 ton – an extremely heavy load that usually takes two miners to push out. There are 3 shifts every day, with 8 hours per shift. Each shift has about 10 miners, who earn, on average, 14 RMB per day or 420 per month.  Many mine owners try to reduce  expenses by purchasing inexpensive tools of the most primitive kind available. The miners must rely on their physical strength.  There are many examples like Yang Zhongquan.

The statistics that our group gathered show that each family in the village earned about 5000 to 6000 RMB per year, more than half of which was earned from working outside of the village.  If workers chose not to work outside of the village, and relied only on working in the fields, each family could earn just about 3000 RMB per year. Each family’s expenditures, however, range around 5000 RMB.  Seeking employment outside of the village seems to be the only way to improve their lives.  Consequently, we could understand that despite the dust and exhaustion of mining environments and despite taking great risks for a mere minimum wage, many young, able-bodied men still continue to seek employment outside of the village.

  Harsh Working Conditions for Migrant Workers

      The author visited Yang Guanghua’s village home and conducted an interview with him and a fellow villager, also a migrant worker, and was told, “Without adequate education, it’s a constant hardship in the outside world: we cannot even read a road-sign in the cities; we cannot read a map, nor find the right public bus. When asking for directions, if we are lucky, a kind city person would point us in the right direction.  However, sometimes we would get yelled at. City people tend to look down on us, so when we go work in the cities, we generally do not go out alone; usually we go in groups.”

       If a migrant worker found himself lost, without enough money to buy food to fill up a hungry belly, he would not dare to ask people for a meal. When night fell, if he couldn’t find a place to sleep, he would have to find an unoccupied corner to spend the night.  Fortunately, these days, there is the telephone.  When he could not bear it anymore, he could at least call a fellow villager for help.  Sometimes the dilemma was that it was difficult to describe his whereabouts. This situation could be very upsetting.  Taking the train could also be troublesome, if not dangerous.  Once on the train and finding out his seat was taken, the migrant worker would not dare to ask  for his seat back. The author asked, “Why didn’t you talk to the train attendants?” They answered, “The train attendants never care about us.  They basically don’t want to pay attention to a bunch of farmers. Taking the train home after work in the cities is also risky. Sometimes thieves specifically target a group like us and steal our hard earned cash. They see us carrying bags and bags of stuff home, so they think we must have some cash in our pockets as well.  Mostly, we are a bunch of honest people making a living working in other cities.  We are easy targets.  We have worked so hard to earn so little, and if we got pick-pocketed, it would be really terrible.  For this reason, we always try to group together when we travel.  If the thieves see us as a big group, they will not likely try to prey on us.”

Although living in poverty, these Miao people were still the owners of their own land, but once they leave home and go into the cities, they enter a completely strange world. Their situation is analogous to people’s fear of the dark?  In the dark, we cannot see clearly; we do not know and we do not understand – and whatever we do not understand, we fear. Once in the cities, these uneducated Miao villagers feel as if they are walking in the dark.  They fear this kind of darkness and fight to overcome their fear, but often they feel hopeless.  They place their hopes on the next generation, hoping their descendants will not have to live as a people uprooted from their culture.  No matter what, they support their children’s education – a hard-won lesson learned in a hardscrabble life. 

Going to school and getting a good education has become the only way to fundamentally change the lives of the villagers.  Only with education can he or she enter into another cultural system. Education provides the only way to avoid living on the cultural fringes in an urban environment. Unfortunately, tuition fees and other expenses can be such a financial burden that may families often simply cannot afford to pay.  Elementary and middle school educations is mandatory with all the tuition fees waived; however, tuition for high school can be anywhere between 5000 and 6000 RMB per year -- higher than the whole family’s entire annual income! Despite the fact that most village parents realize the importance of having a good education, only a few parents can send their children to high school.

A rare few number of students from the villages actually finished high school and went on to attend university, and for them, their families had paid a tremendously high price.  The author interviewed Yang Yuyou, 54 years old, who said, “The year I turned 50 years old, my son was accepted to high school, but I didn’t have enough money to pay for the tuition fees, so I went to the mine to work as a miner.  I went there on two occasions.  The first time I spent 3 months there, making a total of about 1000 RMB.  The second time, I went to a place called Baiyangchong. After less than a month, I was injured.  One day, as I was scooping up the coal, a huge piece of coal rolled down and landed on top of me. It was a huge piece – so huge that even 8 people could not move it off me.  It was on top of me for a long time.  Had it landed a bit higher on my body, it would have killed me for sure.  I fainted then.  People around me believed I was already dead.  Finally they managed to get the coal off me.  Both of my legs were crushed. The crowd hurried me to the hospital.  I begged the doctor to help me because I had to go back to work to support my son’s education. After some treatments, one leg recovered while the other one had to be amputated.  I became handicapped.  The employer gave me 50 thousand RMB as compensation.  By then, my son had already spent 20 thousand RMB on tuition fees.  Unfortunately, he did not pass the examinations, so he was not accepted into high school.  This year, he wanted to try to get into high school again.  I suggested he should give up, but he wouldn’t listen.  By now, I have almost depleted all the savings.  Besides paying for his tuition fees, we have household expenditures to take care of. I am now handicapped and can no longer work in the field.  I have to hire help in planting corn and potatoes.  Right now, in order to support my younger son in school, my eldest son is working elsewhere as well, bringing back a little amount of money each year.”  As he was speaking, Mr. Yang maintained his smile; however, tears kept running down his cheeks.  He said, “My oldest son does not dare to work in the coal mines.  Instead, he went to Zhejiang Province to work, but he can only send home about 1000 RMB a year.  There is only enough money for his younger brother to attend school at the Shuicheng City, where the tuition fee is lower.”

From Suojia to Shuicheng County requires a 2 to 3 hour bus ride.  In order to save on the cost of bus tickets, his younger son only comes home once every 3 to 4 months, and each time he only comes back to get more money. “Why come home only to get money -- couldn’t you send it out?” the author asked. “How could I send it?  I can’t read! Besides, we don’t have a post office here.  The village, where the closest post office is, is still quite a distance from here.  And it would also be quite troublesome walking there”, he replied.

He sighed, saying, “Being illiterate is really frustrating. When I was working in the mine, every morning I needed to put my name card up on the attendance list; otherwise the boss wouldn’t know I’d showed up for work that day.  However, since I couldn’t read, I had no idea which card had my name on it.  So I always asked people for help. Every time on pay day, it was difficult to figure out how much I had really made.  So I had to trust the boss with whatever amount he gave me.”  Seeing the helplessness on his face, the author understood why the Miao villagers would rally and do their best to provide an education for their children.  They would even risk their own lives by working in these dangerous jobs, just so they could make enough money to send their children to a university.  This example shows the reason that his son, seeing how destitute his home is, still insists on finishing his schooling.  His son is already 21 years old, which is considered old for a high school student, but he does not mind what others think. He is unremittingly firm because he wants to rise above poverty and ignorance.  The author has never met Mr. Yang’s son, but nonetheless can feel the stubborn intensity of a young Miao student’s struggles.

While we were having this conversation, Mr. Yang wept continuously; however, at the same time, he kept smiling.  The author could see his was bitter smile -- and  even his laughter was tinged with a feeling of helplessness.

 

  Young People's Yearnings

Along the roads nearby the villages, the author found many propaganda slogans that were aimed at changing the future of the Miao people: for example, “Knowledge changes destiny”; “without education, the roots of poverty are difficult to pull up; “wealth will not last long if one does not study”, “it is illegal to prevent your children from going to school”; “all children over seven years old must be enrolled in the compulsory education of the country”; “the entire society is mobilized to ensure a child will not discontinue his or her studies”; “there is nothing to fear regarding the size of the world -- if we learn the culture, then we can walk around the whole world!”; ”the farmer depends on education to become wealthy, the country depends on education to become prosperous and strong”; ”we have to send our children to school even if we must sell our cows and pigs!”; “knowledge changes destiny and education achieves the future!”; “if we do not send our children to the junior middle school, we will feel ashamed toward our country and our ancestors!”; “young people who do not graduate from junior middle school, will not qualify for work.”

I asked some local people when I did my research in the villages, "What do you think are the biggest changes in your lives? They answered that the biggest change is that most girls can go to school. They have an education and can speak Mandarin, but they also have become unwilling to wear their national costumes.

Resistant to wearing their national costumes, these newly-educated young women prefer to marry Han people.  I was told a story about the four most beautiful girls in the village, one of whom had her hair cut and was determined to marry a Han person. Those girls were looked upon as traitors to their national culture -- their actions similar to the ‘New Woman’ in the May Fourth Movement Period.

I asked a third year junior high school boy, “In your class, do you believe Miao students perform less well than their Han counterparts?” He replied, ”Yes, we have more difficulties in our studies because the Han language is not our mother tongue, so only a few Miao people can get better academic results.” It is difficult for Miao students to fulfill their study in the third year junior high school. The boy I interviewed above is 18 years old. The boys in the village tend to marry at 16 or 17 years. I asked the boy why he had not yet chosen to get married. He answered that he had no time to spend with a girl. As the tradition changes, the younger generation holds the opinion that studying is more important than marriage.

When I did my research in the village, I could see that the young people  yearned for the modern city life and were engaged in a wider range of activities than their elders. A boy named Xiong Guanglin told a story to a participant in my study group named Men Fanxing about several students from the second year junior high class who went to Beijing -- the first group from the village to do so. Xiong Guanglin was himself preparing to go to Beijing where he planned to stay, but he was waiting for some news from Beijing before embarking on his journey. He had already been to Wenzhou City where he worked for half a year in a shoe factory. He said he would prefer to live in Beijing because it is more modern than Wenzhou. He thinks of Beijing as having a “World Trend”. (He doesn’t understand the term ‘globalization’, so he defines this concept with the phrase “world trend”). He imagines Beijing nightlife is different from his Miao village nightlife, which he finds boring, because everything is dark and quiet; he just stays home watching TV.  Today, young people want to know about the outside world. They want to know the colourful city life in Beijing, not only in the daytime, also at night, so they yearn for the big city life and want to try their best to find a place in it.

I recall having a talk with a college student (one of only two college students among all 12 villages). He told me that the rural areas were very isolated: for the first time, a horse-drawn carriage had come to the villages. Before that, no one had ever seen a power line. He himself had never seen a train or bus until he studied in Senior School in Liuzhi ( 六枝 )        He was so mesmerized at the sight of a train that he went almost daily to the station just to see it.

I asked him about how feelings toward his hometown had changed after his studies at college in Guiyang City. He said his hometown is so poor and backward, but he hopes to change the situation soon. He said he held different hopes at different points in time. Once, he was hoping to write a book about his native culture, but now he changed his plan. Since he thought it would be very difficult to write such a book,  he now only wanted to find a job, earn some money, and repay his loans. He told me he had no money to continue his graduate studies. With language a major barrier, he said he felt very lonely in the city and inferior compared with others.

This college student told me that he would not go back to his hometown, because village life is too boring and too simple. Life is repetitive: people get up very early and go to work in the fields, day after day, year after year. He also doesn’t want to find his significant other in the village. We asked him jokingly, “Not even if she were the most beautiful girl in the village?” “No,” he responded, “That wouldn’t work either.  Beauty is only skin-deep; inner beauty is more important.”

I understood him well, because even the most beautiful girl in Suojia would no longer share a common language. Even though he were to still live in the village, his interior world of thought and logic was no longer the same as that of the local people. He was not the same person he used to be. Education had changed not only his outer appearance, but also his language; and even more importantly, his thinking and his values. His inner world is no longer the same as his parents, brothers, friends, and potential girlfriends. He and they are no longer share the same world of ideas.

I asked him about local customs, such as festivals and memorials.  He was not too knowledgeable about them anymore.  Ever since he was quite young, he was  preparing for his university entrance examinations and spent his time studying or helping out in the fields. He seldom paid much attention to village festive holidays.  Not wanting to disturb his studies, older folks seldom spent time telling him those things.  Perhaps from his generation onwards, villagers will identify more with Han cultural influences, even perhaps Western influences, as their awareness of their own culture will fade in their memories.  If this trend continues, perhaps after many years or generations, this minority nationality maybe survive. With the assistance of the government, the Suojia Miao people’s living conditions will  further improve; their population might even increase somewhat.  Their own culture. however, will decline, even leading to extinction.

 

Who Possesses the Culture’s Decision-making Authority?

Do people have decision-making authority over their lives, even though their basic necessities have been met? I pondered this question for a long time during my research in the Miao villages. When I came into contact with the Miao villagers deep in the mountains and truly became part of their lives at the most basic social level, I deeply understood that without solutions to their fundamental necessities, people often do not care anything about freedom of speech nor about the development of their culture.  The first priorities for them were how to overcome their current poverty, how to break free of cultural restraints, and then, without turning back, how to adapt to a much stronger culture, the Han culture. Facing this much bigger and stronger new culture, the Miao people feel like illiterates because their own culture is now a traditional one, one about to become vanish .They now had became truly a people living on the borderline of this new culture.  As they were slowly losing their traditional culture, they still had not found their new, distinct culture.

From a global point of view, the Chinese Han culture had once faced exactly the same situation as the Miao people. A century ago, when our door was forcibly opened by the stronger Western powers, we found our nation was very much behind the West.  We were not only economically and scientifically behind, we were also culturally behind. In  anthropology, all cultures are equal, and none is not more advanced or backward than any other; however, when an economically weak people faces a very wealthy one, it is difficult for the former to avoid feeling a sense of inferiority.  It is natural for the weaker to lose confidence in their own culture, even to the point of self-critique and  abandon traditional  culture.  Since the May 4 Movement of 1919, China’s Han people had to eradicate  feudal superstitions . Today, we take measures to protect our intangible cultural heritage, thanks to the fact that our economy is stronger than before.  We can imagine that people would not know the traditional culture value if we were struggle for the poor life.

When we adopt a global perspective, we see that the Han Chinese were once in a similar situation to that of the Miao people. I understood that view when I studied among the Miao villages where the situation is similar to early 20th century China. .At that time, The Han people put forward the slogans such as “save the country through science” and “total Westernization.” Even now we continue on the road to meet international standards. We study English and try to grasp the language in today’s globalization. English has become one of the most important subjects in our education system which contributes to the fading of our Chinese traditional culture . So we promote the idea of saving our “intangible culture heritage “.

As a first step, we need to realize “cultural consciousness” as well as  strengthening our economy; then we can own our “cultural consciousness.” What is “cultural consciousness “?  By the so-called "cultural consciousness", we mean that one needs to have a deep understanding and knowledge of one's culture.  Only when we could achieve this, we then would not be blindly feel neither inferior nor superior regarding our cultures.  When facing with the today’s global cultural transformations, we would then have the abilities to transform ourselves.

According to Alvin Toffler’s point of view, the human race has gone through three major social transitions.  The first one moved from hunting to agriculture.  In this phase, the Chinese was victorious.  China is well-developed agriculturally.  The second transition proceeded from agriculture to industrialization.  China seemed to have missed out on this phase.  We were left behind.  As a result, China, as it stood on the world stage, did not enjoy a healthy economic position, nor a strong political position.  We also seemed to lose our right to speak on the subject of our own cultures. Our transition was forced, passive, and also behind others.  As a result, during the past century, all we could do was try to rid ourselves of our own traditional cultures and practices.  We seemed to have few original or creative contributions nor leading-edge technological innovations to give to the world. We had been following passively behind the West, could not find our own bearings. Now fast forward to the present day as the human race faces another transition: a move from industrialization to post-industrialization; from a capitalistic economy to intellectual properties economy . Do we know the reasons why we need to protect our traditional cultures?  Should we passively accept things, just because they are recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  These are the questions we all need to ponder, not just the Miao people.

 

六、Final Words

Herein lies the dilemma: in a world where cultures seem to be merging into one new, globalized culture, is there no culture that can stand unaffected, not even  within an Ecology Museum? The Suojia ( 梭嘎 )  Ecology Museum is such an example. No matter how ideal the Ecology Museum, no matter how perfect its management, it cannot sustain a static, unchanging culture nor put a halt to the evolution of community life.

In this day and age, change seems to be the norm. It is the author’s opinion that one of the goals for the Ecology Museum is not to preserve original community life inside its borders, but rather to evolve slowly from within: an internal change rather than an external one. The Miao people will have to relinquish their traditional culture while holding onto culture consciousness. In Europe, local people built their own ecology museums by making their own decisions and getting support. The situation is not the same in Guizhou Province, where culture consciousness is lacking and protection is imposed from the outside world.  Miao villagers pay more attention to economic developments rather than cultural preservation and protection. We feel it is necessary and important to call on the local people to protect their culture, and we ask for help from  specialists in ecological protection.

Another goal for the Suojia Ecology Museum is to develop a dedicated academic group to carry out census work.  This group was charged to conduct a census and develop a digital database to record all aspects of the culture.  During our research,

however, we discovered that this fundamental work had not been carried out. We were told such an attempt had been undertaken, but because of negligence in maintaining records, all the research was lost. We realized not even one dedicated professional researcher had been assigned to this task, nor there was any on-going participation by the local villagers. A culture whose language has no written form faces serious danger of disappearance with no hope of recovery if we fail to record every aspect of their culture. If we have no academic muscle to do this work, the culture will rapidly fade away. If we are not at the ready, the Suojia Ecology Museum is in danger too.

Precisely because of our awareness of this looming danger, our research team worked with dedication in the Miao villages for three and half months.  Not only did we conduct research, but we also tried to capture their cultures by using words in their language  and making sound and video recordings.  The observations described in this essay reflect but a very small portion of the research we conducted there.  We believe that both “migrant workers” and “education” have reshaped their culture; therefore, we decided to concentrate on these two topics in this essay with the intent to share our observations with our readers.  While we are charged with the mandate to protect all intangible cultural heritages, we must also pay attention to the reality of people’s lives, particularly the lives of those living in mountainous regions. There are many questions we need to ask: e.g., how should we go about protecting our intangible cultural heritages? how should we apply what we learn from studying the European experience? Given our different national and cultural backgrounds, we should come up with strategies that are appropriate to our individual situations. And while we are protecting our intangible cultural heritages, we must not freeze our lives in time; rather, we should grow our “cultural self-awareness and self-consciousness” and also undertake greater “cultural self-examination”.  From there, we could hope to gain a certain degree of self-determination as to how our cultures are being shaped.  This concept is relevant not only to the Miao people, but also to the whole of Chinese society -- and the whole human race.  Fundamentally, all the tangible cultural heritages of the world belong to everyone; this is the basic building block for the future of our cultural development.

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