Home Culture & Lifestyle Human tales from China’s Yunnan: Conservation, culture, poverty alleviation rolled into allure

Human tales from China’s Yunnan: Conservation, culture, poverty alleviation rolled into allure

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An army of curious RUC journalists

In the south west tip of China, the border province of Yunnan that shares adjacent location with Myanmar to the west then Laos and Vietnam to the south became an allure recently.

The migrating Asian elephants which had their movement epicentre in Yunnan recently and  caught the attention of the world’s environment enthusiasts didn’t escape the curiosity of student journalists of the Renmin University of China, Beijing. The School of Journalism headed by Prof. Zhong Xin mobilized an army of reporters who besieged Yunnan for scoops, defying the long distance of 2,925km from Beijing.

Indeed, the team came back from the region with a bagful of tales of poverty alleviation for the environmentally challenged poor natives who have been beneficiaries of China’s countrywide initiatives on poverty eradication. The poor people who lived in remote mountainous regions right in the embrace of squalor, today boast of upper scale modern living in their new abode built by the government.

The team unraveled exciting things the natives do to turn around their natural environment to money spinners and at the same time conserve their environments for a better and healthier living.

These modest efforts are paying off as trapping and benefits where the cultural heritage of the people is being commoditized and projected to the world to admire.

Yunnan has therefore become a beehive of new lives and livelihood that power higher growth and better lives.

While all these happen, the outer world streams in droves to Yunnan and the once remote world is embracing larger global attention just as the world converges on Yunnan’s local population to explore and indulge.

A new world comes like in a dream

By Tu Jiayu, Xu Zhanman, Wei Jiayue, Liu Zhen

Cai Yufen, one of the locals of Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture still recalls the day she heard she was given the opportunity to relocate. “It felt like a dream,” she said, smiling. Moving out of the remote mountains that her family had lived in for generations and into a tall building in town was beyond her imagination. Now Cai is able to live the dream.

She now has a clean, spacious apartment with complete set of furniture and electrical appliances. The community she was relocated to is equipped with grocery stores, dining halls, recreational facilities and a kindergarten in walking distance for her grandchildren. All of these have been made available for free by the government for her family and all other relocated families.

Cai is one of the 9.6 million people that benefited from the relocation program in China. As part of the nation’s battle against poverty, the program has helped those people by relocating them to places with better living conditions.

A brand new high class world for the rural poor population of Nu Jiang

Relocated into opulence

The role of relocation has been notable especially in Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture of Southwest China’s Yunnan Province. Back in the olden days there, high ranges and deep valleys of the Hengduan mountains left the inhabitants with little arable land and cut them off from the outside world. Under those difficult conditions, more than half of the population lived below the poverty line.

“I immediately fell in love with this new place,” Cai said, who has been leading a fulfilling life since the relocation last year. She took mandarin class in the community, learned to use a smart phone, and even mastered a new skill by watching videos teaching people to weave straw baskets on Kuaishou, a video-sharing app. Now her handcrafts are sold to many cities and bring her an income which can cover her living expenses and her two grandchildren. With more money saved, she plans to further decorate her new home.

Having been lifted out of poverty and provided with far better living conditions, Cai now could see hope for a happy life for both herself and her family. But this is not the whole picture of the relocation program yet. The program also lifts the prospect of relocated residents by offering them dignified work and increasing their income.

Yu Limei, another beneficiary of the relocation program, moved down the mountains and began working in an ethnic minority clothing cooperative in 2018. He suffers from amyotrophy, a disease that results in progressive wasting of muscle tissues. Despite his disability, he became a dab hand at operating the sewing machine through proper training. Now he can easily manage the work assigned and even teach the new-comers as well.

Handball pitch, modern facilities at the new world

Yu is happy when he works. For him, being “useful” is important. Up in the mountain where body strength is more of a necessity for livelihood, Yu once felt like a useless man because he couldn’t manage any heavy farm work. He was so upset that he even thought of committing suicide. But now, with his life well-provided-for and a job that he enjoys doing, Yu becomes more optimistic about his life. He even joined a choir made up of workers in the cooperative, many of whom are also disabled.

Just like Cai and Yu, many other relocated residents are well on the road to better lives. “Men would always aim high and go upwards,” said Cai. With their hard work and the government’s ongoing rural revitalization project which succeeds the poverty reduction efforts, a brighter future awaits them.

At the Nujiang Canyon, birds bring fortune to Sanhe Village

By Deng Yiyun, Li Jiangmei, Lin Shanrong, Wu Beibei

Four years ago, Hu Guiyu, a villager rooted his whole life in the Gaoligong Mountains, and couldn’t dare to imagine that birds which he used to hunt as snacks could one day bring him a load of fortune.

In the early spring of 2018, Zhang Chaojiang, a Party official who was dispatched to lead a fight against poverty in Sanhe Village in the Gaoligong Mountains, southwest China’s Yunnan Province, knocked on Hu’s door.

Along with Zhang was an outstanding entrepreneur, Yuan Kaiyou, who decided to build his hometown with the money he earned in early years’ of business.

Zhang and Yuan proposed to help Hu to reconstruct his backyard and build a bird-watching spot and provide food and playground for local birds, seeing it as a stepping stone to develop a bird-watching industry and help the locals make a good fortune.

Nu Jiang new birdwatchers haven

But Hu didn’t buy it, ” Making money off those little birds? That’s never going to be real.”

Three months passed, while other neighbours had already started feeding birds in their newly built bird-watching spots, Hu didn’t even move a brick.

Zhang couldn’t sit tight and wait anymore. Every time meeting with Hu, he would tirelessly hurry him up to finish the reconstruction project.

On Oct. 1, 2018, Hu’s bird-watching spot was finally open to the public. At the end of the day, Hu gained 900 yuan in his pocket, which was earned through offering accommodation and baggage service for 11 photographers who came all the way from Anhui Province to take pictures of birds in his backyard.

Before leaving, a photographer suggested Hu to move the bird-watching spot a little further forward to get a better view for bird photography.

Without Zhang Chaojiang saying a word, Hu built a new spot by himself in less than three days.

“What we want to do is stimulate the internal motivation of local villagers so that they can benefit from ecological protection,” Zhang concluded.

From then on, Hu successfully transformed from a notorious “hard-to-crack” among the poorest of the village into a bird guide with decent income.

Hu is just one of the many guides in the Bird Valley who transformed from people who hunt birds to people who protect birds.

Bird watching houses become new goldmine

The transformation began when Yuan Kaiyou returned to Sanhe Valley to start his business after working away from home for years. After making a fortune by other businesses such as medicinal plant agriculture, he began to construct the Bird Valley in 2017 under Zhang’s suggestion.

After discussing, they decided to build a tourist distribution center which provides accommodation and travel service. Tourists will be distributed to different guides’ home to have meals and watch birds.

When the Bird Valley opened on China’s National Day in 2018, Mi Bosi, a bird guide, welcomed the first group of tourists to his house.

“They come from thousands miles away for sunbirds, and there are five kinds of sunbirds in my bird-watching spot.” Mi said proudly. On that day, the sunbirds were cleaning their feathers so closely that every guest got a perfect opportunity to shoot photos.

With guests satisfied, guides in the Bird Valley also got satisfying returns. According to Zhang Chaojiang’s calculation, a tourist will spent 200 to 300 yuan a day in average for items such as bird watching position rental, meals, transportation and so on, which contribute to the village’s service industry. As a result, not only the environment is protected, the road to rural revitalization also get broadened.

The bird valley is now focusing on building its own brand to appeal to bird lovers at home and abroad. Five international visitors have come here by July 2021, two of whom returned just a month after their first visit, as impressed by the pristine nature and considerate service even including offering ice making equipment.

In order to provide better service, guides in the Bird Valley have been trained in a full range. When Mi welcomed the first group of his guests, he treated them with shredded potato both for breakfast and lunch because of lack of cooking experience.

Cynosure: They play and sing as the world watches and admires

But now all guides in the valley are so versatile that they can not only provide a nice environment in their bird watching spots, speak Mandarin well and offer reliable backpack service, but also provide authentic flavoured Yunnan dish cooks and culture communicators that are good at folk song and dance.

The successful experience of the Bird Valley has been spread to 46 bird watching sites in the prefecture. Zhang said that the Bird Valley also plans to develop sites to watch butterflies, azaleas and other animals and plants so that the biodiversity of Nujiang Grand Canyon can be further utilized.

Wood and Fire Legend: Tourism, digital media bring local music, arts to global limelight

By Yang Jiaming

In China’s Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, a once impoverished minority region near Myanmar, more than 10 ethnic groups, traditional ethnic culture are going through amazing revival.

Southwest, border, Nu Jiang, known as Salween in Myanmar and Thailand, Hengduan Mountains……such keywords might portray a “Margin” image, both geographical and cultural, of this prefecture.    

“But now, the outside world, the whole country and even the globe could hear us, could hear the voice from Nu Jiang and our nationality,” said Jiang Xiaochun, a member of China’s minority Nu ethnic group, who chalked up an ethnic band named Wood and Fire.

Wood and Fire Band, the new rave

New rhythm of music

Like many other people in the Nu ethnic group, Jiang Xiaochun had fallen in love with music since his young age. But it’s hard to keep pace with the most popular style in the music market.

As time passes, the evolution of media technology has re-written the development logic of ethnic culture, which provides new opportunity for the dissemination and inheritance of traditional culture. For music creation, it also means chances.

“Things have changed a lot when compared with my childhood. Mobile phones and online platforms make us closely connected with others. The world is becoming smaller, and the music from outside regions is within easy touch,”Jiang coached.

Through the digital media, Jiang could find and analyze the audience’s interest, which helps him make the Nu ethnic characteristic harmoniously merged with the pop style.

Digitized for effect

“Our music grows out of Nu Jiang’s cultural soil,” said Jiang. “I’m of the Nu people, Nu’s blood is flowing in my heart.”

The name of his band—Wood and Fire, originates from Nu and Lisu minorities’ ancient mode of life—using wood to make fire, which also means the inheritance of ethnic culture and it’s bright future. Definitely as wood makes fire, the fire keeps the Nu people warm, alive and helps them also make the food that supports their lives and existence.

The music created and performed by Wood and Fire, is rooted in Nu’s culture and history, eulogizing their legend of hard work, representing their lifestyle and shared value.

On NetEase Cloud Music, one of China’s most popular online digital platforms for music, we can find several songs published by Jiang’s band.

The natives doing it the natural undiluted way

For ethnic music, such software actually serves as a digital museum, which offers an exhibition board to display and archive the transient form of arts, together with the collective memory and culture identity deeply embedded in the melody and voice.

Users could listen to and download the songs for free, leave their comments, and interact with the band members. In the meantime, they could also discover and understand the splendid culture which was formerly limited to the Nu Jiang area.

From the remote to worldwide music

“I firmly believe that, if the ethnic music is well-designed or well-played, it will belong to the whole nation and the world. If not, it will still be admired only in the local region. We want to make our music worldwide,” Jiang assured.

Proud owners of modern homes

In 2019, Jiang’s band participated in a music talent show—World Music: The X, which encourages musicians from the whole country to create and perform songs with the elements of intangible cultural heritage or traditional ethnic culture.

Although they missed the champion, the band still progressed in the semi-final, and more importantly, the voice from Nu Jiang minorities was heard and spread across China.

It might be the start of the renaissance of ethnic arts.

Minority musicians devote to making folk music reach the world

Ji Jiayue, Ma Bingying, Lu Junyu, Pan Ziyi

China has 56 ethnic nationalities, every of which has her unique culture and Nu is one of them. The Nu people are good at singing and dancing as if written in their genes. During a day in Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture in Southern China’s Yunnan, the media team experienced their adroitness and authenticity.

Jiang Xiaochun is a staff member of the migrant resettlement site in one of the communities. His wife Chunli Xiaohui and he performed an adapted version of the Nu love song. Everyone in the spot sat around a fireplace. Jiang Xiaochun and Chunli Xiaohui sang and danced in the duet, performing the graceful melody and expressing the rich feelings of this love song.

According to Jiang Xiaochun, the government has invested a lot of money in the relocation project, and helped more than 13,000 people move out of the mountains where they could barely make a living. That was the government’s way of alleviating poverty fundamentally.

Two game changers for the locals

The exhibition hall is preserved in a structure of Lisu nationality’s folk house. Sitting beside the burning fireplace in the middle of the room, the couples talked about the founding of their band “Wood and Fire”. The band was founded in 2016 and has ever performed in Kunming city, Beijing and Shanghai.

Jiang Xiaochun has learnt basic musical knowledge during his study in Central Radio and TV University of China. Noticing ethnic music of their culture was not yet organized, Jiang got the idea of creating a more systematic performance form.

With experience in troupe, Jiang’s wife could combine dance and music with ingenuity to deliver wonderful aural and visual effects, according to Jiang. 

Baby and grandma share same joy of their new world

“Our biggest dream is to get the ethnic music spread around the world, making more people know the stories behind it,” said Jiang. 

The band was invited to perform in the National Center for the Performing Arts, which greatly encouraged the band members. “Our efforts over the years are paying off, ” said Chun li Xiaohui. The band has integrated narration and other modern elements to get the music appreciated by more people.

Photos by the reporting team

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