Happy 10th anniversary, Yangjuan!

by on Tuesday, 14 September 2010 Comments

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Yangjuan is a village of the Yi minority, located in the mountains of southwestern Sichuan. In Fall 2000, the Yangjuan Primary School, built with the support of Chinese and foreign friends and dedicated to comprehensive education for the children of Yangjuan opened its doors. Thus, Yangjuan is the site of an innovative arts education program directed by Benoit Vermander of the Taipei Ricci Institute and Li Jinyuan of Sichuan Normal University and of a multidiciplinary anthropological-ecological research project carried on by the Sichuan Provincial Institute for Minority Studies, Sichuan University, and the University of Washington.

The 10th anniversary of Yangjuan took place in August 2010 and was a real success, with even more people in attendance than at the opening in 2000. To me the highlight was Aku Vyvy, the foremost Yi poet, getting the children to recite his famous poem yyr ggut (calling the soul) along with him. There was also a lot of very nice singing and dancing. It rained before and after, but not during the ceremony, just as HiesseVuga had predicted from his astrological knowledge. Three yaks were butchered, constituting the largest pile of meat I've ever seen as it sat in the courtyard. He Laoban donated 10,000 kuai for the top-ten students in the graduating class. Unfortunately the Principal literally put the money in his pocket, so we don't know how much of it the students will eventually see. We can ask them next time we go back.

Foreigners in attendance were very few, consisting of Eddie Schmitt, Geoff Morgan, Abby Lunstrum, Prof Chen Mei-ying of Chiayi (all current or former University of Washington students) and me. Zhang Wei presented a very nice set of posters that I think he and Li Jinyuan had made up (I was not there to ask when they arrived), and Li Xingxing and I put together a slide show of 200 pictures or so, using a projector borrowed from Chuan Da.

The dearest thing was that Fagen found out that it was my birthday on the 15th, and went all the way to Yanyuan to purchase a cake, watermelon, and bananas, and someone else had a bottle of vin rouge français (vraiment!), so it was a very endearing gesture and a welcome break from the succession of more carnivorous parties.

The next day we gave out 160 scholarships, including 15 for students in their last year of high school, which means we need to think about college next year. I'm applying for some funds from a Seattle foundation for this purpose.

Li Xingxing wants to start an online discussion group about the present and future of the school. The primary proximate problem is the lack of state-credentialed teachers; of course the ultimate problem is the management skills of the principal, everyone including the teachers (except for Ma Erzi's close relatives) seems to agree.

Geoff made some further repairs to the 6 water system, after Amanda Henck and her husband had made some earlier this summer. But it's clear that that system is a stop-gap measure. But none of us outsiders needs to do much, we think, because the ¥310,000 that was given by the Provincial Assembly (省民委) to the Prefecture Poverty Alleviation Office (州扶贫办) is apparently actually physically in Xichang, so that work on the larger system is to start soon.

In connection with water, Geoff and I went to see both the 3rd system given by a Chinese entrepreneur, and the revived version of the 4th system from Hydroliques sans Frontières. The #3 system, using Laizigou water, seems to work very well, and people say it provides water year-round, unlike any of the others built so far. The big surprise to me is the 4th system, which was revitalized last year. They have given up on the communal taps that were part of the original system, and every household paid a small amount to bring water inside where children won't mess with the taps. Only four households are still using a communal tap, which is, predictably, broken. Two households near the well are still using the well. Geoff and I talked to several families, all of whom are quite satisfied with the new system, except that it still runs dry in the winter. They pay the manager 20 jin of corn per year for his services. Anyway, it's in the best shape I've seen it since just after it was built.

The people depending of the 6th system are almost sure to "sell" its forest to a company in Xichang. The deal is being kept quite secret, and Ma Ningjun claimed not even to know the name of the company. The final papers have not been signed yet, but everyone seems to think they will be. The remaining rights of members to the resources are ambiguous at present. All the members of the other 3 systems have agreed not to sell theirs for the time being.


(Photos provided by S. Harrell)




Stevan Harrell (郝瑞)

I am an anthropologist of China and Taiwan, and have taught at the University of Washington since 1974. My first research in Taiwan in 1972-73 was on individual differences in folk religion. At the same time, I was interested in family, kinship, demography, and political economy. My first monograph Ploughshare Village, a later synthetic work Human Families, and several edited volumes resulted from this research.

In the 1980s, I turned my attention to Sichuan, where I became interested in ethnicity and ethnic relations. I conducted collaborative international fieldwork in minority areas, particularly with the Nuosu, or Liangshan Yi. This led to several edited volumes, as well as to a regional ethnography, Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China.

My interest in ethnic identity led to interest in ethnic arts, and from 1999-2007 I was Curator of Asian Ethnology at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. I curated Mountain Patterns: Survival of Nuosu Culture in China jointly with Ma Lunzy and Bamo Qubumo, along with other exhibits at the Burke and at the Bellevue Arts Museum.

Working in Liangshan, I became interested in environmental sustainability and community development through education. I helped found the Yangjuan Primary School in 2000. At the same time, I became active in educational exchange programs. I now head the UW Worldwide Program, exchanging undergraduates with Sichuan University and involving many of them in ecological fieldwork and community service at the Yangjuan School. In 2005, with a group of students, I founded the Cool Mountain Education Fund, a small NGO that gives scholarships to graduates of the Yangjuan School.\nI plan to devote the rest of my professional career to international scholarly and educational exchange and to research on human-environment interactions in the US, China, and Taiwan.

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