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Erenlai - Liang Zhun (梁准)
Liang Zhun (梁准)

Liang Zhun (梁准)

廣州人,九○年代到四川發展。她是中國國家高級攝影師,也是作家,重心放在民族攝影,善於呈現故事面的人性情懷。

"Ah-zhun" (AZ) is a photographer and reporter from Canton who has lived in Sichuan for the last fifteen years, researching the ethnic minorities of southwestern China. She has taught photography in two universities of Chengdu, and is a member of the Chinese Society for Ethnographic Photography. She has volunteered in the areas devastated by the Sichuan earthquake for more than five months. She is now starting anew as the chief editor of "A-Z cultural enterprise, Shanghai", a company specializing in cultural exchange and creation.

Monday, 28 September 2009 21:24

Ersu people in Southwest Sichuan (I)

Villagers from Shimian county, southwest Sichuan, sing an Ersu song. Ersu people today number around 20,000. They have not been officially recognized as an ethnic minority and have been attached to the Tibetans. They are very close to their Yi neighbors. Depending on location, they sometimes call themselves “Lusu”, “Lisu”, or Buersi… Their disappearing writing system, used almost exclusively for religious purposes, is pictographic, and makes use of colors to indicate degrees of expressivity.
In the wake of modernization, despite often expressing the wish to see their traditional culture protected and revived, Ersu people are rapidly losing their language, rituals and other ethnic markers. In Shimian county, though there has been an officially sponsored program for learning the traditional diviner-priest skills, finally none of the ten selected youth has been willing to enter the time-consuming formation with an elder. Music has been better preserved, and a group dedicates itself to Ersu repertory.

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Watch here the second part of the song

 
Thursday, 08 October 2009 00:57

Ersu people in Southwest Sichuan (II)

Villagers from Shimian county, southwest Sichuan, sing an Ersu song. Ersu people today number around 20,000. They have not been officially recognized as an ethnic minority and have been attached to the Tibetans. They are very close to their Yi neighbors. Depending on location, they sometimes call themselves “Lusu”, “Lisu”, or Buersi… Their disappearing writing system, used almost exclusively for religious purposes, is pictographic, and makes use of colors to indicate degrees of expressivity.
In the wake of modernization, despite often expressing the wish to see their traditional culture protected and revived, Ersu people are rapidly losing their language, rituals and other ethnic markers. In Shimian county, though there has been an officially sponsored program for learning the traditional diviner-priest skills, finally none of the ten selected youth has been willing to enter the time-consuming formation with an elder. Music has been better preserved, and a group dedicates itself to Ersu repertory.

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Tuesday, 07 August 2012 17:07

蘇州之夏,水波滌心


 

不似西方花園建築講究對稱、幾何之美,中國的園林建築係將自然山水凝於一方空間裡,以呈現天人合一的意境。蘇州古典園林即為箇中代表,其以流動的水,連結了園林中錯落有致的亭台樓榭,帶出疏朗、秩序的恬靜,流洩東方文化的內斂底蘊。在張揚的夏日豔陽底下,順著那柔軟又堅毅的水,天地倏忽沁入觀賞者心中,抖落了一身的繁華喧囂,也釋放了那俗世的煩擾困頓。

 

suzou02

蘇州拙政園

濁水供養荷色青

窗櫺框住了三面荷塘環抱的樓台,定格了時間。

在這一瞬間,人與荷展開了一段對答:

「都說出汙泥而不染,你如何能紮根於水中淤泥,卻直挺出水面,向著陽光長出一片清新?」

「猶如處在滾滾濁世的人們,若能堅定本心,不也能穿透矯飾偽裝,還其質潔光明?」

 

 

suzou03

蘇州拙政園

虛實之間水為鏡

平靜之水不起波瀾,澄明如鏡。

信步迴廊間,你以為水面上的層疊樹影,不過是水面外一草一木的映照。

透過鏡頭的獵取才發現,水中之景竟比雙眼所及來得開闊寬廣;

那溢出視野之外的,都在水面上一一顯影。

「虛」如何大於「實」?

會不會,我們所堅信的眼見為憑,只是一種有限的真實?

 

suzou04

suzou05

上「蘇州滄浪亭」;下「蘇州網師園」

水利萬物而不爭

萬物生長難離水;

如同庭園裡的這一方水,不論優遊其中的魚,依傍而生的樹木,生活於此的人們,

皆能安居其所,安適其心,因而顯現出恆定的靜謐。

在人法自然所建造的庭園中,

我們見到的不只是具體而微的天地一隅,而是從中讀到了老子所言:

「上善若水,水善萬利而不爭」

若能仿效水德與世無爭,

那麼,這世間也就沒有什麼可以和我們爭了。

 

 

Wednesday, 28 December 2011 18:07

Summer in Yangjuan Pass


I have travelled many times to Liangshan Prefecture, home of Sichuan’s Yi minority. Reporting on festivals in Zhaojue, Puge or Meigu counties, I have taken countless photographs and made many Yi friends, whom I like to visit each time I am back in Liangshan.

It was only during the summer of 2006, however, that I went to Yanyuan County, in the western corner of the prefecture. I was accompanying a French scholar, Benoit Vermander, to Yangjuan village. Yangjuan has more or less become a household name in Liangshan and Chengdu, as a school has been built there thanks to the efforts of Benoit, Professor Stevan Harrell (University of Washington in Seattle) and many friends from Chengdu and other parts of China. Not only does Yangjuan enjoy the benefits of a good primary school, it has also embarked on a variety of experiments: summer educational courses, hydraulic works, sheep rearing and following the lives of young migrant workers… Most of these experiments are small-scale, which is actually an advantage because it allows for trial and error, involvement of the villagers, and potential duplication in other places… Even if the experience remains limited in scope, Yangjuan is a kind of social laboratory.

In fact, “Yangjuan” is not the official name of the place. This community is officially part of Baiwu Township, in the north-central part of Yanyuan County. The area is beautiful, with streams and cliffs, fields of buckwheat, corn and sunflowers. There are mountains on all sides, rich with forests of Yunnan Pine and hundreds of species of plants. Sheep, goats, horses, cattle and pigs graze in the pastures. However, I know that in wintertime, things are different. Everything is barren, water is sorely lacking, people are cold, malnourished and often sick without reliable medical care. Development is needed, but local people must be the actors of the development process.

What made summer of 2006 so special was also that Benoit was not alone this year. He came with his younger sister, his brother in law and their four children (7 to 13 years old); all of them arriving directly from France. Going to Yangjuan when this is your first trip to China is most certainly not a banal experience!

These pictures document this extraordinary summer at a remote village in Liangshan, where friends come together every summer, to forge a tiny part of a better future…

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Wednesday, 28 December 2011 17:45

Shiqu, the birthplace of King Gesar

 

The district of Shiqu (Serxu in Tibetan) is located on the border of the Ganze Tibetan Prefecture (Sichuan) where it belongs, the region of Tibet proper and Qinghai province. More than a thousand kilometers away from Chengdu, at an average altitude of 4.526 meters, and twenty-five thousand square kilometers large, the district harbors a population of seventy thousand people, almost all farmers, surviving a severe climate (an average of 1.6 degrees below zero, and record cold dropping to 46 degrees below zero). The miracle is that this area is the one where began to be composed the epic of King Gesar, considered the longest poem in the world. The district also claims to be the birthplace of this legendary Tibetan king. It also keeps the longest wall of Mani stones, and a "city" dedicated to the souls of dead heroes.

 

The photographs gathered here gives testimony to a world with no equivalent. The Barge wall, 53 kilometers away from the district township, is located between a mountain and the sacred waters from which emerges the Yalong River. Started in 1640, repeatedly repaired and expanded since then, the wall now extends over a length of 1.7 kilometer, and its height ranges between two and three meters. The majority of stones that adorn the building are Mani stones (or simply "manis"), which are so called because they are carved with the famous mantra “om ma ni padme hum” ("the mantra of the six syllables" or “drug yi ge pa” in Tibetan). But the Barge wall also comprises more than three thousand stones decorated with representations of Buddhist deities, and about seven thousand stones inlaid with various sutras.

As to the "funeral city" of Songge, it is composed of a wall nine feet high surrounding an accumulation of stupas, through which the visitor circulates as in a maze after having entered through a back door. Its wall (which extends 73 meters from west to east and 47 meters from north to south) is also composed of Mani stones, sutras carved in stone and a sacred iconography, among which the few scholars who have been able to come there are able to identify representations of King Gesar and thirty-General of the State of Ling of which he was the overlord. At the very center of this construction stands a well, the depth of which has not been probed. The construction of this "city" began around the eleventh or twelfth century. It is probably a kind of memorial for the heroes fallen during the wars fought by King Gesar. The epic sings the repentance finally shown by the uncle of King Gesar, his hardened opponent, after he had killed several heroes. The funeral city would then have been built as a sign of atonement.

Nomadic tribes still live in the area. They bring along with them sacred vessels and erect a “portable temple” in a tent wherever they have decided to camp. The whole region is marked by such extremes of hardship, poetry and faith…

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Wednesday, 28 December 2011 17:23

Muli, an ethnic frontier

Muli is a tiny multi-ethnic county at the southwest corner of Sichuan province, nearby Yunnan province. On its west, lies the Ganze Tibetan autonomous prefecture. Muli itself is officially called a “Tibetan autonomous county”, though it is located within the “Yi Prefecture” of Liangshan, the Yi being another important ethnic group of Southwest China.

In this multi ethnic county, and contrarily to their neighbors, the Tibetan population is little prone to migrations, as tourism prospects are opening up (although much more timidly than in adjacent Yunnan province) with the re-assertion of the Tibetan character and culture of the area. Overall, one third of Muli’s population is Tibetan, around 28 per cent is Yi, 22 per cent Han, with a number of other minorities completing the census. Tibetans in Muli take advantage of this cultural trend and of the investments that go with: rebuilding of the main three Tibetan temples of Muli County, stupas and other Tibetan artifacts constructed near the mountain lakes… Other minorities, especially Yi people, are prone to leave the area in search for job, especially since state industries have been closed. If the mountain landscape is stupendous indeed, Muli township looks to the passer-by as a sad little place, cut off from the outside world during the rainy season from mid July till end of September.

kangwu_temple_az_011

Before 1949, Muli’s Grand Lama was the main political power in the area, a fact attested by Western travelers such as J. Rock and A. David-Neel. Muli housed three major Tibetan temples. In late July 2007, I went to one of these temples, Kangwu (Kulu in Tibetan language), and discovered the ruins of an imposing building burned down during the Cultural Revolution. Before this period, up to 550 monks were staying there. In the eighties, a small temple was built nearby, and 16 monks were living there at the time of my visit. They were in charge of supervising the rebirth a new, imposing Kangwu temple… This was the beginning of the second year of this large-scale endeavor. Tibetan craftsmen from neighboring Daocheng county had recently arrived. The structural work having been completed, it was now the turn of sculptors and painters to enter into action.

On this particular afternoon, the current Grand Lama of Muli was supervising the work.  I had the feeling of being at a special moment in time, standing between past and future, taken between the shadow of a temple existing no more and the mirage of a new one slowly coming to existence… These pictures testify to this enlightenment, to my sudden grasp of the impermanence of things.

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All pictures taken in July 2007

Wednesday, 28 December 2011 17:19

Fashion Show in the Mountains of Yunnan

The Yi People (彝族) in Yongren County, Yunnan Provinve, annually organize a grand fashion show during the month of January. The fashion show begins when the women most renowned for their expertise in the art of embroidery walk and dance in a parade, to display both their embroidered costumes and dances. Later on, other women join them, while the men just watch on. When evening comes, unmarried youths go to dancing parties. The fashion show day is therefore a day of beauty contest and lovemaking.

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Tuesday, 27 December 2011 00:00

The Festival of the Birth of the Prophet in Pi county, Sichuan

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The Festival of the Birth of the Prophet is one of the three most important Islamic festivals, it commemorates the birth and the death of the founder of Islam, Muhammad. On the 5th November 2006, the Festival of the Birth of the Prophet was held at the Pitong township mosque in Pi County, Sichuan. Before the festival, after the mosque's imam, Ma Rugang and the director of the management committee of the mosque, Ma Junru, have carried out prepatory arrangements for the festival, Muslims come to donate grains, oil, meat and money, and arrange for a groups of people to take responsibility for grinding the flour, buying certain items, frying flour-and-salt sesame oil cakes, cooking the meat and other dishes, the other odd jobs that the festival entails are all carried out by Muslim volunteers.
 

The Hui people see the different tasks surrounding the festival as good works, therefore, they often strive to outdo each other. Everyone takes part to decorate the gate, the main hall and the surroundings of the mosque with lanterns and streamers, and banners, the banners commemorate the calligraphy of Muhammad with Arabic writing, as well as incorporating slogans celebrating the festival. The festival normally lasts for two days, on the first day people come to the mosque in the evening to recite scriptures in praise of the Prophet, after the worship ceremony a symposium is held, the second day is a more formal commemoration. At the appointed time, the Muslims bathe and change their clothes, dressing up and congregating at the mosque to recite scripture, praise the Prophet and worship. The imam pronounces the main events in the life of Muhammad, his achievements and his moral character, as well as exciting historical tales about the hardships undergone in missionary work, of wisdom and bravery, of skill at debating and of war, instructing the Hui people not to forget the teachings of the Prophet, and to be good Muslims.

On this day Muslims also have to "taw/ba" (توبة rendered in Chinese as 討白 tǎobái), which means to repent. The Hui people believe: "Men are not sages or saints, how are they not to sin? To know thy sin and to correct it, that is the greatest of acts." (Chunqiu Zuozhuan: Xuangong Ernian). "Taw ba" consists of making up for their former misdeeds, asking God's forgiveness, promising not to continue in sin, and commiting oneself to this new course in life through good works. After the ritual, they dine together. Dozens of table laden with dishes are spread, everybody makes merry, in a feast together. As to those who had contributed to the meal by donating in the spirit of Niyyah (نیّة rendered 乜貼 niètiē in Chinese: the intention one evokes in his heart to do an act for the sake of Allah) but are unable to come themselves have to rely on friends, relatives and neighbours to bring a flour-and-salt cake for them to try1.

What makes the feast of the Prophet so special is that the people come together to praise the Prophet, the people donate things for a common goal and that the people eat together, which shows how united the Hui people are, and how they celebrate the festival imbued with the spirit of friendship. The Hui people of Pi County invite Muslims from the surroundings of Chengdu and even Aba Prefecture to celebrate the feast of the Prophet with them. As well as its ritual significance, this day is an opportunity for Muslims to interact with each other, the imams discuss theological issues and preaching methods with each other, and the Hui people wish one another well, and talk about all kinds of things, in an atmosphere of great joy. A group of students who, off their own backs, set up a Muslim student society at Sichuan University and Southwest University for Nationalities, volunteered to serve as stewards for the festival.

Translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart, photos by Liang Zhun

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1. Interestingly Chinese sources ascribe the origin of this flour and salt cake as what Abu Ayyub al-Ansari prepared for Muhammad when his house was chosen to host the Prophet on his arrival in Medina, and was even purportedly named by the Prophet as 油香 yóuxiāng , although this cake does not appear in English language versions of the life of the Prophet. For Chinese version of the origin of this cake see here.

 

 

 

Wednesday, 21 December 2011 17:25

Napa Village

The district of “Shangri La” (formerly called Zhongdian, before a name more prone to attract tourism was adopted in 2001…) is located on the north of Yunnan province, on the southern side of the Tibetan Plateau. The district is located on the frontiers of Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet, with an altitude of about 3380 meters above sea level.

Besides a renowned temple and the ruins of another one, the township proper has not much to offer the passer-by. But its surroundings are full of stunning human and natural wonders. One of them might well be Napa village, about 12 km from the township. It is in the middle of a natural reserve, set up by the government in 1980. There are 41 families, farmers and hunters, totaling a little less than 300 inhabitants, whose houses are grouped together. A gate signals the entry to the village. The lake below it is called “Napa Sea” and is renowned for the back-neck cranes that spend the winter there. It is not even a lake actually, but rather a depression, totally filled with water during the rainy season.

The primary school in Napa village stops at the third grade. Volunteers, coming mainly from Shanghai, have been offering summer courses for a few years already. Whenever possible, teachers supported by outside funding try to offer courses during the year, so that children may get a more advanced education. The same volunteers’ team also offers physical check-ups and other services aimed at local, sustainable development.

Ascending the mountains that surround the village, visitors can discover the enchantment of Tibetan forests and pasture. Now more open to the outside world and mastering the Mandarin language, young villagers act as guides, slowly developing an “eco-tourism” from below. Still, the life is far from being rosy: young girls are still carrying heavy loads of wood in prevision of the harsh winter months. Though eco-tourism is on the rise, the illegal cutting of trees occurs on a large scale. Paradoxically, it is even on the rise, because of the boom on constructions in traditional Tibetan style coming from the rise in tourism activities. Like in the whole of southwest China, the model of development is still debated, and a choice has to be made between rapid enrichment and the preservation of resources that prove to be rare and precious, even in the privileged natural environment of Shangri-la.

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Wednesday, 09 November 2011 11:51

Breathing and Painting

"What I try to paint is the very breathing that makes me paint." This is the way Benoit Vermander introduced his works during the opening of his exhibit at DPARK, Shanghai (November 5-30). The seventy ink and oil paintings gathered in this beautiful location were mainly organized around three topics: faces, birds and forest. But each time, explained Benoit, the underlying element was the breeze - the inner breeze that makes the face change and come anew to the light of the day; the breeze that supports the flight of the bird; the breeze that makes the forest palpitate and become the place where one wishes to wander and lose oneself.

Chinese paintings and oil paintings seemed to be melting into one, as the one and the same breath guides the hand that painted them, beyond differences in techniques and cultural undertones. The breath of the painter became the one inhaled by the visitors who had come to take new strength and inspiration in a show made even more poetic by the large windows of the main exhibit room, opening up on a landscape of high-rise buildings and slowly balancing bamboos....

bendu_shanghai_dpark_02

bendu_shanghai_dpark_03

bendu_shanghai_dpark_04

 

Tuesday, 08 March 2011 13:32

Remembering the Wenchuan Earthquake in Sichuan

We previously published an article by Liang Zhun who had volunteered to help the survivors of the Wenchuan Earthquake (aka the Great Sichuan Earthquake) get back on their feet. Here is an interview with her in which she explains her new book and the events that led her to compile it:

Thursday, 01 October 2009 01:23

Pingwu county after the earthquake

Today, most of the Qiang people live in the area of Wenchuan and Beichuan in northern Sichuan, near the epicentre of the great earthquake that shocked the whole region on May 12, 2008. Some of the great stone towers guarding the old villages collapsed. The human, economic and cultural damages were such that one could fear for the very survival of the Qiang.

In Pingwu County, one can still witness, standing side by side, the ruins of old houses and new construction funded by the State. Local authorities hope to build a tourist economy based on a standardized but more lucrative version of Qiang traditional culture.

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