China Fieldwork Semester Blog

The China Fieldwork Semester is an intensive project-based student research program in Xizhou, Yunnan. The program consists of a group of 11th and 12th grade students from Sidwell Friends and other U.S. Schools. Students work together in a research “collaboratory” housed in a historic residential facility.

Blog content shared here is a selection from personal reflections by students and faculty. Click here to see a video created by the students discussing their experiences. 

 

  • The Final Stretch, Kunming

    Posted May 12

    Contribution from: Pascale Bronder, CFS Student

    We survived Kunming and our AP tests last week. Now we’re on to the last 10 days of the trip. It’s crazy. In Kunming, other than concentrating on environmental science and literature while elementary school Chinese kids sang the national anthem and ran around screaming, we visited a minority showcase. For lack of a better word, it is basically a park and a Chinese version of Epcot. As a visitor, you can walk around and find yourself in over 20 different minority “villages” where you can observe the architecture, clothing style, and traditional performances.

  • Tiger Leaping Gorge

    Posted March 28

    Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students

    Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge by Sarah Donilon

    Known as the “Grand Canyon of China,” the Gorge is a tourist hotspot and for good reason. The mountains are shrouded in clouds and the hills are covered in large trees and rocks. We hiked for five hours on the rocky path. The hike was worth the amazing views awaiting us. At the top was a spectacular waterfall, pastures with horses roaming, and a pleasant village where we stopped for lunch. As we ate lunch at the top, we overlooked what seemed like heavenly mountains. We all slept soundly after our long but extraordinary day.

    The final stop on our Tibet trip was Tiger Leaping Gorge, another tourist destination. At the top there were people taking pictures, snack stands, and bathrooms everywhere. But as soon as a got to the bottom of the Gorge, I understood why there were so many people. There was a huge rock in the middle of the Gorge that seemed to part the waters. It is said that the tiger leapt across the Gorge and used that rock as a midway point. The rapids were extremely rough near the rock.

    Our trip to the plateau and the three parallel rivers was spectacular and once in a lifetime. Tibetan culture is endlessly interesting and its landscape is stunning—it truly is “Shangri-La.”

  • Baishuitai and Haba

    Posted March 26

    Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students

    At our next destination, Baishuitai (白水台), we concentrated on the diversity of the land. We climbed up about a mile of rickety stairs and were greeted with what looked like an alien planet. This region is known for its calcium stone (白水台) and terraced bright colored water. The nutrients from the nearby volcanic spring cause the water to turn an aqua blue or bright (algae-like) green. It is quite breathtaking. The way the water erodes the rock causes it to pool on terraces which augments the beauty of the landscape dramatically. In fact, Baishuitai is so naturally intriguing and beautiful that it is considered a holy place by the Naxi minority (纳西族). There are prayer stations around the springs that provide the water where we burned incense. Furthermore, the views from the top of the mountain were truly amazing.

    Our next stop for the night was a Hui Muslim village, Haba (哈巴雪山 or Golden Flower Mountain in Naxi). The village was a mixture of many ethnicities due to its origin as a place of refuge for 8 different ethnic groups escaping the Han. Even today, our hosts told us, Han Chinese never come to Haba. We stayed with a local Hui family and they served us ten dishes, and each of them was delicious, I inadvertently tried fried cow intestine. My favorite was likely the beef with turnips.

  • Benzilan

    Posted March 25

    Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students

    A tent given to a family whose home was destroyed in the earthquake by Sarah Donilon

    After watching a beautiful sunrise near Meili Xueshan, we returned briefly first to the three parallel rivers region. In the Three Parallel Rivers region we visited an area called Benzilan. We visited a village known in Chinese as the Red Army Bridge village (红军桥) that was struck by an earthquake last September. The village specializes in making and painting wooden bowls. As we walked through the village, we saw the abandoned houses, rubble, and temporary tents given to those whose homes had been destroyed. We met two women who make the wooden bowls—their workshop is still in the village but they live across the river now because living in their old homes is too dangerous. They said they are not sure if the craft will survive, especially since they get the wood for their pots from local resources and their craft is extremely localized. If they all have to move from their village, the craft will most likely die. Their business has rapidly declined as the village becomes more and more inhabitable and after seeing their beautiful bowls we all realized it is truly a shame.

    Benzilan is only a few hours outside of Shangri-La, so we spent the night there and ate again at the delicious Indian restaurant in the city. Unlike last time we lodged in Shangri-La, this time we mostly explored the city. Some people even did traditional circle dancing in the town square.

  • Cizhong and Deqing

    Posted March 24

    Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students

    The view from the Lisu village by Sarah Donilon

    The next two places we saw were relatively quick stops. The first place, Cizhong (茨中), is a small Lisu village. The village had a slightly medieval feel because of its wooden houses and animals roaming. It was very remote, requiring a narrow bus ride and then a winding hike through another village and up a hill. It was a great opportunity to see a true mountain village relatively untouched by urbanization. Cizhong is known for a Catholic Church built there, when Europeans attempted to colonize China, the French sent missionaries to the Tibetan plateau. The French missionaries and later the Swiss brought Catholicism and French wine to the area. The church’s architecture is a mix; the walls distinctly Bai with blue stylized lotus flowers in the corner, but the high ceiling Tibetan.

    We spent the night in Deqing and had a great homemade meal in our guesthouse and played a fun trivia game guessing the English names of movies from their Chinese titles.

    In the morning we saw the sunrise from behind Meili Xueshan (美丽雪山 or Beautiful Snow Mountain). The sunrise was one of the most beautiful I have seen, the golden light on the white mountains was stunning. What was even more interesting than the sunrise, however, was the fact that an entire town was built around it, and that this phenomenon—building towns around small tourist attractions—is quite common in China.

  • Baima Xueshan (白马雪山 or White Horse Snow Mountain)

    Posted March 21

    Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students

    Traditional Lisu clothing by Mizan Gaillard

    We had a very comfortable night in our cabins and woke up early to hike up the mountain to see the rare Yunnan Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey (滇金丝猴) in the White Horse Snowy Mountain (白马雪山) nature reserve. Here we studied both the diversity of the land as well as the culture. In contrast to its name, the Tibetan Plateau is actually home to many ethnic minorities. The dominant group around Baima Xueshan is Lisu (傈僳). As we learned during our stay, the Lisu live in squat (with a five-foot entryway), wood, one room houses. Most of a family’s tools and possessions are hung on the wall or kept in storage containers up against the wall. Like most people adapted to living in cold weather, the Lisu sleep around a large hearth in the middle of their dwelling. Traditional Lisu clothing is colorful but mostly utilitarian. The men wear simple cloths that are easy to move in, as most were hunters. The women wear shirts, vests and long skirts to keep warm.

    On our second day at Baima Xueshan, which is a 2,000km nature reserve, we saw the endangered golden snub-nosed monkey. Despite its name, the monkeys are actually large black and white animals. Interestingly, they are the only other species besides humans that have red lips.

    We did not have to walk far to see them because this particular troupe had been trained to live farther down the mountain and to be comfortable around humans. The monkeys get their name for their slit-like noses—adaptations to the lack of oxygen at their high altitude. We watched many of the younger monkeys climb the trees and wrestle with one another while the older ones tended to sit back and eat their breakfast. There are four sub-species of Snub-Nosed Monkeys, all found in China. Each species is found on a separate mountain range separated by the others by a gorge. For this reason, scientists suspect there is an undiscovered fifth sub-species on the fifth mountain range. Local rangers maintain the park and feed the monkeys every morning. As we made our way down the mountain, we ran into some cows with two young women herding them. One of the cows mooed aggressively and the woman told us to stay back and that I in particular attracted the angry cow with my red hair and my pink jacket, so we all hid behind a tree. Finally the cows were taken away and we returned to our cabins. That afternoon, we heard an information session at the nature center about the monkeys from the manager of the park.

    After lunch most of the group went on a hike through another portion of the reserve. We got see a relatively untouched virgin forest, which - unknown to me at the time - is extremely rare in China.

  • Great Leap Forward

    Posted March 20

    The Great Leap Forward was an economic and social movement that took place from 1958-1961 in China. It resulted in the greatest famine in human history, with a reported death toll of 18 to 43 million people. Click here to watch an excerpt from an interview with a survivor of this time period

  • Nixi

    Posted March 19

    Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students

    Nixi  by Sarah Donilon

    We next traveled from the Tibetan Plateau into the Three Parallel Rivers area (三江并流), which is lower than the plateau region. The three rivers are the Jinsha, Mekang, and Nujiang (金沙江, 蓝参江, 努江 respectively). Our first destination in this area was Nixi (尼西 ), a Naxi minority village. Nixi is a picturesque village with peach trees and prayer flags on every street corner, green fields, and brown hills chock full of the special clay the Naxi use in their pottery. The story goes that during the Tang Dynasty, Princess Wen Chang married Songsten Gampo but had a love child. She sent him down the river to Lijiang who grew up to start the Naxi people. This village is almost entirely responsible for all the pottery in the Qinghai region of Tibet. Unlike stereotypical blue-and-white Chinese design, pottery from Nixi is black.

  • Khana

    Posted March 18

    Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students

    Khana by Mizan Gaillard

    Khana is an area that draws many tourist and pilgrims visiting the Yellow Hat Sect Buddhist temple Songzanlin (松赞林寺) monastery. In the previous era, the monastery served as the main center of education and stability for Khana. Most boys became monks and received a free education. Today tourism supports Khana.

  • Napa Lake

    Posted March 17

    Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students

    Yak in the Napa Lake by Mizan Gaillard

    The next day was also dedicated to observing China’s ecological diversity, but the focus was on animals instead of the landscape. We got up early to go bird watching at Napa Lake (纳帕海). We were in search of the black neck crane, a large, graceful bird. There are estimate to be fewer than 8,800 left in the wild, making a bird that once was such an integral part of the landscape more difficult to spot. We began our search for the bird by visiting Pudacuo (普达措) China’s first national park. We met our tour guide for the trip, Dashanima, a bald Tibetan Buddhist man who wore jeans, sneakers, and prayer beads. We were given snacks for the day and boarded a bus for a tour of the park. The park was built in 2006 and was set up similarly to those in the U.S. with small boards that explained interesting features. We rode by bus through the park and stopping along the way. One stop was at a beautiful lake setting alongside a boardwalk and it was here that we caught our first glimpse of the evasive crane. We saw a lot of variety in bird species. These included steppe eagle, common buzzard, black eared kite, upland buzzard, common crane, black-necked crane, bar-headed goose, grepe, and mallards. We even got fairly close to a black-necked crane and saw them flying overhead with wings outstretched. . I was amazed at how many types of birds we saw and that most of them are large predators. The grace with which the crane moves rivals ballet dancers; it seems to glide on air and barely disturbs the water when it walks despite its large size. Our hunt was successful.

Related Blog Entries

The Final Stretch, Kunming
Posted Monday, May 11
Contributions from: Pascale Bronder, CFS Student


Tiger Leaping Gorge
Posted Friday, March 28
Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students


Baishuitai and Haba
Posted Wednesday, March 26
Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students


Benzilan
Posted Tuesday, March 25
Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students


Cizhong and Deqing
Posted Monday, March 24
Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students


Baima Xueshan (白马雪山 or White Horse Snow Mountain)
Posted Friday, March 21
Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students


Nixi
Posted Wednesday, March 19
Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students


Khana
Posted Tuesday, March 18
Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students


Napa Lake
Posted Monday, March 17
Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students


Pudacuo
Posted Sunday, March 16
Contributions from: Giacomo Delgado and Mizan Gaillard, CFS Students


Shangrila
Posted Saturday, March 15
Contributions from: Giacomo Delgado and Mizan Gaillard, CFS Students


Tibet: Ringha Banyan Tree Hotel
Posted Thursday, March 13
Contributions from: Giacomo Delgado and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students


Video: Great Leap Foward
Posted Thursday, March 20


Temples
Posted Friday, March 14
Contribution from: Malia Stabb, CFS Student


Trip to ShaXi (沙溪)
Posted Sunday, March 9
Contribution from: Pascale Bronder, CFS Student


Tie-Dye Apprenticeship
Posted Saturday, March 8
Contribution from: Pascale Bronder, CFS Student


Paper Cutting剪纸Apprenticeship
Posted Friday, March 7
Contribution from: Sarah Donilon, CFS Student


Silversmith Apprenticeship
Posted Wednesday March 5
Contribution from: Pascale Bronder, CFS Student


Making Dumplings
Posted Sunday, March 2
Contribution from: Pascale Bronder, CFS Student


Visit to a Vegetable Farm
Posted Saturday, March 1
Contribution from: Pascale Bronder, CFS Student


The Stream
Posted Monday, February 28
Contribution from: Sarah Donilon, CFS Student


Visiting two fish (鱼) farms
Posted Friday, February 27
Contribution from: Pascale Bronder and Alex Bate, CFS Students


Visiting a Crop Farm
Posted Tuesday, February 25
Contribution from: Pascale Bronder, CFS Student


Organic Farm
Posted Thursday, February 20
Contribution from: Sarah Donilon and Pascale Bronder, CFS Students


The Farm
Posted Sunday, February 16
Contribution from: Sarah Donilon, CFS Student


The Wetlands
Posted Saturday, February 15
Contributions from: Sarah Donilon, Pascale Bronder, Alex Bate, Giacomo Delgado, Riley Woodwell, CFS Students


A Break from the Ordinary
Posted Friday, February 14
Contribution from: Riley Woodwell, CFS Student


A Scenic Bike Ride and The Temple of Five Glories
Posted Thursday, February 13
Contribution from: Sarah Donilon, CFS Student


A Wedding in Xizhou
Posted Wednesday, February 12
Contribution from: Sarah Donilon, CFS Student


Visiting Ling Hui Si, a temple dedicated to Duan Siping’s mother
Posted Tuesday, February 11
Contribution from: Sarah Donilon, CFS Student


Start of Study of Dwellings
Posted Monday, February 10
Contribution from: Pascale Bronder, CFS Student


Mapping the Landscape
Posted Thursday, February 6
Contribution from: Pascale Bronder, CFS Student


Shuang Lang
Posted Monday, February 3
Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students, and Pam Leonard, CFS Faculty


Chu Er (初二), the second day of the New Year: Visiting the West Gate and Temples
Posted Sunday, February 2
Contributions from: Akoo Donahoe, Sarah Donilon, Mizan Gaillard, and Giaomo Delgado, CFS Students


Chu Xi, New Year's Day
Posted Saturday, February 1
Contributions from: Sarah Donilon, CFS Student, Pam Leonard, CFS Faculty


Chu Xi, New Year's Eve
Posted Friday, January 31
Contributions from: Alex Bate Sarah Donilon, and Meghan Cunningham, CFS Students


Weishan
Posted Wednesday, January 29
Contribution from: Sarah Donilon, CFS Student


Reflection on the Study of Place
Posted Tuesday, January 28
Contribution from: Sarah Donilon, CFS Student


A bicycle adventure to Sha Ping 沙坪 Market
Posted Monday, January 27
Contributions from: Mizan Gaillard, Meghan Cunningham, Sarah Donilon, Pascale Bronder, CFS Students


Welcome to Xizhou and the Three Pagodas 
Posted Sunday, January 26
Contributions from: Alex Bate and Sarah Donilon, CFS Students, Pam Leonard, CFS Faculty


Exploring Yunnan
Posted Saturday, January 25
Contribution from: Pam Leonard, CFS Faculty


Touring the Temple of Heaven
Posted Friday, January 24
Contribution from: Pam Leonard, CFS Faculty


Arrival and Forbidden City
Posted Thursday, January 23
Contribution from: Pam Leonard, CFS Faculty