Histories of China through the Cultural Landscapes of Xizhou, Yunnan
July 1 – 29, 2012
Cost: $5,600 (all inclusive)
Financial Aid and Payment Information
This course is an intensive summer fieldwork experience in Xizhou, Yunnan Province that explores the history of modern China from the village perspective. The course is based on the Summer 2011 Grassroots China Fieldwork Course, and follows the same structure, methods, and fieldwork projects. This year students will learn in and about the countryside surrounding Xizhou, a center of cultural preservation along the Southwest Silk Road, and near the border with the Tibetan Plateau. Students will participate in the research process through collecting digital survey data related to the cultural landscape, and then analyzing, synthesizing, editing, and uploading that data into an online database. The course will explore local histories as counter-narratives to the History of the nation-state; environmental history and the changing cultural landscape of rural China; place formation and local identity along the ethnic and ecological frontier; and issues of economic development and sustainability in contemporary China.
This year’s course site of Xizhou is particularly well suited to the hands-on fieldwork approach. We will work with the Linden Centre, an award-winning ecotourism and cultural preservation institution founded by an American couple who have lived in Xizhou for many years. Linden Centre is pioneering new models of sustainable tourism, community development, and innovative collaborative learning onsite. Our group will stay at the Yang Zhuoran learning complex, a renovated traditional courtyard home customized for student groups. Xizhou itself is a remarkably preserved traditional market town known throughout China for its outstanding architecture and vibrant handicraft traditions. In addition, new road construction makes travel to the trade route site of Shaxi and the Tibetan plateau settlement of Gyalthang safe and convenient, so the unit of the course devoted to studying issues of ethnicity and sustainability will be particularly meaningful. In sum, Xizhou’s cultural landscape is ideal for the course.
Within the History Department, this one semester credit course exposes students to new approaches to the study of history and provides hands-on experience in fieldwork and cultural survey methods. The course also fulfills two complementary goals of the Chinese Studies Program: first, to provide more challenging and innovative courses that can complement Chinese language study; second, to provide opportunities to students who are not taking Chinese language to benefit from the Chinese Studies Program. More broadly, the course advances the Global Programs goal of giving students opportunities to deeply and intensively experience another culture.
Students on this fieldwork course in the Xizhou, Dali region of Yunnan Province will intensively study the cultural history and contemporary landscape of the West China frontier. Students will learn in and about place, doing hands-on research in the area in which they are living. The goals of the program are for students to,
1. Better understand their world through an intensive encounter with another culture;
2. Better understand the historical processes that have shaped contemporary China;
3. Appreciate a diversity of landscape, lifestyle, ethnicity, and culture within China.
4. Experience the living history of a particular place (not “nation-state” history)
5. Learn about history by doing history through fieldwork methods
Family, Fields, and Ancestors, Lloyd Eastman
Selected articles from Moral Landscape in a Sichuan Mountain Village: a digital ethnography of place, John Flower and Pamela Leonard
[additional articles to be provided by instructors]
Recommended Supplemental text:
China: A New History John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman
John Flower (instructor) is Director of the Sidwell Friends School Chinese Studies Program. Dr. Flower (Ph.D., University of Virginia) is former Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and currently a Fellow at the East Asia Center and the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia. He is co-author with his wife, Dr. Pamela Leonard, of the digital monograph Moral Landscape in a Sichuan Mountain Village, which will be used in the course.
Pamela Leonard (instructor) received her Ph.D. in social anthropology from Cambridge University, and served as Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is co-author of Moral Landscape in a Sichuan Mountain Village and has published articles and co-edited a book on China, "postsocialism", and environmental issues. Dr. Leonard has also worked with International NGOs on environment and development issues in China.
[two additional chaperones will be provided by Dalton and Chestnut Hill Academy]
Structure and Method
The course is open to all rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors, as well as graduating seniors, and to students from outside of Sidwell Friends at the discretion of the instructor. Those with Chinese language ability will find ample opportunity to practice and improve, and all students will learn some Chinese on the trip, but there is no Chinese language requirement for participation. The minimum total number of students would be 8, the maximum would be 16. The trip dimension of the course will follow the protocols established by Auxiliary Programs.
Overall, the course will be project oriented, with field activities and readings coordinated to address specific questions that the group will discuss in seminar format. Each student will maintain a daily fieldwork journal, and changing groups of students will collaborate to produce multimedia surveys of historical artifacts in the rural landscape. The students will create webpages generated through the Moral Landscape online database, and each student’s contribution will be peer-reviewed by the group as a whole.
The first five days of the course will orient the students, beginning at the imperial / national center of Beijing and developing an alternative historical narrative focused on Dali that raises the issue of place formation and identity. The scope of the historical material we will cover over this week is quite broad, but becomes more focused on the modern period (Ming/Qing to the present) as we travel down to the grassroots level in the countryside of Xizhou.
The core of the course is the following fieldwork period in Xizhou, during which students will do intensive reading and fieldwork focused on the historical experience of Xizhou town and its surrounding area. The fieldwork activities will explore specific themes—home, work and exchange, ethnic identity—within which students will trace the arc of historical change from traditional patterns established in the late imperial period of the Ming-Qing Dynasties, through the radical transformations of the revolution, to the current period of reform and the transformed revival of traditional practices and beliefs in the process of rapid modernization. Students will write in their journals and record particular sites in photographs, video, and GPS.
The course will end with a unit focusing on historical interconnections of trade along the ethnic and ecological frontier between agricultural China and the pastoral Tibetans. In this part of the course students will travel to the Tibetan plateau town of Gyalthang, reinvented as the tourist destination “Shangrila”, to explore the folkways of the Tibetan people in comparison with the data from Xizhou, and to focus on issues of sustainability in this fragile yet crucial ecology of the Tibetan plateau. This study trip will be followed by a final three day workshop of reflection, production, and presentation back in Xizhou. We will return to the U.S. through Shanghai, an experience that highlights the deep contrasts and inequalities in contemporary China.
Please see the itinerary below for a more detailed description of the locations and activities for each day of the course.
1. Prior to departure on the trip, students will be given reading assignments and will use an online site for orientation.
2. Students will receive readings throughout the trip that set up each fieldwork activity; time will be set aside for students to do that reading, and to work on specific assignments.
3. Each fieldwork activity will begin with an orientation session explaining the questions the students should address and the goals of the activity. Most activities will also include an afternoon seminar held on site—in a temple, tea house, farmer’s home, etc.—to exchange experiences and to discuss the activity’s connection to the assigned reading.
4. Evenings will primarily be devoted to reflection in journal writing, according to course guidelines, and to reading, but on some evenings we will meet as a group to consolidate and record our understanding. Some evenings will be devoted to fun (movies or parties with Chinese high school students), some to rest, and (when appropriate) some to unstructured free time, but these will follow the logic of our itinerary rather than a standard weekday – weekend pattern.
5. Each student will keep her/his work in a standard issue notebook and a three-ring binder. All computer work will be done on either student or project laptops kept under the control of the course instructor, and students will take turns uploading data into the project computers. Students will have access to cell phones for safety, but must adhere to strict usage guidelines. The rationale for these measures is to focus attention on content rather than format, and to limit distractions caused by access to social media. A “trip blog” will keep parents informed and document the group’s experience; students will take turns making blog entries under the supervision of the instructors.
Course Journal (follows specific guidelines) 20%
Participation (includes seminar discussion and fieldwork) 15%
Individual contribution to course webpage (written and multimedia presentation) 40%
Final Reflection Paper (8 – 10 pages) 25%
Sophomore criteria: personal reflection; incorporation of primary source material
Junior criteria: reflection; primary sources, “thick description” analysis
Senior criteria: reflection; primary sources; analysis; historiography
7/1 depart IAD on direct flight to Beijing / Jingshi Hotel (sister school hotel)
7/2 Arrive Beijing; tour of sister school
Beijing: Imperial Center and the master narrative of the nation-state (7/3)
Students will participate in a full day study tour of Beijing consisting of the Forbidden City, the National Museum, and the Temple of Heaven. Together these sites comprise the central core of Chinese History in which the nation-state is the subject and there is one monolithic, linear, and dominant narrative of “China”. This day will frame the course by presenting the “one China” narrative that our experience in Xizhou will challenge and de-center.
7/4 Beijing to Xizhou (flight to Kunming; bus to Dali / Xizhou)
Dali as both frontier and center: the many histories of China (7/5)
The first full day of our course will focus on the broad history of the Dali region and its relationship to the imperial center, as well as its own history as the center of the Nanzhao Kingdom. Our activities will include visits to key historical sites in and around Dali, and a collective mapping of the historical changes in political topography
Unit 1: Dwelling in Place
Home (7/6 and 7/7): The first fieldwork project will focus on the changing historical meanings of “home” in Xizhou, through hands-on documentation of traditional domestic architecture. Groups will spend two days documenting different sites in Xizhou, learning about the histories of particular families through their homes.
Fields and Agriculture (7/8 and 7/9): The second fieldwork project will focus on the rich agriculture of this area, with groups documenting different aspects of agricultural production (including animal husbandry and fishing) and the changes in methods and organization of production, from traditional family based farming, through the collectivization of the socialist period, to new organic farming.
7/10 workday for students to finish up documentation and produce their work
Unit 2: Community
Labor and Markets (7/11 and 7/12): The third fieldwork project will focus on the continuities and transformations of work and exchange. Groups of students will document local handicraft and construction workers, learning from weavers, dyers, cooks, storekeepers, tailors and carpenters, and exploring how and why their work has changed. Students will also visit local markets and document what is sold there, along with work to map the periodic marketing system for the Xizhou area.
Temples (7/13 and 7/14): The fourth fieldwork project focuses on the sacred landscape of Xizhou, looking at how temples constitute community centers around which local identity forms. Student groups will document local “popular religion” temples as well as Buddhist temples and shrines. This project will require two days of fieldwork in each group’s site.
7/15 work day for students to finish up documentation and produce their work
Unit 3: Ethnicity, identity, and interconnection
Ethnicity and identity (7/16 and 7/17): The fifth fieldwork project focuses on “mapping” the cultural markers that comprise the ethnic identity of minority nationalities in the Xizhou area. Students will learn from minority nationalities their own conception of ethnic identity and also learn about the system of ethnic classification that predates the revolution to late imperial efforts to “pacify” and “standardize” non-Han Chinese. The mapping project is open-ended, and could involve trying to create a physical map of territory associated with particular minority nationalities over different historical periods, or creating representations of “cultural markers” such as articles of clothing, or timelines of important festivals.
Interconnections: Southwest Silk Road and “Ancient Tea–Horse Road” (7/18 – 22)
During this section of the course students will travel along the ancient trade routes that define this region of Southwest China. Xizhou is linked into a broader network of trade known as the “Southwest Silk Road”, connecting it with the silk and porcelain production center of Sichuan to the north and the route to Burma and the Indian Ocean to the south. We will first travel north along the Southwest Silk Road to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Shaxi, and then on to the Tibetan city of Gyalthang to study the east-west “tea for horses” trade route (chama gudao) connecting the Tibetan plateau with the rest of China. In Gyalthang, students will experience and document the very different folkways of Tibetan people, comparing architecture, work, and sacred landscapes with the material gathered in Xizhou. Most importantly, we will use the opportunity to visit this fragile and crucial ecology to focus on issues of sustainability and community development in contemporary China. .
7/18 Travel day to Shaxi
7/19 arrive in Gyalthang; visit Tibetan monastery and begin stay in village ecolodge
7/20 documentation project: Tibetan house
7/21 documentation project: herding on the Tibetan plateau
7/22 documentation project: sustainability and ecological tourism in “Shangrila”
7/23 Travel day; return to Xizhou
Production work and final wrap-up (7/24 – 26): Students will be given time to work on their final projects and to load their research into features in the project database.
7/27 travel to Shanghai; visit to our sister school / (stay in school hotel)
7/28 Shanghai tour:
7/29 Return flight to USA