Archive → November, 2010
On 27th October 2010 I attended a ‘Commonwealth Roundtable’ discussion on Australian/Chinese collaboration in the field of ‘China Studies’ (though as I explain below I prefer to use ‘Chinese Studies’ to describe the field). The event was sponsored by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and organised by the University of Sydney. It took place in the very impressive Australian Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo. Australia’s Ambassador to China, Dr Geoff Raby, was the Chair. It was a small gathering of scholars from Australia and China. Representatives from Australia hailed from The University of Sydney, The University of Western Australia (yours truly), RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), UTS (University of Technology Sydney), UNSW (University of New South Wales), the University of Western Sydney and the ANU (Australian National University). From China the participants came from some of China’s best tertiary institutions such as Zhejiang University (浙江大学), Nanjing University (南京大学), East China University of Science and Technology (华东理工大学), Fudan University (复旦大学), the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (上海社科院) and Tsinghua University (清华大学). I found the discussion extremely illuminating and thought-provoking and here will try to provide a bit of a record and some of my impressions.
It may at first seem a bit strange to be talking with Chinese scholars about ‘Chinese Studies’, especially those working ‘within China’ itself. Isn’t that what most scholars in China are doing? What benefit do they half in discussing what is meant by ‘Chinese Studies’? But in fact it is not so strange given that ‘Chinese Studies’ as we understand it in the Anglophone Academy (the English speaking/writing world) has a particular history, approach(es) and, probably most importantly, identity. As China continues to transform and rise it is imperative that we work closely with our colleagues in China to explore Chinese society and its interactions with the world from all angles. Clarifying different intellectual and methodological approaches is very important in terms of locating different cultural, social and historical perspectives and thus taking a few more steps towards more effective cross-cultural communication, understanding and collaboration.
Probably a good time at this point to define what I understand by ‘China Studies’. Simply put it refers to the ‘study of China’. Doh! The term ‘China’ obviously places the object of research within a given geographical and historical boundary which in the present day includes the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan (the latter getting rather complicated when the issue of ‘national identity’ arises). We can immediately expand the field of study by tweaking the statement to the ‘study of all things Chinese’. Unlike a geographically bounded ‘China’, ‘all things Chinese’ has no spatial restrictions and in addition to the study of everything ‘within China’ would include, for example, the study of Chinese people and culture in regional and global contexts. In this day and age of ‘globalisation’ the latter broader concept of ‘Chinese Studies’ is more appealing, at least to me. Which is also why I have issues with the notion of ‘Sinology’ insofar as that term evokes the study of something to the exclusion of everything else.
In this regard I quite like the idea behind the new ANU centre which goes by the title of ‘the Australian Centre on China in the World’. Professor Geremie Barme, the Director of the Centre, has been outlining his approach to the study of China through his writings on ‘New Sinology’. In a nutshell ‘New Sinology’ is a call for a deep and multidisciplinary engagement with China and the Sinophone (that is, the rich languages and cultures of China/Chinese speaking world/history) world. It involves a reflective approach and respect for Chinese discourse, that is, the ways in which through spoken and written texts Chinese individuals, communities and nations (as historical entities) articulate and think about themselves and relations with others. Actually, and as Barme acknowledges, whether we call it ‘New Sinology’ or ‘Chinese Studies’, the approach he outlines is something that most of us attempt to do anyway, although a deep engagement with a civilisation as rich and diverse as China is not achieved easily especially given the challenges of learning ‘classical Chinese’ (文言). What Barme is attempting to do, it seems to me, is map out a particular intellectual approach which draws on the traditions of Sinology and wed them to contemporary ‘Chinese Studies’. ‘Sinology’, a term now clearly out of favour to describe ‘the study of all things Chinese’, harks back to a classic approach to China that was dominant for a very long time in the West, perhaps up until the post-WWII period when ‘area studies’ came to the fore (the latter with a particular emphasis on ‘knowing the other’ for the purposes of Cold War engagement, a very postivist/empiricst approach to the object of knowledge). The practices of Sinology are deeply rooted in the study of China’s high culture of Confucianism and the classics, a very humanist approach one could say (‘humanist’ in the sense that we gain deep insights into another culture through the study of its literature, art and refined culture). Barme is seeking to combine this deep engagement with China’s classic past with the multidisciplinary social science and humanities approaches of the present. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a big fan of ‘New Sinology’ and has cited this approach with approval and enthusiasm a number of times including in an important speech to students at Peking University. One of the important concepts that Mr Rudd uses to describe the relationship between China and Australia is ‘zhengyou’ (诤友) which can be broadly translated as ‘a true friend who offers criticism when needed’. The New Sinology could be seen to have had some impact here as it is just this kind of open engagement that it encourages. We will have to wait and see what, if any, fruit the ‘zhengyou’ tree will produce.
‘New Sinology’ is not without its critics and there has been some concern about the way in which Kevin Rudd went about awarding the centre to ANU without going through a competitive process and the motives behind ‘picking winners’ when it comes to government endorsement of certain approaches to research. Other scholars are also writing on the topic of ‘what is Chinese Studies’ and ‘how is Chinese history and identity udnerstood within Chinese discourse/language’. Arif Dirlik’s work springs to mind. So does that of Glora Davies. I’m still working out my own thoughts on all this and what I have written here is preliminary. Hopefully I will have something more substantial by March 2011. Stay tuned! Oh, and I also learnt that the University of Sydney is establishing a Centre for China Studies in 2011. Something to look out for and good to see a bit of diversity within Australia.
Back to the theme of the roundtable. ‘Chinese Studies’ within China began to become visible as a specifically designated area of research and teaching in the 1990s as ‘zhongguo yanjiu’ 中国研究 (‘zhongguo’ literally means ‘the middle kingdom’ which is the way ‘China’ is commonly rendered in vernacular Chinese). It also coincides with the (re)emergence of ‘national studies’ (国学) in the last few decades. ‘National Studies’ refers to a body of research and commentary in Chinese which takes Chinese traditions, philosophy, schools of thought, and so on, as not only an object of study but as also containing elements of a uniquely Chinese approach or worldview (and therefore something that makes ‘China’ uniquely ‘Chinese’, in some ways reminiscent of classical Sinology which took China as sui generis). One of the participants from Tsinghua noted that there is something of a trend towards preferencing ‘indigineous’ (本土化) theory in China, a reaction one might suggest to the dominance of Western social sciences and theory. It seems to me that this coincides with a general return to the roots of Chinese culture (and of course its ‘reinvention’ and ‘repackaging’) that is unfolding all across China in diverse ways (religion is a good example and I will be writing on this in a few weeks after I return from a trip to a Zen Buddhist temple in Jiangxi).
In terms of establishing undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in ‘Chinese Studies’ it seems that Nanjing University has been particularly active. Zhejiang University launched a Masters in ‘China Studies’ (中国学) in 2005 and more recently was the first to establish an undergraduate degree in this field (中国学本科). In 2004 the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences held a conference on ‘International China Studies’ (世界中国学). However, as the discussion advanced it became clear that there were a few different understandings from the Chinese and Australian sides as to what constituted ‘Chinese Studies’. Our Chinese colleagues tended to be much more focused on ‘Chinese Studies’ in terms of applied knowledge, that is, how to solve China’s pressing problems (of which there are many!), whereas Australian scholars tended to view what they are doing as the ‘study’ of Chinese society, politics and culture more generally. This is completely understandable given the different social and institutional contexts within which Chinese and Australian scholars work. Of course Chinese scholars would be more concerned with solving practical problems, and receive research funds from Chinese funding authorities precisely for this purpose. One participant described the difference in terms of ‘utilitarian’ and ‘existential’ approaches. I think there is something in this kind of division and it is certainly worth exploring further.
It seems to me there is at least two ways in which Australian Chinese Studies could contribute to Chinese Studies within China. Firstly, there is scope for Chinese and Australian collaboration in particular fields of social (and environmental) policy in China. Australia has a great deal of experience and knowledge it could share with its Chinese counterparts in this field. The role of Australian Chinese Studies scholars could be as ‘match makers’. Secondly, there is scope for Australian scholars to work with Chinese scholars to record, describe and analyse the dramatic social/cultural transformation that is underway in China. Indeed such collaboration on both fronts already exists but there is still great scope for expansion. China is now Australia’s number one trading partner and export market. Much more needs to be done however. Obviously it is crucial for Australia to develop a strength in the study of China, a strength that is comprehensive across fields and of the highest international standard. Ambassador Raby mentioned a few times how far behind and lacking Australia was in this area of China-related research and China Literacy. And hence capitalising on what we already have by working with colleagues in China is a very sensible proposal.
By extension, I like to also think of how Chinese Studies scholars outside of China can contribute to shaping the ”story/stories’ of China’s rise and place in the world. I think that as ‘outsiders’ Australians have insights into Chinese society that many in China would appreciate, especially when considering how to project/interpret/package what is happening in China for a non-Chinese audience. Telling the ‘story of China’ is of course not necessarily the main purpose of Australian Chinese Studies, much of which maintains a critical distance from mainstream narratives, and rightly so. But my work in the Confucius Institute and brushes with Chinese efforts to project its image and develop ‘softpower’ has lead me to conclude that foreigners also need to be involved in communicating the ‘story(ies) of China’ to a broader public. This could of course take a very critical edge (‘critical’ in terms of ‘critique’ not simply ‘criticising’ something) but deconstructing dominant narratives and exposing the Chinese and the world to the complexity that is contemporary China. Let a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend …
Just a quick note on the Shanghai Expo. Ambassador Raby informed us that more than eight million visitors had passed through the Australian Pavilion, seven million more than expected! So a huge success by that standard. And yes, the lines were long and bewildering!
From September 25th to October 5th 2010 I joined Ancient Tea Horse Road researchers and explorers Ed Jocelyn and Yang Xiao, Jacques Castonquay, six muleteers, seven horses and one (very naughty) mule, on a ten day expedition seeking to rediscover the ancient paths and living cultural heritage of caravans and ethnic culture on one of the minor routes of the Ancient Tea Horse Road between Shuhe 束河 (Lijiang 丽江) and Shangrila (香格里拉) (formerly known as Zhongdian 中甸). You can see where Shuhe is on Google Maps here. Follow the map in a north-northwest direction from Shuhe and you will eventually find Shangrila (and we all eventually hope to find Shangrila sooner or later! It’s nice to know in the modern world you can find it first on Google Maps!). You can view the images taken on this field trip at my Flickr website here. Part Two can be found here. Part Three can be found here.
It was late summer. Although we had missed the height of the lush pastures, herds of grazing yaks (we did see a few stragglers) and floral blooms, we also missed the rainy season (it did shower on us once or twice, but nothing to complain about and I was well prepared thanks to Mountain Design). The farmers were in the process of harvesting the maize and rapeseed. The orchards and fruit trees were bountiful. The sunflowers were having trouble raising their heads now heavy with seed and coming to maturity, their enthusiasm in following the sun was clearly waning. The wild berries were, however, still bright, ripe and ready to be consumed. Butterflies which had left courtship a bit too late in the season seemed to be making up for lost time and, like the farmers, ‘making hay while the sun shines’. And perhaps of greatest importance to thirsty mules and people, the mountain streams and springs continued to gush in endless streams of pure water. Summer was slowly going out in a blaze of natural and bucolic glory.
Shuhe, our point of departure for this expedition, is the administrative name for a collection of six villages approximately four kilometres from Lijiang (read more about Lijiang here). It sits at 2,440 metres above sea level and is nestled at the foot of the hills on the northwest edge of the Lijiang Plain (in the Naxi language it means ‘the village at the foot of the mountain’). It is one of the oldest Naxi settlements with over a thousand years of history, and indeed, for a long time was the centre of economic activity . Shuhe, given its longstanding economic vitality, was an important staging post on the Ancient Tea Horse Road. It is particularly famous for its artisans, especially cobblers and tinsmiths. The shoes and other leather goods manufactured in Shuhe were highly sought after the length and breadth of the tea road. Tibetans particularly valued the fine leather boots as they did not produce anything themselves of such high quality, and you can imagine how important good footwear is for people travelling long distances. As you wander the streets of Shuhe, trying to work out where the old ends and the new begins (as I will discuss below), you see many locals displaying their skills in leatherwork and jewellery manufacture. They are happy for tourists to take pictures of them at work, but of course even more happy if a purchase is made.
Like Lijiang, Shuhe is also protected under the ‘Cultural World Heritage’ agreement. But unlike Lijiang, Shuhe is much more ‘laid back’, similar to what Lijiang was like ten years ago before the tourist hordes, bars and hawkers of all sizes took over. Two small rivers divide Shuhe and, in addition to the ‘Dragon Spring’ (龙泉), are the source of the many water channels built by the locals centuries ago, and no doubt expanded in the contemporary period, to provide water to the residents (much like in Lijiang and Baisha, and indeed many Naxi settlements in the region). With stone paved streets, colourful flowers, shady trees, pleasing local architecture, appealing folk art, and the constant sound and sight of running water the scenery is very pleasant indeed . It is well suited for leisurely ambulation. There is also something of a ‘Shuhe chic’ which draws inspiration from the aesthetic and somewhat rustic style of the local Naxi culture and combines it with the ‘coolness’ of a cashed-up and savvy class of travellers (actually you see this in Dali, Lijiang, and Shangrila as well). In recent years many people from the eastern seaboard have come to Lijiang and gravitated towards Shuhe, setting up boutique hotels, restaurants, and cafes and bars in the old courtyard houses. In Australia we call these people who leave the cities for more relaxed lifestyles by the seashore or in the countryside opting for a ‘seachange’ or ‘treechange’. It seems that the Chinese who have relocated from as far away as Shanghai are opting for a ‘mountainchange’. I plan to track down some of these ‘mountainchangers’ and interview them when I next return to Shuhe in 2011.
One of the strong themes emerging in my research thus far on tourism development, cultural heritage preservation, and the Ancient Tea Horse Road is that of ‘authenticity’. As visitors to foreign and unfamiliar destinations and cultures it can be very difficult for an ‘outsider’ to work out what is ‘real’ and what is ‘fake’, what ‘new’ and what is ‘old’. Of course many tourists simply don’t give a damn either way. If it looks good and the price is right they seem to be quite content. All they desire is to be ‘entertained’ and certainly not ‘educated’ (that sounds more like work than leisure!). But many tourists do actually care and hope that what they are experiencing is ‘the real thing’ and they will even hoodwink themselves into believing such even in the face of hard evidence that what they are experiencing is contrived especially for them. And this is the problem. We can’t expect people to live in the past and parade around in exotic costumes for our own viewing pleasure, especially if we aren’t willing to make the arduous journey to more remote places where people still live ‘traditional’ lives. By and large everyone, no matter where they are, feels the strong pull of modernity and the reach of modern lifestyles and conveniences. Tourism, one of the most powerful driving forces pushing ‘modernity’ into many a nook and cranny, is a commercial industry. Indeed it is one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the world. Mass commercial tourism creates a certain kind of product for a certain kind of tourist: theme parks, scenic attractions, large hotels, tourist coaches, souvenir stores, exotic cultural performances, and so on. This form of tourism is quite clearly the preferred model in most of China (the mob at Wild China are working to provide an alternative model, as are Ed and Yang Xiao, albeit in a different way). For me the issue of ‘authenticity’ is a complex one. I understand that much of the tourist experience in places like Shuhe is a bit of a game – all in good fun for most tourists and even some of the locals. But the issue becomes important when something that is ‘fake’ is paraded as the ‘genuine article’. As ‘consumers’, or perhaps ‘visitors’ is a better way to think about it, we should respectfully seek to learn and understand, and hopefully through the learning process come to accept the transformation in peoples lives and local cultures. There is a growing body of work exploring this around the interwoven themes of globalisation, tourism and cosmopolitanism.
But as I discovered in this trip the issue of ‘authenticity’ is just as important to the individual identities of the locals and brings to the fore the complex interplay between past, present and future. In what follows I will try to expand on this through telling the story of my interaction with one of our muleteers, who I will refer to as ‘Lao Yang’, from Shuhe who accompanied us for four days on the Shuhe to Daju leg of our journey. Into this narrative I will also insert some interesting travel notes and general observations in order to provide a better picture of this particular section of the Ancient Tea Horse Road.
We met our two muleteers Lao He and Lao Yang early in the morning on the 25th of September. They would accompany us for four days to Daju (大具) where we would cross the Yangtze (known locally as the ‘River of Golden Sands’ 金沙江) and say farewell whilst we met the next mule team who would take us all the way to Shangrila. Lao He was the ‘Chief Muleteer’ (马锅头). He was responsible for getting the mule team together, which in this case consisted of himself and Lao Yang plus four horses (two belonging to Lao He and two to Lao Yang). I watched our team pack the horses with our gear closely and observed their methods. Here they used the ‘soft pack’ style (软驮架) that is more common in this area and Tibetan regions, unlike the ‘hard pack’ style (硬驮架) you encounter in places like Dali and the Nu River Valley. Where as the ‘hard pack’ consists of a specially made ‘rack’ that sits on the back of the mule/horse the ‘soft pack’ is basically a modified saddle upon which the luggage/packs are placed and secured with rope. The ‘hard pack style’ is much more convenient and capable of carrying heavier/bulkier loads and seems to have been developed for ease with large commercial caravans in mind. The hard packs are easily removed, although it does require two people to lift the rack off. The ‘soft pack’ no doubt also has its advantages, notably that a skilled muleteer can fix and remove the pack by him/herself and they are better suited to smaller loads on the high and narrow paths leading into Tibet.
When all was ready we made our way out of Shuhe and headed up a side road towards the Yulong (Jade Dragon) Snow Mountain Scenic Zone (玉龙雪山景区). Our first port of call was the town of Baisha (白沙). Baisha is an old town several kilometres up the road from Lijiang and Shuhe. It is regarded as the oldest Naxi (纳西) settlement in the region and birth place of the famous ‘Mu’ (木) clan who were the ruling family of the Naxi Kingdom for as long as anyone can remember. Over time (Ming and Qing) the Mu clan moved their base of operations to Lijiang (actually the ancient town which is properly known as Dayan 大研) and Baisha’s days of glory became history. As a result of this once glorious past there are many historic buildings and cultural/historical sites including the famous Baisha Buddhist Frescoes, once again reminding us of the importance of the Ancient Tea Horse Road as a passage transfering ideas as well as commodities. (Actually Naxi religious practice is a fascinating blend of local indigineous beliefs and Tibetan Buddhism, but I don’t have time to go into that here). Given that Baisha was the Tang and Song centre of political and cultural life it is not surprising that it is also the home of Naxi ancient music, or in more correct musicological terminology ‘Baisha Xiyue’ (白沙细乐). A group of old gentlemen (it does seem to be a predominantly male occupation) occupy a space in the market square where they perform for many hours and accept ‘donations’. There is a similar orchestra in Shuhe and a very famous Naxi Ancient Music performance in Lijiang headed by the even more famous Mr Xuan Ke (宣科). You can see Xuan Ke giving a brief introduction to Naxi music and a performance by his orchestra here on YouTube.
After briefly stopping in Baisha to check out the old market square and buy some last minute supplies (rope and tarp!) we continued up the road towards the ‘scenic zone’. Our next stop, this time for lunch, was the village of Yuhu (玉湖). This is the village that Joseph Rock called home for much of his time in the area between 1922 and 1949. Joseph Rock was a trained botanist who worked for a number of agencies, including National Geographic, in collecting botanical specimens in the regions around Lijiang, Eastern Tibet and Sichuan, and even as far as Gansu at one point. He also wrote quite a bit about the local cultures of the region and in particular the Naxi culture. He took a great many photographs which provide extremely valuable snapshots of life in ‘another world’. Some of the images that he took are available online here. He appears to have been quite an eccentric character and when on his expeditions liked to travel in style which included the hauling of a bathtub, no doubt coming in very handy after a hard days slog through the hills. His former residence in Yuhu has been converted into a museum by its local owner. Unfortunately at the time we visited it was being renovated and we had to console ourselves with a nostalgic moment in the courtyard. The village of Yuhu is strategically located at the foot of the Yulong Snow Mountain and offers horse rides for tourists. I didn’t have much time to investigate this further but now have the contacts to follow up later.
After lunch we left Yuhu and made our way towards the ‘scenic zone’. For many hours we had been gradually rising in altitude. The terrain around us slowly began to change. The fertile fields started to thin out and eventually disappear as we entered a stony dry country seemingly only suitable for marginal grazing and gravel quarries. By this time it was also becoming obvious that our muleteers had some issues with securing the packs. The packs kept coming loose and falling off. Yang Xiao lent a hand and the problem was more or less resolved. But it did highlight the loss of such skills in a place like Shuhe which is now much more accustomed to offering tourists gentle horse rides around the town rather than engaging in old time caravan trade. In this regard what Ed and Yang Xiao are doing is playing an important role in the preservation of intangible cultural heritage. As we neared the ‘scenic zone’ we had no choice other than to travel on the main road. This was quite an interesting experience in itself as we shared paths with the tourists coaches now taking tired tourists back to the hotels of Lijiang where their buffet dinners were being reheated. I enjoyed observing the astonished stares from those who had not yet passed out, we even got a few ‘thumbs up’ for which I felt very gratified. At this point I suppose I should explain what is meant by a ‘scenic zone’ (景区). In China a ‘scenic zone’ is an officially designated zone for commercial tourist development. The zone obviously has some attraction which may be either natural (such as pristine forest) or cultural (such as an ancient town or village) or a combination of both. The ‘zone’ is often contracted out to a commercial developer and so in most cases is clearly managed for a profit and this means that invariably conservation and preservation, and indeed education, fall by the wayside. The ‘scenic zones’ are ranked at different levels: local, provincial and national, with star ratings attempting to indicate the level of importance, significance and quality of infrastructure (but which also seems to suggest how much money can be made). Of course there are tourist development plans involved and local communities are also meant to be consulted and regarded as active stakeholders, but it does not always work out this way. I’m still in the process of finding out more about ‘scenic zones’ and how they are managed. Still need to find out what my Chinese colleagues researching this subject have come up with.
The first thing you notice about a ‘scenic zone’ is the ticket office! Yes, you have to pay to get in! A few years ago Shuhe was even charging an entrance fee but they seem to have given up on that idea for the time being. Given that we did not regard ourselves as ‘tourists’ and that we did not intend to use any of the major features of the ‘scenic zone’ other than the road and paths, we decided to give the ‘gates’ a bypass and found our way up into the zone through the old tea road itself. Which was very good as we found some good remnant path, albeit very steep and difficult for the larger horses fully loaded to negotiate. On the second day we came out on the main ‘tourist drag’, and what a sight to behold: a golf course on one side (apparently one of the highest and longest in the world) and Zhang Yimou’s musical/cultural extravaganza ‘Lijiang Impressions’ (丽江印象). Yulong Snow Mountain (玉龙雪山) is a massive mountain the main peak of which is 5,596 metres. It looms large over the Lijiang Plain. Unfortunately on our trip the mountain was obscured in cloud. So on a clear day you can play a round of golf and watch a show by the famous Zhang Yimou with a glorious moutain as the backdrop. We quickly came to the attention of the local security apparatus who pulled us aside. We were then instructed to go to the main security compound. The gentleman in charge was very friendly and professional. We explained our situation and intentions. He had no problem with us moving through the zone, but we did have to pay the fee. Fair enough. We had our lunch in the compound and then continued on our way.
A bit further down the road we come to the most bizarre sight of all. A replica of the Baishuitai (白水台) limestone terraces (see Part 2 for more details about Baishuitai) with grazing yaks. The spot is right at the turn of the main road where it crosses the Bai River (白水). On a clear day you obviously have the magnificent peak of Yulong Snow Mountain looming over you. But the tourist developers were obviously not happy with what nature provided, as magnificent as it is. They have decided to improve on nature by adding the fake terrace and lake and scattering the area with yaks and locals in ethnic garb. No doubt many tourists don’t even know it is ‘fake’ and I’m sure most of them find it very appealing. But this seems to me a good example of the kind of insincerity when it comes to developing a tourist attraction.
That night we stayed in an Yi family farm homestead. The local farmer was extremely friendly and discussed with us at great length the life and times of his people in the area and what it is now like to live in a ‘scenic zone’. His main gripe seemed to be that the commercial developers hadn’t lived up to their promises to provide employment opportunities for everyone and that they could no longer graze their cows, goats and yaks on some of the meadows. This is not the first time I have heard such complaints from villagers living inside a ‘scenic zone’. In some places the locals have even been forced to move out of the zone altogether. To get by the family must resort to collecting medicinal herbs in the high mountains. They also raise ‘organic chickens’ and seem to get a good price. John A. Donaldson (2007) has written a good article on this describing different tourism development strategies and their effects on local communities. It seems that Yunnan, although quickly becoming a tourist mecca, is not doing so well in sharing out the fruits of tourist income to a broader range of people. (see Donaldson, John A. (2007) ‘Tourism, Development and Poverty Reduction in Guizhou and Yunnan’, China Quarterly, No. 190, pp. 333-351).
The next day we followed the old path up to Yak Meadow (牦牛坪) which was also a favoured caravan campsite in the old days. Nowadays Yak Meadow is a part of the ‘scenic zone’ and there is a chairlift for the convenience of tourists. At the chairlift ‘snack store’ I nearly got into an altercation with a Chinese tourist who, not knowing I speak Chinese, told the shopkeeper to charge me more because I was a foreigner! I remained calm and prevented myself from exploding praying that he will be the target of the next ‘raise the quality’ campaign (提高素质)! My anger didn’t last long. How could it? In clear weather we would have had an amazing view of the mountain. At an elevation of 3,600 metres and approximately sixteen square kilometres in size Yak Meadow is indeed a special place. The meadow is very large and you could always find a spot beyond the ‘tourist trail’. We went up a bit further towards the main pass (which is 4,000 metres) and found a good spot to have lunch. As we were enjoying the respite the mountain suddenly started to reveal itself in patches as the cloud thined and the wind opened up the massive rock face to our view. Wow! We were not blessed with the whole peak but what we did get was nonetheless pretty awesome (I did after-all pay a damn entrance fee!). It was at this point that Lao Yang had something of an epiphany. Let me explain.
As I noted above, once we left Shuhe it had become apparent that the skills of our muleteers were not up to the level of their forebears. The packs kept falling off, the horses were not used to the hard work, and indeed the larger variety were not even really suitable for this kind of work. Yang Xiao, who is a ‘modern day chief muleteer’ (当代马锅头), had to take an active hand and this of course caused a bit of embarrassment and we might even say ‘loss of face’ and ’emasculation’. Lao Yang is very proud of his family heritage. His grandfather and father were artisans and plied their trade between Shuhe and Shangrila. So this journey for him was very special. He was not following the footsteps of Joseph Rock (although his family does have a connection to Rock – his great uncle was one of the teachers who taught Rock the famous Domba script), he was following in the footsteps of his own ancestors. And although he takes his horses around the streets of Shuhe offering rides on the ‘Ancient Tea Horse Road’ this was the first time he truly felt the challenge and hardship of what his ancestors experienced. I think the feelings were whelming up inside him for the last few days and when the mountain showed its face he suddenly leaped onto his horse (the horses have their packs off at lunch) and went into a long speech about the history of his ancestors, the Ancient Tea Horse Road, and how happy he was to experiencing it now himself. ‘I’m a real muleteer, I’m not fake!’, he finally exclaimed. Although we found it slightly humours – here is a guy in old style muleteer garb with colourful board-shorts on a large imported horse – we nonetheless were all quite moved.
On our fourth day out of Shuhe we finally got a good glimpse of Daju (大具) and the Yangtze River (which the locals call the ‘River of Golden Sands, 金沙江). But we still had to descend approximately 1,500 metres. Daju is a small township (which in Chinese administrative parlance refers to a town and a number of surrounding villages) occupying a small basin surrounded by very high mountains on all sides. The basin is at approximately 1,700 metres, so you can see we had quite a descent from the 4,000 metre pass the day before. Given Daju’s altitude the the bowl like effect of the mountains, the weather is very warm, even subtropical. By the time we got to the actual township my feet felt like hot jelly! Daju could be interesting for future research as it used to be an important end point for the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge trek. But tourism seems to have declined a bit in Daju, at least on first appearances. It would be interesting to find out what is going on and if any policy changes have had an impact (I would hazard a guess it has something to do with road construction!). We had a final lunch with Lao He and Lao Yang and made our way to the ferry. I had a good chat with Lao Yang on the way . He is was very thoughtful and seemed to have gained quite a bit from the experience (I interviewed him and Lao He the night before and will put up an edited extract on the blog later). He agreed to meet me when I return to Shuhe in 2011, so all is well.
In the next blog entry I will describe the trip from Haba Village to A’nan Village. Once we crossed the river we entered Diqing Prefecture (迪庆州) and Shangrila County (香格里拉县). It was quite a different experience to the previous four days. I made some very good contacts for future follow-up research. And I also learnt that mules are not as docile and obedient as I was led to believe! Stay tuned! To read Part Two visit here.