"I recreate the stories based on the folk tales, in order to show the noble patriotism and gallantry of the nation(the Tujia descendants of Ba people), in addition to remembering some customs that have existed for a long time but now are disappearing rapidly, and the legend of where do these customs come from has also been faded. This move tends to store and save the information." That's how Guosong Xiao, a writer from Tujia, explained his intention for writing Duzhenwan stories.
Overlooking the Qing River at Jongli Mountain in Wuluo, Changyang | Source: Souhu
Duzhenwan, an ordinary Tujia town in China, has grabbed people's attention because of their folk tales in the intangible cultural heritage protection movement in the early 21st century.
In 1998, UNESCO issued the "Proclamation of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity," aimed at establishing the masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage. In 2003, UNESCO finally adopted the "Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage," The term "intangible cultural heritage" was formally formed. After that, China joined the movement of protecting intangible cultural heritage in the 21st century. In 2008, Duzhenwan story was selected in the list of representative items of national intangible cultural heritage.
China Intangible Cultural Heritage Logo | Source: baike.baidu
As the representative of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Tujia Folk Literature, Duzhenwan stories reflect the rich inner world of the Duzhenwan people. As the stories passed down from generation to generation, they have been in the Duzhenwan people's blood and deeply rooted in the soul and heart of the Tujia People.
The status quo of Duzhenwan story inheritance
The Duzhenwan story has a long history. According to research, the earliest Duzhenwan story dated back to 2,800 years ago, and it was mainly spread in Dujiachong, Shiwuxi, Zhuangxi, and Longtanping areas in Duzhenwan. Guaxian Xie, a professor at China Three Gorges University, also said in the book "virtual world in farmers' life: a study on the nature and function of Duzhenwan story," "it was the relative isolation in geography and relative alienation in a culture that preserved Duzhenwan stories and developed the tradition of telling folk tales."
The map of Duzhenwan | Source: web
There are many storytellers of Duzhenwan stories. Huajie Liu, Guoxing Li, Qingyuan Liu, and Zegang Liu are outstanding representatives. One of the critical characters of studying Duzhenwan story is the old lady- Jiaxiang Sun, "the tale of Jiaxiang Sun," which was published in 1998, was an essential record of Duzhenwan stories. There were a lot of ups and downs in Sun's life; her rich life experience not only has made her a persistent and optimistic woman but also provided her sources for her wonderful stories.
Intangible cultural heritage inheritors-Jiaxiang Sun | Source: Sina
In Duzhenwan, she farmed and worked with her neighbors, raised a family, and maintained a simple, impoverished, but happy life. All of those ups and downs, countless joy, sorrow, parting, and the meeting became a song of her life. People always see her talking to the neighbors about ancient stories at home or outdoors.
Sun can barely figure out how many stories she has, neither can she find out how many people she has been telling stories to. However, when someone mentions Sun in Duzhenwan, everyone knows she is a storyteller. Sun thinks that stories are helpful, and she firmly believes that those characters in stories are people in real life, and the world inside the story is the real world, something magic in the stories can also occur in real life. She taught people the good virtue, how to live and cherish life with the stories. It was the most beautiful scene in Duzhenwan's daily life when she told the story.
Guonian Xiao, son of Sun, said, " Her stories were educational in her time. In her time, people with bad character, people who were not respectful to their parents, and people who were not kind, as we often say here now, "Alas, I am trying to cultivate my character through selfless deeds. So the story my mother told was educational for society."
Guosong Xiao is another crucial cultural inheritor. He wished that he could represent the charm of Duzhenwan stories in the form of words. "I was good at writing at that; almost every essay I wrote was a "model" reading in front of the whole school; it was this small accomplishment that intrigued my increasing interest in writing. I had a dream since, and I wish one day my name would be printed in those Chinese books like other writers." Xiao shared his dream of being a writer.
Xiao Guosong is reading | Source: Changyang Official Account
His work, "Laobazi" in particular, has significant historical and cultural value. "Laobazi" is a long narrative poem narrating a family named Baihu and their different living state and the mental world at different times. This story contains the magnificent historical scenes and customs of the Tujia people and the unyielding national character and immortal national spirit.
Duzhenwan stories are rich in resources, and it is estimated that there are about 3,500 recorded stories so far, all those stories integrated into different aspects of Duzhenwan people's life, such as the origin of the heaven, earth, mountains, and rivers, the origin of people and the cultivation of crops, the explanation life rituals and customs such as animals and plants, places of interests, clothing, food, housing, wedding, and funerals. As well as the stories of ghosts and spirits, silly son-in-law, foolish son, clever daughters, witty characters, revolutionary wars, etc. These stories are reflected in the daily words and thoughts of Duzhenwan people and form different types of stories with distinctive Duzhenwan flavor.
The challenge of Duzhenwan story inheritance
However, Duzhenwan stories have encountered three challenges in inheritance.
To begin, places to tell the stories have disappeared.
"My mom always spends the whole night telling stories, including a character with good deeds and villains. During the winter, everyone was surrounding my mom, listening to her story, and didn't feel sleepy at all." Sun recalled the scene of Tujia people telling the story before.
It was common for Tujia people to farm in a group in the past. People used to work together in the field, and everyone sat in a circle when they took a break; They lit the fire to get warm in winter and enjoyed the summer breeze under the tree in summer, and all of those moments were accompanied by stories. But with the rapid development of the economy, part of the farming has been mechanized, which significantly reduced the chances of everyone working together.
The storyteller Guoxing Li feels a lot about this, "everyone used to enjoy talking and singing in the middle of the night and all the songs cracked people. We are all very interested in it. But now it's just gone."
Secondly, the function of the story has weakened.
Traditional storytelling is an important channel for people to connect, get an education, and share knowledge. Nowadays, those functions are gradually weakened.
"There are fewer and fewer people telling stories in Dujiachong, and there is no one who is under 50 can tell the story, no one learns the story, everyone is busy making money or working. Even if everyone’s gathering around, what they talk about are more about things on TV, like which TV series is better", as Xiao thought.
Storytelling scenes in the past | Source: Lin, 2010
Besides, people in Duzhenwan have questioned the authenticity of folk oral narratives. For instance, in the past, Taoist priests used to ask the god of fire to host the ceremony. These days people in Duzhenwan no longer believe it, the legend of the god of fire naturally faded, people pay more attention to the knowledge in the textbook and video, but this kind of method of sharing knowledge, primarily oral narrating, has been far away from people's modern life in Duzhenwan.
Thirdly, the audiences are less interested in listening to stories.
The storyteller Libalijie（the name in the native language）once said, "it's not that there is no storyteller, it's that there is no audience”. Audiences play a vital role in the rise and fall of the oral narrating tradition.
According to a survey conducted in Duzhenwan in 2006, of the five reasons why telling a story is not as good as before, the decreasing number in the audience is the main reason for the crisis of telling stories.
The result of the survey | Source: Lin, 2015
Responses to protect Duzhenwan story
To cope with the challenges mentioned above, Tujia County in Hubei Province has attempted to protect Duzhenwan stories.
Firstly, collect and organize the story of the inheritor and Duzhenwan. It has recorded some series like "the story of Jiaxiang Sun-a storyteller of Tujia." Except for Sun's story, 1065 stories have been collected in Duzhenwan, and it is surveyed and documented that the number of people who can tell over 50 stories has reached more than 500. Some stories like "stories of Jiaxiang Sun" "Duzhenwan story" have been published.
The Story Collection of Sun Jiaxiang | Source: web
Secondly, include the story in the cultural preservation. To strengthen the protection of intangible cultural heritage such as the Duzhenwan story, The Changyang Tujia Autonomous County Government organized and compiled the "2011-2015 Master Plan for the Traditional Cultural preservation of Changyang Tujia Autonomous County". By implementing traditional cultural-ecological protection, the endangered varieties and main characteristic varieties of Changyang Tujia traditional culture have been effectively protected. In July 2010, the government established seven cultural preservation including the "Duzhenwan Story," to realize the protection of the Duzhenwan in terms of cultural ecology and culture as a whole.
An arena contest of Duzhenwan story | Source: Souhu, 2018
Thirdly, use social media to widen the channel to spread the story. Since 2008, "Changyang story" has been on air on the Changyang channel, and two episodes of folk storytelling shows have been broadcast every week. "This show is one of the best on Changyang channel, every night at 9 o'clock, and everyone is watching this show. Why is it so popular? One reason is that the story itself is the treasure of Tujia culture. Another reason is we can set the mind at ease by telling or listening to stories as our life pace is so fast nowadays. Last but not least, storytelling plays a role in inheritance to some extent." as Tianming Liu from the department of cultural affairs of Changyang government said.
Fourthly, build the base for the inheritance of the Duzhenwan story. A folktale festival is organized by Duzhenwan Zhuanxi Primary school with the theme of "growing up in stories" on 1st June every year, hoping to combine the school education and inheritance of folktales. According to Tianming Liu, "many students can tell stories with the promotion of the school, there are many students who can tell more than 100 stories. The storytelling vibe is much stronger than before around the area of Shiwuxi."
Zhuangxi Primary School Tujia Folk Tales School-based Program |Source: Souhu, 2017
"It's now getting better and better for the inheritance of the Duzhenwan story," Liu said. But passing down the tradition of oral storytelling still faces many problems in the current social setting.
"Protection is for the sake of inheritance and development. Our protection is not just to seal the oral narratives, not to sponsor the narrators, but to adopt a dynamic approach to let the narrator feel the joy and enjoy the benefit of inheriting the tradition. Only in this way can the enthusiasm of folk oral narrative tellers be mobilized, and only then can museum-style conservation be led to living and social conservation, and only then can the folk oral narrative tradition be activated so that it can be passed on from generation to generation in innovation." Lin Jifu, a famous scholar, shares his opinion in this way.