On November 22nd, the tenth Microcampus group, Jailbreak, embarked on a journey that would take us out of the international bubble of Shanghai. We traveled all the way to a rural village in Southwest China called Xizhou, which served as our home for the next four weeks. Here in Xizhou, each and every one of us made amazing connections and experiences with the locals and the culture.
However, before we arrived, we were all assigned a project to complete. More specifically, the Inquiry Project. All fourteen of us were given a long list of possible topics to research and understand deeper when we arrived at Xizhou. When I was first given the list, I was overwhelmed by the amount of different projects I could pursue. However, I gradually narrowed down the topics until I was finally sure what I wanted to research. My final topic is Government Graffiti: Propaganda Messages in Xizhou.
This topic was one that interested me ever since I saw it was one of the many options we could purse. Propaganda messages has always been exciting for me because the messages hold such large amount of power to persuade the citizens. Throughout history, propaganda has been a massive tool for governments to use to sway public opinions in large masses of people. History has also been a subject I had a great interest in, and there is no better way to study history than with actual artifacts from way back then. Not only that, I was curious to see what messages were portrayed on the town's walls because in Shanghai, there are more modern ways to spread out a message, like commercials. However, I did not have an exposure to old propaganda messages, which this project allowed me to change.
Before I came here, my sources were all from online. I would use search engines, such as Google, to find more about propaganda messages in China. This gave me a general background on what I was going to be inquiring when I got to the village, but I did not have a specific idea on what I would focus in on. However, when I got to Xizhou, my sources turned to locals here in the village. Most of my sources are from elders that were fifty and sixty years or older as they remembered more about the times the propaganda messages as some of them were back in the 1950s or 1960s. This will give me more insight on the history and meaning behind these messages. The sources gave me a lot of knowledge on the propaganda messages specifically on the ones at Xizhou.
Setting out on these interviews, I kept some questions in mind that I wanted an answer to. First of all, one necessary one was what the messages were talking about. I focused on different time periods, such as from the 1940s, 1950s, and 2000s to ask them so that I will be able to compare the change China has gone through this past century. Also, I asked their opinions on the messages conveyed through the propaganda to gain knowledge on what the public has to say about these messages, and whether or not the events have impacted their lives. Most of the time, the elders were around ten years old when the Cultural Revolution happened, which helped me learn more about how Xizhou changed because of this event.
As shown in Phase 4, I started to organize and develop my final project. I decided to choose three different propaganda from different time periods, and show the meaning, conditions, and purpose in which they were filmed, which were the three aspects that I focused on. My final thesis was In order to for one to understand the propaganda messages in Xizhou, one must consider the meaning of the words, the conditions in which it was written under, and the main purpose it was made for.
Sharing My Learning
My final project can be viewed above or here.
This inquiry project has taught me valuable lessons that I otherwise would not have deemed important. It taught me to just put myself out there and talk with people without feeling awkward. This has helped with my communication with others as I have realized many people are willing to talk to you if you take initiative. Before, I felt uncomfortable talking with the sources because I never had this kind of experience, but after a while, I became more comfortable just talking with the locals. From this experience, it has taught me that the only way to finish something is to work hard and not rely on others to finish things for you.
Throughout this process, my topic did not have that much change. When I arrived at Xizhou, the main project I wanted to research was propaganda messages. However, I suppose that after talking with some of my sources, I focused in on the history behind the propaganda rather than the actual message. This happened because I realized that in order to fully understand the propaganda message, you cannot simply talk about what the message is. There has to be some content and reason behind why this message was put up and what impact it has on society.
Personally, the most difficult part of the process was reaching out to local contacts and scheduling appointments with them for interviews. I had never done anything of that sort before, so this was a brand new process. In the beginning, I used my Ten Essential Questions as training wheels for the interviews, going through them question by question. However, slowly, I began to not depend so much on the questions I came up with before getting to know the locals. I began to talk with them about their experiences, coming up with questions connecting to what they know and have lived through.
As I was continuing my research, an 'a-ha' moment was when Mr. Duan told me that to truly understand a propaganda message, it is not enough to merely understand the meaning and translations. You need to understand the history behind it because that will help you learn about why the message was made and why it is important to study it during modern times. After this moment, I knew that I wanted to incorporate the propaganda's history to show how much I learned.
Through these interviews, I began to realize the vast content behind a single propaganda message. I learned that these messages are not just characters painted on a wall, but were historical artifacts from the time periods it was written on. Major historical events occurred when these propaganda messages were written, and it would be a waste not to study and understand what the meaning of the messages are. My contacts told me so much about personal experiences that they had throughout these historical events, and I realized how China has changed from the past to the present.
Communicating with locals was one of the most important parts of the inquiry project. Most of our final project is about the information we have gathered from our sources, so interviews with them was crucial for us to finish our project. Through the inquiry project, I learned how to communicate more comfortably with the locals in the community. From these interviews, I began to understand their personal experiences with these events, and how Xizhou has changed. The locals were friendly and welcoming, making the whole process a wonderful experience.
Through this project, I have realized that I can take some time to get used to communicating with others, especially strangers. However, because the locals were so friendly, I found myself loosening up and just talking with them comfortably. Personally, I have realized that I can get stressed when there is a major project, so I have been trying to change that.
From this project, I can tell that I am a more visual learner. Through pictures and images, I can learn more about the subject instead of through audio. Pictures resonate more in my mind than anything else, so that was why I wanted to study the propaganda message in person. Propaganda messages requires you to look and analyze it, which is something that I enjoyed tremendously.
If I could rewind time to go back to the beginning of the project, I would tell myself to be more prepared for the interviews with the locals. This way I will have more things to say to them as well as get to know them better. Also, I would tell myself to manage my time well because the weeks will fly by, and, before you know, it you will be at the final phase of your inquiry project. Make the limited time you have count so that, in the end, you will not be rushing around.
If someone or myself will continue my research project, new directions I might take would be to study one period more specifically. For example, I did not go into that much detail about the events, and it would be interesting to learn more about some events. Also, a future Microcampus student might be curious to learn more about what Xizhou was like during a specific time period, like the Great Leap Forward or Reform and Opening to see how it has changed from the past. One other idea would be to follow the process of how they create the propaganda messages and how they painted it onto the walls.
Finally, there are some very important people I need to thank. Thank you to all my sources that I have interviewed. I could not have finished my project without your helpfulness, and I have made so many amazing connections from these interviews that I am so grateful for. Thank you to the Linden family for letting us stay at wonderful Yangzhuoran and being supportive of our journey. Thank you to Ye ling and Evy, for helping me translate Chinese I did not know as well as coming with me to my interviews. Thank you to Ms. Mai, for making sure we were always healthy and reminding us to stay on top of our work. Thank you to Mr. T, for helping all fourteen of us through this long process and teaching us to discipline ourselves. Lastly, thank you to the amazing village of Xizhou, for letting fourteen eighth-graders call this beautiful place home for four unforgettable weeks.
My time here in Xizhou has been a memorable one. Every day there were new connections to be made, new experiences to be had, and new risks to take. The inquiry project has been a true insight on who I am as a person and as a learner. I have learned so many valuable life lessons throughout these four weeks, both from my sources as well as people in my group. Microcampus is an experience that I will always carry with me because of how special it has been. Being a Microcampus student is a one-of-a-kind experience, and I truly believe every one of us has changed for the better.