April 30, 2016 was a big day - it was the beginning of my life-changing Microcampus journey. On that day, I, along with the rest of group Phenomena, embarked on a 28-day journey to the small village of Xizhou in Southwest China, and we came to learn about ourselves as well as a topic of high interest. For me, that topic was Perspectives on Topics of Wall Propaganda.
I chose to focus on this because it outlined the idea of perspectives, something that I felt was a big part of everyday life, and something that should be acknowledged more in our world where so many events are affecting our lives.
The next step in this process was research. I was able to conduct 5 3's-5's interviews from Phase 2 and, which helped me greatly in gathering my information. The key sources who have given me the most helpful information for my final product include Mrs. Zhang the antique dealer, Mr. Duan the former soldier, 75 year-old Mr. Zhang on Si Fang Jie, Mr. Yang the former teacher, and Mr. Wang.
One of my key sources were intentionally chosen by me from advice and information I gained from my 3's-5's. However, for most of my sources I did not exactly choose them; instead, they just happened to be the ones who opened up the most about the old times. Of course, I made sure the person's age seemed old enough that they experienced the events I wanted to learn about, before approaching them, but otherwise there was no particular choosing process.
During my research, I was intent on answering mostly just four questions, repeated three times for three different time periods. These were: "What does the propaganda of the event mean?", "What was the positive perspective regarding the propaganda representing this event?", "What was the negative perspective regarding the propaganda representing this event?", and "What were the key differences in these perspectives and why did they exist?". In total, four (questions) times three (time periods/events) made twelve questions I had to answer. As you might notice, this is very different from my 10 Big Questions from Phase 1. This is because those questions simply served as a pre-trip skeleton for my project, and now that I have come here and done my research, the questions have developed into more focused inquiries.
After conducting all my research which can be seen in Phase 3, I was able to come up with a thesis - "In order to comprehend the history of Early China, one must understand three different perspectives from three different events: the Land Reforms, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution."
Sharing My Learning
I have created a video for my final product. It can viewed above, or here.
This journey taught me something else too, a piece of knowledge I will keep all my life. Being with so many locals and stepping out of my comfort zone to introduce myself to them and talk with them was awkward in the beginning. The person and I would sometimes pause and stare at each other, expecting one another to speak. But later on, after the first week or so, I was able to learn from my past mistakes how to guide locals through smoothly in conversation. For instance, I noticed patterns with people who I talked to - if they were strolling around aimlessly, or if they smiled and welcomed with their expressions, then it was smart to stop and chat. I also learned many other things about controlling a conversation and directing it towards the topic of my choice so that I could gain the most information. This is important in my personal life, because I will definitely be encountering lots of formal conversations soon.
My topic has not changed during my time here, though I have narrowed it down from a very general topic to a focused one. The phrase "Wall Propaganda Messages in Xizhou" held a wide range of possibilities, and I chose to follow the advice of alumni, which was to choose a narrow focus early on during the trip.
The most difficult part of my research was choosing the right people to interview. I knew that people that had experienced the events I wanted to learn about had to be at least 60 years old, but that was about it. My 3's-5's interviews from Phase 3 was what gave me so many possible sources to gain information from, and I thought I had all the time in the world to get to all of them. But I knew that was not the case once Mr. T mentioned the due date for Phase 3 work. It was a challenging process, eliminating so many sources that could have provided even better information for my project, just because I did not have the time to interview them anymore.
When I interviewed Mr. Yang and Mr. Yang, I asked them if they despised Mao for what he did. They reacted by cringing in horror at my boldness and dodging the question. They said “of course not! Mao is amazing.” Ms. Zhang, Mr. Duan, and Ms. Yang Xu An also claimed to love Mao even though they had suffered from his actions. I made the connection that this was because they had not completely recovered from the revolution that oppressed them from expressing their thoughts. Even now, several decades after the event, they were still afraid to speak badly of Mao! I realized that this was one of the many aftereffects of the revolution. But there was a more dignified belief for the lack of hatred for Mao. After questioning him about Mao, he replied “No, it is never one person’s fault, it is just the course of history” I really admired him for what he said, being able to sum it all up so clearly and well. He contributed to my A Ha moment, when I finally realized that I had been so entirely misled by blaming it all one leader. I learned so much in ways I would never be able to otherwise, from my short conversations with these locals and from listening to their vivid memories. Only now do I truly see and understand what they underwent through their eyes.
This project was entirely focused on my topic. I learned so much about it, in some of the most unique ways possible. I now understand perspectives of wall propagandas so much better from hearing the stories and personal experiences of locals who actually underwent it all. After listening to their stories, I pieced together the perspectives from the differences in peoples' stories. It was an incredible way for me to learn about my topic.
This project helped me interact with the locals of Xizhou and the community. The day I came to Xizhou, Mr. T introduced us to many locals already. He also encouraged us to make connections at every opportunity. My project pretty much forced me to chat with locals as well. Every time I saw an older looking lady, I confront her and begin a conversation, trying to direct it towards my research topic. I was desperate to gather information, and would ask any friendly and open local that I came across. I am most proud of my smooth interaction with Ms. Dong, my first local contact, who welcomed me into her humble home the minute we began talking. This was very different from my daily life back in Shanghai, where strangers would never look twice at each other.
This project not only taught me a lot about my topic, but also of myself as a person. Many times during my conversations, I would try to grasp information from locals before establishing a secure connection with them. In the beginning, I remembered alumni advices and tried very hard to allow them to grow comfortable about my presence before diving in for the information, but this was both time-consuming and difficult, so sometimes I would just introduce myself briefly then jump right into questions. That was a bad idea, and made me realize how straight-forward and cut-to-the point I was. I had never really noticed this before. Also, a few of my conversations ended because the other person was busy or uncomfortable, and I should have noticed it earlier. I realized that I need improvement in my ability to analyze other people's body language during conversations.
The entire inquiry project process taught me even more about myself as a learner. Before Microcampus, I always thought that the reason I could not complete the occasional pieces of work was because I procrastinated too much. But since we began doing researching, I have begun thinking that that may not be the case. Instead, it is probably because I spend too much time perfecting my work, or because my work ethic is unorganized. I made this conclusion after my Phase 3, Phase 4, and Final product work, when I kept working in messy ways, where I would have completed with one portion without having started another. This is an extremely unhealthy work ethic, and I should really change that soon.
If I could go back in time to the beginning of this project, I would collect more footage. Piecing together my final product video was frustrating at times because I did not have the required amounts of pictures that fit with my audio. I should have asked my teacher supported to help take photos and video footages of my interviews with locals. If I had more visuals, creating my product would have been so much easier!
Here are some acknowledgements. I was only able to go through this amazing experience with the help of many. Thank you Mr. T, for managing this whole process, for helping us grow personally throughout the journey, and for always being there to help. Thank you Ms. Mai, for your patience, kindness, steady support, and helpful comments. Thank you Ms. Zhang and Ms. Zhao for helping introduce us to so many great sources of information here in Xizhou and for supporting our work. Thank you so, so much to the locals of Xizhou for having us and welcoming us into the village and even your homes. Without their help, I would never be here. Lastly, thank you to the entire Phenomena group for spending these incredible four weeks together with me. You have all helped lift my spirits when we have had difficult, challenging times. You have become my second family and I will definitely miss being with you guys!
All in all, Microcampus has been a truly unique, other-worldy experience for me. I have learned so much in such amazing ways that I would never even imagine of otherwise. If I could, I would choose to live here even longer, enjoying the kind presence of locals, the food, the environment, and so much more of Xizhou. I will never forget about Microcampus!