Since the spring of 2012, students have made the 2000-plus kilometer journey from Shanghai to Xizhou, Yunnan province to spend four weeks discovering the culture and lifestyle whilst making new connections. Microcampus is a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the intention to learn beyond the standard limitations of a classroom. To escape the shadows of skyscrapers in Shanghai, the honking traffic, polluted skies, and the continuous expansions of urban sprawl. Students spend their days immersed in adventures designed to maximize the exposure of the four pillars: experiential learning, personal growth, expanding intercultural understandings, and having a positive impact.
Before I arrived in Xizhou, we had to choose a high topic of interest for our Inquiry project. I chose to study Government Graffiti and Wall Propaganda Messages in Xizhou because propaganda is information that is not objective and is used primarily to influence an audience often by presenting facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis or perception. Propaganda incorporates loaded language to produce emotional rather than rational responses to the information presented, it is meant to evoke certain feelings in people which sometimes makes it a detrimental and manipulative form of communication.
The Inquiry project requires constant interactions with Xizhou locals and my sources were Mr. Yin, Mr. Pan, Mrs. Linden, Mr. Du, Mr. Linden, Mr. Yang Mr. Li, Mr. Zhao, Zhang Jie, and Mr. He. I chose these 10 people as my local contacts because they embody citizens who have been significantly affected by propaganda, whether or not they pay attention to the propaganda.
The kinds of questions I was trying to answer behave towards personal opinions, conceptions, and attitudes regarding propaganda. The questions I created were all meant to have responses that are not necessarily based on facts or knowledge -- I was attempting to apprehend the thinking and viewpoint Xizhou citizens have when they see propaganda.
In my efforts to decipher existing wall propaganda messages in Xizhou, I considered the dynamic between contrasting time periods, the purpose of the propaganda statements, and the repercussions.
Sharing My Learning
Click here to view my final product.
My Inquiry Project work has connected me to the past because I learned more Chinese history and the hardships my great-grandparents and grandparents endured, I am more indebted to the things I have now and to my ancestors who made me who I am today. Xizhou has allowed me to understand the functions of diverse governments and the laws they impose -- which helped me identify ways I contribute to the world. The cultural distinction of the past and modern society has taught me to respect traditions, ethics, and norms even more. A huge takeaway from my Inquiry Project experience is my former cluelessness towards vital Chinese history and how less I knew of my background. In all honesty, I had no idea what the Cultural Revolution or what the Great Leap Forward was before I started my research.
My topic had small changes throughout the different phases. In the beginning, I was intent on the political side of propaganda in Xizhou, however, throughout my field research I discovered that not many citizens had political viewpoints on the propaganda. As I was on my 7th teacher support session, I brought Mr. T to Mr. Li's house and it was there I showed him the propaganda message “人民公社萬歲“ on Mr. Li's wall. Soon after, a seed was planted and Mr. T casually suggested I uncover the propaganda message and my topic changed from political to unveiling the propaganda. This was a significant part of my process of developing my final product because my propaganda perspective shifted entirely.
The most difficult part of my research was translating the propaganda messages that many of the locals wrote down for me. Most of the propaganda messages were writtenin traditional Chinese characters and with modern technology and writing my information online, the Chinese characters would be simplified Chinese. It was a complicated and lengthy process searching on the app Pleco with Mr. Chen to find the traditional characters in order to write the propaganda message online. One attribute that made this task even more puzzling was my incompetence to comprehend different writing styles of different people, for example, I had to ask four different people what they viewed a specific character was because I could not recognize the intricate Chinese strokes.
One "a-ha" moment I had was when I decided which direction I would be taking on my Inquiry project. It was like a lightbulb came off in my head and the idea just popped up. When I had the "a-ha" moment of my final product, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders and I could finally stop worrying about what I should do. Some multiple ‘aha’ moments were when I translated propaganda messages from Chinese to English and the context made a lot more sense to me.
My Inquiry Project, Unveiling Propaganda, has helped me comprehend propaganda in Chinese history because the only propaganda I ever came in contact with before I came on Microcampus was American propaganda. The propaganda plastered around Xizhou is one component of some of China's illustrious tools for persuading the public and I have now acquired more knowledge on China's historical events.
My project has helped me establish new connections with many of the villagers in Xizhou. My field research allowed me to dive deeper under the cultural iceberg and learn about the customs, arts, social institutions, manifestations, and achievements rooted in the Xizhou community. The new relationships I developed directed me towards the success of my Inquiry Project and my meaningful and memorable 28-day experience.
My Inquiry Project has allowed me to understand myself better as a person because I realized how much I enjoyed learning Chinese history throughout my journey. I feel that on Microcampus, I have truly been in touch with my ancestry and roots again because I was assimilated into western culture. I discovered historical events and life stories of villagers and even more about my parents' past. Through my challenging and remarkable journey, I realized how much I loved helping people and it made me think about why I rarely volunteer for community service when the opportunity arises. It made me think about why I do not take 30 minutes out of my day to have Still Time. It made me think about how stressed school and Shanghai makes me sometimes and why I do not treat myself to 30 minutes of relaxation and reflection.
The Inquiry Project has also helped me unravel myself as a learner. I became aware of the amount of effort and endeavor into a subject that genuinely intrigues and challenges me. My topic, unveiling propaganda was dissimilar from any other school project I have put immense effort in because I realized that I loved the process of being unsuccessful and then being victorious. Back at SAS, I would have despised myself for not being able to think of my final product sooner, but in Xizhou, I congratulate myself for thinking of my final product.
If I could travel back in time to the beginning of my Inquiry Project, any advice I would give to the pre-Microcampus Sonia is to read Mr. T's directions multiple times to avoid being absentminded about crystal clear instructions and to always, always do a command F search for contractions. To add on, I wish I could tell myself to get in the habit of procedures and daily commitment because the sequence of instructions for each task given by Mr. T were there to make things less perplexing. I wish I could tell myself follow the routines because I will be grateful I did once the workload increases.
If myself or someone else were to continue my research project, new directions that might occur would be understanding the Li family history and getting more in depth as to why Mr. Li's cousin painted the propaganda message "人民公社萬歲“ on their home entrance wall. Perhaps they could even make meaning of the other pieces of wall propaganda inside Mr. Li's courtyard and find the association between the propaganda message I unveiled and the other messages.
Now that I have reached the end of my research process, I would like to give thanks to the people who have positively impacted and supported my Microcampus experience. Below is a list of acknowledgments.
Thanks to Mr. T for his clear instructions and pearls of wisdom. His guidance has led the Voyagers, including myself, to our self-realization. His ever-increasing knowledge about the local culture of Xizhou has been incredibly helpful for our journey to expand our intercultural understanding and grow as an individual. Thanks again for all the hard work and dedication to the cause of the Microcampus program!
Thanks to Ms. Mai for consistently pushing us to maintain a healthy lifestyle at Microcampus. Our Wellness Time would not be successful without her meticulous attention to our well-being. Shoutout to Ms. Mai's unceasing stoicism with 16 hormonal teenagers!
Thanks to Mr. Chen for his unwavering patience during my fieldwork research, in which he supplied valuable Chinese translations and descriptions. He truly is a cool kid!
Thanks to Ms. Braverman for all the emotional support she provided in times of hardship and challenge. She is relatable, humorous, and kindhearted.
Thanks to Mr. Li, my Service Learning partner, for being open and pragmatic when asked about sensitive questions and topics. He has allowed us unique insight into his memories, and we truly developed an unforgettable relationship.
Thanks to Mr. Yin, Mr. Pan, Mr and Mrs. Linden, Mr. Du, Mr. Yang, Mr. Li, Mr. Zhao, Ms. Zhang Jie, and Mr. He for their astute analysis, without which my Inquiry Project would not have succeeded.
Thanks to the Linden Centre for their sponsorship and encouragement towards the Microcampus program and the wonderful staff they provided for Yangzhuoran. Without them, we would not be living in the magnificently renovated Yangzhuoran.
Thank you to Mr. Yang, a brilliant gentlemen whom my Service Learning partners and I have made a close connection with. His appreciation of nature as a farmer is astounding and most importantly, his organic mulberries are delicious.
The Inquiry Project has shaped me in new ways that will never be reconstructed because the experience of being a Microcampus participant has been sensational and wondrous. The life lessons I have learned in Xizhou will be carried throughout the rest of my life and the entire Xizhou community will never be forgotten.