Updated 4 years 11 months ago




       Wood carving was a traditional Chinese art that is a cultural aspect in Yunnan. I am rather interested in all areas of art. When I heard that there were many talented and amazing wood carvers here in Yunnan, I was really excited to go investigate this spectacular technique. My knowledge of wood carving was quite limited, but I had many questions bursting out my brain that were pleading to be answered. I simply could not ignore this topic. I had to find out more.

Once in Xi Zhou, I got to question many locals around me about wood carving. Some names I did not quite catch. The sources I can name are Mr.Zhao, Ms.Li, Mr.Yang, Ms.Xiao, Mr.Zhao, and Mr.Tafel. These sources gave me plenty of useful information. My first few sources, like Mr.Tafel, recommended me to go to other places to investigate wood carving. One of them was the area near the west gate in Dali Old Town. At Dali Old Town, I strolled around, talking to carvers here and there, managing to grasp git and pieces of information about wood carving. I thought I was ready, yet just then, I met Ms.Xiao, a teacher. Ms.Xiao was real helpful, she led us to a little back alley, and there I found some amazing wood carving experts. I asked them questions, they answered as best as they could. Not only were they willing to answer me, they also let me play around with their tools. Yet none of them were willing to seriously teach. However, they were still very nice people, because one of them introduced me to Mr.Zhao. Mr.Zhao then became my wood carving teacher. Once again, I gained so much more information from just one source. Not one of these sources are less important than the other. If I had not asked some of these spectacular people, then my inquiry work would just tumble. 

Wandering around Xi Zhou, I asked people about my topic. What type of wood is best to use when carving? What is the hardest and softest type? How long does this wood carved door take to finish? Do you know where wood carving first started in China? If not, do you know anybody who would be able to answer my questions? Sometimes I got answers, sometimes I did not. Nevertheless, I continued to ask and ask. Though at first quite hesitant, I gradually became more confident as I asked more people. How much money do you make? What does this picture symbolize? Why is that? When did you first start to carve? What tools are used when carving wood?Why do you enjoy carving wood? Do you know exactly when wood carving first started? The more I talked, the more questions popped into my head. 

As I move forward with my journey in Xi Zhou, my main point that I hope to share with people is the beauty and significance of the symbolism behind the intricate designs of wood carvings, as well as how they are carved. I have seen many interesting carvings, but not understand what they mean at all. It would be nice if people could understand the true beauty of wood carving, hidden deep within it. A wood carving of a beautiful landscape magnificent by itself, but would it not be even more glorious if you could understand the meaning behind this piece of artwork? By understanding and learning about these designs and their meanings, I can present to the world what I have learned.

Sharing My Learning:

       As my final product, I am going to carve on wood a picture that represents myself. This picture is of a phoenix. A phoenix symbolizes good luck, (吉祥). Chinese people think that phoenixes are goddess birds, and are extremely beautiful. They bring peace to people, and are re-born through fire and ashes. My Chinese nickname is "Big Phoenix" (大风). This is tradition in my family. I am the biggest, and only, girl in my generation, therefore I am nicknamed big phoenix. If I were the second biggest, then I would be nicknamed "Second Phoenix" (二风). My brother is nicknamed "Third Dragon" (三龙), since he is the third oldest boy in his generation. That is a reason why I chose a phoenix to represent myself. The cover of this phase is a picture of my final carving.


       Coming to Xi Zhou changed my view of learning changed to a whole new perspective. To get a whole new level of quality in learning, you sometimes have to step out of your little bubble, out of your comfort zone, and look around you more closely. Instead of searching it on the internet, you need to get out there yourself, explore and wonder, and that is how you learn the best. For me, the part that was getting put of my bubble was being brave and confident to just walk up to a stranger, and start a conversation right there. Not only did I have a big side of me that is shy, but I also have no experience in doing this what so ever. But with a little shove from Mr.Tafel, I toughened up and gave it a shot. Though still a bit hesitant, I went on, asking this carver, and that carver, until I felt quite comfortable talking to strangers. They say a stranger is just a friend that you have never met before. By the time I got to my sixth or seventh source, I was strutting like a peacock, ready for more, confident and proud. That was when the best part of my journey started. It was then that I met Ms.Xiao, the teacher. This was the biggest step I took toward my investigation of wood carving. Led around my Ms.Xiao, I learned even more about wood carving, I met some amazing experts, I even got to learn a bit of carving. There is a famous quote that states: "When the student is ready, the teacher will come." What a fitting sentence for my experience! That day, I went home tired, but satisfied. I felt I had achieved a lot, much more than I thought I ever could. I knew I had grew and matured, in just one day, in so many different ways, simply by being brave, and stepping our of my comfort zone.

When still back at Shanghai, I was contemplating to change my topic. However, once arriving in Xi Zhou and getting to experience the full meaning of wood carving, I thought, there is no way I am changing my topic. Though my focus within my topic did change throughout my study. At first, I wanted to focus on carved doors. That was just a wild guess from an amateur that knows only a bit about wood carving. Once I learned more about wood carving, I decided to change my focus to the pictures and designs of the wood carvings. I found out that wood carving is not just about the way it looks, it is also the deep meaning behind the carving. I became more interesting in the symbolism of carvings, and started to investigate more on that.

The most difficult part when doing research was getting enough courage to simply walk up to a stranger and start talking. It was quite challenging for me to do this, being the shy person I am, as well as having a lasting conversation with this person I have never seen before. However, once I got the hang of it, I became quite relaxed and comfortable, so I overcame this challenge. Another challenge I had was not getting enough information. Before I found out about the area in Dali Old Town, I was stuck and could not find and suitable sources. Even when I did find a person or few that knew something, I would end up with either repeated information or very little information. I was quite excited when I found out about the wood carving area in Dali Old Town, because I could finally fully investigate the art of wood carving.

Many time when asking questions, I would have an "Ah-Ha" moment, where I make a major discovery. One of the moments were when I learned what people did for their wood carvings during the cultural revolution. They would write good things about Mao Ze Dong on their carved doors or other carvings, as to prevent the doors from being destroyed. They would write things like "Mao Zhu Xi Wan Sui" (毛主席万岁). What an interesting discovery I made, and I thought how smart it were for the people back then to do that. If they had not, then we would barely have any wooden carved antiques scattered around today.

In many ways, this project has allowed me to learn, to my fullest ability, so much about wood carving. At the beginning, I barely knew anything. I just knew that wood carving is a traditional chinese art practiced often among the people, and that it is a really hard technique to master. That is it. Now, I am like a master of wood carving, I know the history, the basics, the materials, and i can even carve wood by myself (though I am not that great at it). This project made me stand up and do things by myself, it made me a more independent individual. Once acquiring bravery, I learned even more about my topic. Normally, I would not just randomly walk up to someone and start asking them questions about wood carving. However, by doing this, I learned so much more than I normally would by just searching online.

The only way for us to get our information is to go out into the village or town and interact with the people around us. This project helped me have stronger connections with the people around me. Here in Xi Zhou, the people are friendly and open, most are quite willing to talk to you. You could simply walk into someone's courtyard, and they welcome you with such hospitality, it is surprising. Back in Shanghai, if you started asking a stranger questions, they would think of you in a suspicious way, and not trust you. It is illegal to trespass in America as well. Here, I learned by interacting with people. This way of learning is the most affective, as well as fun, way for me.

If I were to go back in time to the beginning of this project, some advice would have made this a little better of an experience. For example, if I were told that SAS essentials were all due on friday, I would have planned out my work better, so then I would not have to be rushed and stressed out in the end. Another example is to use your time wisely. You can often get distracted when working, and when you get distracted, you have less time to work. So you should plan out your work in the beginning, and stay on task, so you could get your work done on time, as well as not be so stressed when you do not get it done in time.

If I were to continue to do more research on this topic, a new direction I could take would be investigating the machine made wood carvings more. I mainly researched about hand carved wood, and not machine carved wood. Personally, I like hand carvings better, but if I had more time, I would also want to learn more about machine made carvings. That way, not only would I be able to compare and contrast the two, but I would have knowledge on both areas of wood carving.

I would like to acknowledge those who have helped me deeply during my journey in Xi Zhou:

Mr.Tafel: Without Mr.Tafel, I would not even be here. Not only did he open up this great opportunity for me, but also pushed me past my comfort zone, and allowed me to discover independence, a new way of learning, bravery, and happiness in my own way. He made me laugh on rainy days, he helped me when I was stuck with work, he even introduced me to this awesome fired rice, the "Tai Fei" friend rice, that is the best fired rice I have ever had. I am truly grateful for everything Mr.Tafel has done for me.

Ms.Mai: Not only did she encourage me with wellness on days I was feeling a bit lazy, she also accompanied me in my journey with a supporting smile on her face.

Mr.Zhao: My wood carving teacher is amazing. I would not have any idea how to carve without this amazing teacher. He gave me tons of valuable information and facts on wood carving and its history. He taught me the basics of carving, and awakened the wood carving side of me. I would not have made it through my inquiry work successfully without him.

Ms.Li: Ms.Li also taught me a few wood carving skills, as well as answer my questions whenever I asked. She was a very kind lady, making me comfortable and feel at home when I had class with Mr.Zhao.

Xiao Tang: Xiao Tang helped me arrange transportation, which got me to where I learn wood carving. She was really helpful at times, and cheered me up when I was feeling donw. Xiao Tang also knew of some woo carving places, and gave me some advice.

Mr.Linden: Mr.Linden was a great supporting friend, as well as real kind for letting us use the facilities in the Linden Center. He also provided us with such a wonderful home!

All my friends back at Shanghai: They all wish me the best for my wonderful journey here in Xi Zhou. They were here for me even though we were so far apart.

Mom and Dad: My mom and dad were both loving and supporting for me during my whole trip, The encouraged me to do things, gave me advice, and continued to be the caring and loving parents they always have been for me. I love you mom and dad!

The staff of Yang Zhuo Ran: These wonderful people provided me with such delicious food, which energized me to do a great job when working. They also allowed me to feel safe and at home when at Yang Zhuo Ran.

Cookie Monsters Students: By the end of the trip, we were like a big happy family. If even one of them were not here, this trip would be totally different. All of them are my real close friends, and I would not have survived the Microcampus trip without them.


Hello, my name is Alisa. I am an Alumni from Group C, the Cookie Monsters. Over the course of one month, I strengthen my bond with Mr.T and Mrs. Mai, as well as my wonderful friends who accompanied me on my journey. I learned so many things, went so many places, met so many people, ate lots of delicious foods! My adventure in Xi Zhou never failed to keep me laughing. By the end of the trip, I was a wood carving master, and had a family of eighteen crazy cookie monsters, whom I shared this amazing journey with. My trip to Xi Zhou changed my way of thinking and how I live my life. I will never forget the memories I made at Xi Zhou as a member of the Cookie Monsters.