For the past four weeks I have been living in a small village in Yunnan called Xizhou for a program called Microcampus. While living in Xizhou, we do Inquiry Projects, in which we investigate a topic of high personal interest by interviewing people living in or around Xizhou. I chose the topic local history, specifically the impact of Liberation (the founding of the People's Republic of China) on Xizhou's people, because I think it is essential to understand how what has happened in the past affects people today. While researching, I chose to talk to older people since they would be more likely to remember events that happened both before and after Liberation clearly. I was hoping to answer the following questions:
1. How did new laws and campaigns affect Xizhou? Which one had the most significant effect?
2. Did China's involvement in the Korean War affect the people living in Xizhou?
3. How did the majority of Xizhou view Chairman Mao and the Communist Party?
4. How did the majority of Xizhou view Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists?
5. How did the aftermath of Liberation affect trade in Xizhou?
6. How did life in Xizhou before Liberation compare to life afterwards?
7. Did the quality of life improve for the people in Xizhou after Liberation?
8. How did Liberation leave a lasting effect on the people in Xizhou?
9. Did Liberation improve Xizhou's standard of living?
10. What to do people think when they look back upon that time period?
In order to understand my journey while researching this topic, one must understand my opinions before arriving in Xizhou, my first impressions, and my opinions now.
Sharing My Learning
For my final project, I chose to make a video about my journey and what I have learned throughout the process. To see my final product, please look above my introduction.
The Inquiry Project was more challenging than I might have expected, but I think I learned quite a bit from it. It takes patience, perseverance, and flexibility to be able to do an Inquiry Project, since people may not be available when you want or need them to be. You have to be brave to get out there and be willing to go find people to interview and connect with. For me this was hard because I was kind of scared of getting out there and talking to people. It also takes diligence and discipline to get work done on time. I think that I took away courage above all other things. I get kind of nervous and awkward when I am around new people in new situations, but I had to learn how to put myself out there and not be afraid to ask questions and learn more. The word "fearless" will always mean something special to me.
My topic did not change too much over the course of our studies. Although I did shift my focus over to individual stories rather than how Xizhou as a whole was impacted, if that makes sense. I started off wanting to know how Liberation affected Xizhou, but after talking to locals, I ended up focusing on how it affected Xizhou's people. I also found myself focusing more on post-Liberation events rather than events before Liberation because it was hard to find people who were old enough to remember pre-Liberation events clearly.
I think the hardest part of my inquiry project was helping people open up and talk about post-Liberation events. It can be a sensitive topic for some people and I found it hard to bring up the subject without feeling invasive. Luckily, many of the people I talked to were open and willing to share their stories and experiences with me despite the fact that it might have been a little uncomfortable for me. It was also hard for me to discover people's opinions about certain events as well as the government at the time since many of the people I talked to had lived through campaigns such as the Hundred Flower Campaign and Anti-Rightist Campaign, which I think caused them to be a little unwilling to share their true opinions.
I had an "a-ha" moment while talking to someone about his life post-Liberation. I asked about the happiest days of his life and he something along the lines of this: My childhood was happy, and now that I am old and retired I am happy, but the years in between were miserable". I almost cried as he continued to talk about his life and the events he lived through. I had always known that these people had had more than their fair share of struggle, but hearing him describe these horrible events and knowing that he had lived through all these things made me realize just how real these events were. These were not just facts and stories from an encyclopedia, these were real events that impacted so many innocent people. I guess it was a little shocking, but it made me realize the importance of learning about the past.
This project helped me understand my topic better because I got to learn about history firsthand. I was able to go out and explore my topic by talking to people who actually lived through the events that I had read or heard about. It is really different than reading from a textbook or listening to a lecture. I am not sure if I could learn this way anywhere else. I think it is really different when you can talk directly to people who lived through the events you are learning about. It is hands on and I think that makes learning much more personal and memorable.
This project also caused me to interact with the community and locals. I talked to many elders during the course of my inquiry project because they are the ones able to remember events from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I ended up learning more about them as people, since they would talk to me about what their lives were like during that time and how life has changed since then. Although I was not talking directly to the people I was interviewing since a chaperone was translating for me, I felt like I really connected with them anyway.
If I were to go back to the beginning of this project, I would tell myself to start talking to locals earlier and to take more pictures, not only for my project, but also to look back on in the future. I wish I had talked to more people and made more connections during the process. I did not really take advantage of chaperone support early on, so I was kind of behind in the process compared to the people who started going out into the village and talking to people earlier.
If someone else were to continue my project, there are many different directions that person could go in. Instead of just being general and learning about how people were affected, they could focus in on women and how their role in society was affected, or how the Hui Muslim community was impacted by past events. A future student could focus on a specific post-Liberation event, like the Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, or Reform and Opening. I personally think that if a future student were to do my topic, that student should narrow the topic down and focus on a specific event or decade to make it easier to collect and organize information.
Many thanks to Mr. T and Mrs. Mai for starting the Microcampus program, being able to supervise sixteen crazy 13-14 year olds, always being there for advice and support, and making this whole experience possible. Thank you to Fay and Annaliese for providing chaperone and language support during our inquiry research and for the countless other things that they took care of behind the scenes. I would like to thank the Linden family and the Linden Centre staff for being so hospitable and making the Linden Centre really feel like home. Thank you to Mr. Dong, Mr. Yang the former accountant and lawyer, Mr. Duan, Mr. Yang the antique dealer, and Mr. Zhao for being kind enough to share their experiences with me and help me learn more about my topic. I would also like to thank the rest of Fearless for making this experience so memorable and for supporting me throughout the trip, Microcampus would not have been the same without you guys.
Microcampus is definitely a one of a kind experience. I was able to explore the village, meet new people, and talk to them about events that they lived through, which is not something I am able to do inside a classroom. I am really going to miss Xizhou when we leave and I really hope to visit in the future. I really did not expect to grow so much during this experience. Microcampus taught me to be more confident, independent, thoughtful, and observant. But most of all, it taught me to be fearless.