Jiaying University Hakka Research Centre faculty with Butler students
From left to right: Song Dejian, Fang Xuejia, Li Xiaoyan (Sarah), Matt Guebard, Becca Dayhuff, Liz Jackson, Jeff Payne, Jen Fugate, Fuji Lozada, Zhou Jianxin, and Xiao Wenping
More Trains, 15 June 2001
Getting to Meizhou
Today we went to took the train from Shenzhen to Meizhou, a 7 hour train ride. We first left Chinese University of Hong Kong on the KCR (part of Hong Kong’s mass transit) to the Lo Wu train stop — right on the border with China. We then walked over the Shenzhen River (separating Hong Kong from mainland China) and made it to the Shenzhen train station. We were worried about the train, since there was a 6 hour delay on the previous train to Meizhou (Chinese trains are almost always on time). As you can see, we had “hard sleepers” for the ride, making for a very comfortable trip. Becca is pictured here wearing the badge for the person nominally asked to help monitor the train (it was left on her bunk)! We arrived in Meizhou late, around 11:00 pm, and found our way to the Jiaying University guesthouse. Prof. Xiao Wenping stayed up late to make sure we arrived safely.
Ancestors and College Students
16 June 2001
Jiaying University and Neighbors
After a short night, we woke up to our first full day in Meizhou. Although I was last here only a year ago, there have been many highly visible changes to Jiaying University and the surrounding area. One of these changes has been the refurbishment of the university guest house where we are staying — the housing is quite nice and comfortable, complete with air conditioning and cable television. After breakfast, we went up to the Hakka Research Centre to meet our hosts, my friend Prof. Fang Xuejia and his colleagues. Prof. Fang first took us to see the campus, including a student dormitory where the students first met other Jiaying University students (as you can see in the picture, Liz is talking to one).
We then had lunch together, and toured some traditional Hakka houses in the area that also have ancestral halls. In the picture, Prof. Li is explaining to the students what they are seeing in the ancestral hall. She is one of many at Jiaying University who are doing research around Hakka society, history, and culture.
Hakka Roundhouses, 17 June 2001
Yongding, Fujian Province
Today we had a very long but rewarding day. We left Jiaying University for a more than 4 hour drive to see a famous example of traditional architecture and family life — the Hakka Roundhouses at nearby Yongding County, Fujian Province. It was a difficult trip, since we had to cross over a series of mountains and many of these mountain roads were not paved and pockmarked with big holes from flooding and large truck use. Far off the usual tourist path, the trip was worth it to see these large buildings that could house close to one thousand people, often of the same lineage.
Pictured above is the group (with four faculty members from Jiaying University and our driver) on a mountain lookout, with some of the roundhouses below us in the bottom left hand corner. To give you an idea of the scale, in the picture below is a picture of Jeff inside a roundhouse. Roundhouses can be three or four (or more) stores tall, with rooms located in rings on the outside of the house. The houses are self-contained, with wells and stables located inside the walled enclosure. Like castles in Europe, these roundhouses were built with security in mind — lineages could protect themselves inside against bandits or other lineages during times of conflict.
Ludi Temple, Meizhou City
18 June 2001
Written by Jen Fugate, 20 June 2001
On 20 June, I went with Teacher Li to the Ludi Temple here in Meizhou City. This was my second trip to this particular temple. On my first visit on 18 June, I mainly walked around and took pictures of the different gods while receiving explanations of each god’s significance from Teacher Li. Today I actually interacted with the monks and the nuns at the temple. This temple only has temporary nuns who come during the day to help out with the cooking and the cleaning. The monks on the other hand actually live at the temple, but are allowed to have families. In this picture I am seen with the daughter of one of the monks. While I talked to one of the nuns, the leader of the temple walked in and introduced himself. I asked him about his duties as temple leader, and he referred to himself as being like the manager of a factory. He doesn’t do the labor; instead, he makes sure that everything gets done and manages the money. If there is a conference, it is his job to go as a representative for the temple. One of the rooms at the temple that I found to be most interesting contained a statue of Confucius, Lao Tzu, and Buddha. Many people in China actually practice all three religions.
The Pagoda of One Thousand Buddhas, Meizhou, 19 June 2001
Today we went to a temple complex in Meizhou City. The focal point of this temple complex is the Pagoda of One Thousand Buddhas — a pagoda with close to one thousand years of history. This pagoda, and the other halls that are part of this temple, was recently rennovated with the financial help of overseas Chinese and other local Buddhists; one lay Buddhist leader made it very clear that they received no financial support from the government to make the rennovations. Unlike other temples, such as the one that Jen Fugate described in the previous webpage, this temple has a full complement of nuns who have taken a lifetime vow of celibacy and are active in meditation, scripture recitation, and other Buddhist ritual practices. We spent the morning touring the temple, with a lay Buddhist woman explaining different aspects of the temple to us. We stayed there for lunch, and enjoyed a vegetarian meal.
Around the main temple complex are other smaller temples similar to the Ludi Temple. We visited one, where Jeff, Matt, and Liz had their fortunes told. First, they had to burn incense to the bodhisattva. Next, they picked up a small wooden cup containing a number of small sticks with numbers on the end. They were then told to face the bodhisattva, think about what they wanted to know about, and shake the cup until one wooden stick fell out on the floor. The numbered stick corresponds to a collection of sayings — they are written poetically, and need to be interpreted by one of the people working in the temple. To make a long story short, Jeff and Matt’s fortunes were not good, so they were told to “give the fortune” back to the bodhisattva; Liz’s fortune was OK, so she got to keep it!
Xinlou Village, Tangnan Township, Fengshun County, 20 June 2001
Ethnicity and Globalization
Today I’m going to talk a little bit about my own work. I left the students with Profs. Xiao Wenping and Li Xiaoyan and went out for a day trip with my friend and host Prof. Fang Xuejia, another teacher from the Hakka Research Center, and Peter Tan (a PhD student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA) to visit what may be a future site for a collaborative research project. This site is located in Fengshun county — one of the seven counties that is part of Meizhou Prefecture. Fengshun is the southern most county in Meizhou, bordering another prefecture that is also largely populated by people who speak a different dialect (Chaoshan) and who consider themselves a different ethnic group than the Hakka. Xinlou village, an area that Prof. Fang had worked in earlier, has ten thousand people, almost all of whom are surnamed Luo (the same as my Chinese name). The area has historically been dominated by this lineage, and social life today continues to be shaped by lineage processes.
The picture on the top is a wide view of the old walled village that contains the ancestral hall of the founding ancestor of this area. The picture below shows us talking to some lineage elders (Prof. Fang is seated, second person in on the left side). They have raised an enormous amount of money to rennovate their ancestral hall and publish their genealogy from lineage members inside and outside China (most of their overseas Chinese relatives had immigrated to Thailand). Their ancestral hall rennovation alone costs over 70,000 RMB. There are a number of issues that make Xinlou an interesting case study in understanding ethnicity and globalization. First, kinship continues to be a dominant principle organizing local social life (of course, global capitalism is another). Second, and this is the main question that we will try to answer, is that they had considered themselves not to be Hakka prior to the post-Mao period. They largely still speak a different dialect, but as they did genealogical research to reconstruct their genealogy, they discovered they were indeed Hakka. In essence, they switched ethnicities sometime during the post-Mao period — at the same time that globalization has increasingly become a part of village life in Xinlou. We will need to do much more research to see if we can answer these questions.
Delivery for the Deceased, Meizhou, 21 June 2001
Ling-guan Temple, Meixian
Today was another day trip to different locations in Meixian, the county bordering Meizhou City. Our first stop was Ling-guan Temple, about 45 minutes away by van. Our van took us most of the way up a mountain and we only had to walk up a fairly small part of the way to reach the temple gates. The Ling-guan temple is one of the older and larger temples, founded by a Chan (Zen Buddhism, as it is known in the West) monk. What was especially interesting for everyone was a chance to watch a Buddhist ritual being performed. We arrived on a day when an overseas Chinese person asked some monks to perform a ritual for someone who had passed away. Six monks recited a sutra (Buddhist scripture) for the deceased. In the picture, Sarah Li is pointing out the items that have been laid out for burning to Jen; the monks reciting the sutra can be seen in the background.
The sutra recitation lasted close to two hours — in the middle of the recitation, we made a quick side trip further up the mountain to see another temple. We came back in time to watch the end of the sutra recitation, after which the paper items that were brought to the temple were burned. Paper and wood structures are made to resemble material items (everything from cars, televisions, to the clothing, bridge, and pagoda that they are burning here) and are burned to transfer these items for use by the deceased in the spirit world.
Our timing was fortunate, to give everyone a chance to observe these rituals for themselves — such is the nature of fieldwork. We also visited the ancestral home of Marshall Ye Jianying, a famous Hakka general who saved Chairman Mao’s life during the Long March, and other places around the area.
Living in the New China, 22 June 2001
Today was a day where the students struck out on their own, by foot or on their bicycles. A few days ago, we found bicycles for everyone to use to make getting around the city easier for everyone. Although people in America have images of Chinese people pedaling around cities and towns on sturdy bicycles, life in China — even in rural Meizhou — is changing rapidly. Many people indeed still use bicycles to get around, but those with the income to do so are increasingly buying motorcycles and cars to commute to work. China’s economy is highly dynamic, and many people in China have increased their standard of living (although such an increased standard of living has resulted in a more stratified society). Global capitalism, through the reliance of people’s everyday livelihood and the consumption of commodities and media, touches all parts of China as people strive to make their dreams come true (or at least just get by). Everyone in the fieldwork team has seen and experienced such traces of globalization through their observations of everyday life here in Meizhou.
Little Rome, 2001, 23 June 2001
Little Rome is a pseudonym for the village where I have conducted extensive fieldwork. I call this place Little Rome (a nickname that others have used for this village)because nearly everyone (about 95%) in this village of close to one thousand people is Catholic. Today, some students came with me to visit old friends here (others went to visit a local orphanage). I first visited Little Rome in 1993, and have been coming here every year during the summer to do research; my wife Rebecca and son Patrick also lived with me in Little Rome for more than a year in 1996. As you can see from the picture, the village is largely a farming community; however, many of the young people who call this place home actually only live in the village part-time, and are working in the areas bordering Hong Kong. Every year that I visit, the village looks different. There are many new houses and improvements to the infrastructure that are very noticeable. In the church compound, the pastor has built a new 4-story building to house the diocesan convent (they are now training 6 novices) that recently moved to this Catholic stronghold from Meizhou City. The fieldwork team was interested in seeing the place that I talk so much about; my ethnography about Little Rome is being published by Stanford University Press and will soon be available.
Nightlife in Meizhou City, 24 June 2001
Today was Sunday, a day of rest, but also a day of fieldwork. More precisely, it was a night of fieldwork for Jen and Liz. Tonight, they went to a club called the “Heavenly Disco,” located in a posh area by the Mei River (in fact, it is located in the hotel that the Butler faculty stayed in last summer during a study tour of China). Liz and Jen met a group of 9 friends that were out on the town (some of them are pictured above). The atmosphere of the Heavenly Disco was a surprise to Liz — in what seems like a sleepy rural city, the club was much like the nightlife in Shanghai. They had a fun evening, and they learned a bit more about what life is like in Meizhou.
For me, this is a good technique for the fieldworkers — to explore areas that are already familiar to them in the U.S. and see the social and cultural differences at their fieldsite. This club, and others like it, are also indicative of the consumption-driven culture that is both promoted by a Chinese state that wants to maintain its high level of economic growth and by Chinese people who want to live the good life that they see in images of modernity on television and in the movies.
Double Five Festival 2001, Meizhou, 25 June 2001
Today was the Double Five Festival (the 5th day of the 5th month in the Chinese lunar calendar; also called the “Dragon Boat Festival,” or in Chinese duanwu jie), another time for families to get together. As you can see in the picture, we got together as a group on Jeff and Matt’s balcony — an unusual occurance lately (because of the size of the balcony, Matt is below where I was taking the picture). Sinologist John Lagerwey describes the traditional Chinese explanation for this festival as honoring “poet and minister Qu Yuan, unjustly accused and banished, who committed suicide on this day. Another role of this festival was exorcistic, with plants hung on the doors to frighten demons away” (“Festivals and Cults among the Hakka”, China Perspectives, [4:28-34], p. 29). This is also the time for Dragon Boat races, which is why the festival is also known by that name. These races are competitions between different lineages (surname groups), and are highly contested events where different groups may get into fights with one another. I had earlier gone out to dinner with the staff of the Hakka Research Center to celebrate duanwu jie, and was surprised to find everyone together when I returned at 9:00 pm on Jeff and Matt’s balcony.
Duanwu jie is also the time to eat zong zi, glutinous rice cakes that are wrapped in leaves and steamed. They taste delicious, especially after dipping them in sugar. The zong zi are pictured here to the right.
This was also time to say “see you again” (goodbye in Chinese, zai jian) to Jen, who is returning earlier to the U.S. Later that evening, she took a train with a family of Jiaying University English teachers from Kansas, who happened to be returning to the U.S. at the same time. We wish Jen yi lu ping an (literally “a peaceful road,” or more colloquially a safe journey home) until we see her again in Indianapolis.