By Zhang Yan
In 21st Century China, urban residents have become increasingly tired of identical and repetitive city landscapes of concrete, while the serenity of the countryside has revived its image as a pure locale where people seek simple happiness and inner peace.
“If we don’t faithfully document the development and changes taking place in the vast countryside as they happen, rural traditions and cultures could slowly slip away from us,” stressed Zhang Guangdong, member of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and deputy mayor of Zhoukou, Henan Province, in an interview with China Report ASEAN. He noted that during the process of rural revitalization, action should be taken to rescue and preserve historical memories of the countryside because they are an essential facet of rural culture.
Hometown in Memories
With rapid economic growth and the unprecedented pace of rural development in recent years, great changes have been happening in many Chinese townships and villages, which have been renovated to the point of being unrecognizable. Some have effectively merged into cities, while others have been transformed into scenic spots or commercial hubs.
In the process of merging, building or tearing down, these townships and villages lose traditions and huge chunks of their cultures.
“Villagers who have been living in urban areas as migrant workers for years start to get blurry memories of their hometowns,” added Zhang. “Without records of changes, even natives, not to mention future generations, will have to be reminded of what their homeland looked like from only the oral accounts of the elder generation.”
“We can’t wait until it’s too late,” Zhang pleaded. “We must begin compiling annals as soon as possible. It’s a pressing task, and we have to take action now.”
Zhang proposed that Party committees and governments at municipal, county and township levels organize and begin compiling township and village annals as soon as possible.
“Presently, the personnel engaged in compiling village annals are primarily retired teachers, retired archivists and villagers with some education,” Zhang added. “These small groups are amateur and not really capable of producing professional work.”
Zhang believes that to optimize the accuracy and scope of the documentation of each township and village, standout contributors should be appropriately rewarded and receive professional training on content, style and format of record-keeping.
However, compilation is no easy task.
First, collecting information is difficult. Most townships and villages do not have well-preserved archives, and many meeting records were handwritten by local community leaders in notebooks. Consequently, a considerable volume of relevant information can only be collected orally through talks and interviews. Second, due to a lack of manpower and funds, some annals that have been compiled are still waiting for publication. Finally, understanding of the importance of this work at all levels of government needs to increase.
Culture at the Soul
Retaining culture is essential to rural development and revitalization, and documentation of village history is tremendously significant to the preservation of rural landscapes and traditional cultures. Such documentation can help pass on shared memories and cultivate cultural identities.
“Annals compilation is an important pillar of local culture and helps rural areas embrace their culture more confidently,” Zhang explained. “It also enables their history to be passed from generation to generation and better serve the long-term development of the countryside.”
“Thanks to the implementation of the national strategy of rural revitalization, profound transformations will continue to happen in Chinese townships and villages, which is what rural residents have come to expect,” Zhang concluded. “During this process, we need an objective and comprehensive record of changes to village layout, architectural style, local cultures and customs, as well as achievements in development. It is our duty to leave shared memories and faithful accounts of village history for future generations.”