Yi, the Chinese mountain tribe | VPRO World StoriesJean Kelley March 20, 2020 3 Comments
It’s the duty of every Chinese citizen
to contribute to the Chinese Dream… …of becoming the world’s most powerful
country and restoring the nation’s glory. But what do Chinese people dream of,
while the country is changing so fast? With my camera, I travel across China
looking for Chinese Dreams. Chinese Dreams I’ve arrived in Liangshan,
a mountain range in Southwest China… …and one of the most beautiful
and remote parts of the country. This area used to be very hard to reach. Only in the last 70 years, since the
founding of the People’s Republic… …Han Chinese have moved here. Han Chinese
are the largest ethnic group in China. Nine out of ten Chinese are Han Chinese. But officially, there are 56
different ethnic minorities in China. For ages, these mountains have been
home to one of those groups, the Yi. Xi and the Yi
episode 2 How are you? Do you know who he is? Him over there. ‘President Xi is coming
to the Daliang Mountains.’ ‘This gives the Yi a warm feeling.’ Is that true?
– Maybe. What did you say? Do you know who he is? Can you understand me?
Do you understand Han Chinese? I don’t understand you.
– You don’t understand me? These Chinese people don’t speak
Chinese. That’s very difficult. Hello. Hey, come here for a second. Do you speak Han Chinese?
– Yes. I’ve noticed that a lot of elderly people
don’t speak Han Chinese. That’s right. I have the feeling that the Yi
and the Han Chinese are very different. We’re the same.
– The same? But you look different.
– That’s true, yes. It is, isn’t it? Han Chinese look different
than we, the Yi. Who are those people over there? They’re here to buy this truck. Is it yours?
– Yes, it’s mine. You want to sell it?
– Yes. Why?
– Because I don’t have any business. The economy isn’t doing well? I want to get rid of it
and stop being a driver. Are you going to haggle now? Good luck.
Don’t sell it too cheaply. A few days ago, a young Yi man
offered me 15,000 euros… …but I didn’t sell it to him. We can’t have the back being this high.
That wasn’t there before. It was put on only a few days ago. I had it put on for 50 euros,
so you can cover it with a tarpaulin. You think you’ll be selling it today? No, their offer was too low. So the sale won’t go through?
– No. Their offer was really too low?
– Yes. Why do you want to sell it?
– I don’t get any cargo anymore. The economy isn’t doing well here?
– No. So what are your plans for the future? I can drive for others.
– For others? Otherwise I’ll have to find a job. Will you have to go job hunting
in a bigger city? Where will you go? I’ll see when I’m there. I’ll go somewhere
where they offer me a good job. But if you work somewhere else,
you can’t live at home anymore. Then I can only come home once a year,
to celebrate Chinese New Year. Where does your family live?
– Over there. Won’t they mind if you leave?
– You still have to make a living. The nearly ten million Yi in China
have an eventful history. For a long time,
they lived in a slave society… …and during the Cultural Revolution,
under Mao… …they were denounced,
just like other ethnic minorities. But in recent years,
this area has been changing rapidly. This is due to current president
Xi Jinping’s crusade. It’s his ambition to eradicate poverty
in all of China by 2020. targeted poverty reduction But what does this mean for the Yi?
And what is the price of this progress? It’s like we’re the first Westerners here. It’s really an event. Do you have water? And green tea?
– Yes, we do. Are you Yi or Han Chinese?
– Han. Why do you, as a Han Chinese,
live in a Yi area? This is a mixed area.
Most people who live here are Yi. A mixed area, then. How do the Han and Yi
get along as neighbours? They live in the mountains, where there’s
a lack of water, and poor sanitation. Their children don’t get a good education. That’s why they’re different from us here. They aren’t civilised?
– Sometimes they aren’t. That’s the reason. If your son or daughter… …ended up in a relationship with a Yi,
would you object? Absolutely not. But their way of life is so different,
it wouldn’t happen anyway. But the Yi who live down here
do send their children to school. There are schools in the mountains,
but not all the children go there. How can you develop yourself
without education or knowledge? Do you speak Han Chinese?
– I don’t understand. How are you? Do you live here?
– Yes. Are these new houses?
– Yes, they were built by the government. Do you prefer a mud hut or a new house? The new houses are pretty nice… …but we’re simply used
to those mud huts. What’s life like around here today,
compared to how it used to be? It’s much better now than in the past. Can I see your house?
– Of course. Where is it?
– That way. Please come in.
– Okay. This is our kitchen.
The bedroom is over there. Have a look in the kitchen.
– Pretty spacious. No, it’s not that big. What was your previous house like?
– A bit smaller than this one. This is a traditional Yi kitchen,
without tables or chairs. Is this tradition important to you? In our kitchens, we have one large pan
and we eat around the fire. That’s our custom
and we don’t want to change that. In the past, the cows were stabled
inside people’s homes… …so also where the cooking took place. Life must be tough here. Slowly, things are changing. Indeed. Shall I make a fire to get warm?
– No need. To roast potatoes?
– No, thank you. Your Chinese is very good.
– It’s not that good. Can I see the other rooms as well?
– Sure. This is nothing like a mud hut. True, but we feel very comfortable.
There’s more comfort here. President Xi.
– He’s our president, yes. I used to be afraid of Han people. I was afraid that they were out to harm us. But now it’s different. Now we have to move
with the times as well. Our life is changing,
also how we think about Han people. Now we believe that the Han Chinese
have our best interest in mind. Also in the past they actually meant well. That’s how we think about it now,
but in the past we weren’t as positive. In the past, we only worked as farmers.
We knew nothing of the world. We never thought far ahead. We didn’t look at ourselves
and we didn’t think about the future. We used to think that way,
but we have changed. Looking back on it now,
our ideas were actually very backward. Really? What’s this? Are your children studying hard
to learn Han Chinese? Yes.
– Really? Chinese history. Those are my children’s books.
– Your children’s? Can you read this?
– No, I can’t. Which school do you go to?
– The one down here. We do our best to learn Han Chinese. I told my children
they should do the same. When I think of the next generation… …it’s good for their career
if they learn Han Chinese. Our children should have
a better life than us. Our generation has learned nothing.
That’s why we have no future. How old are you? I’m thirteen.
– How old? Thirteen? What would you rather speak,
Han Chinese or Yi? I’d rather learn Yi. But they don’t teach us that in school.
– They don’t? I don’t understand
what your mother is saying. She wants to cook for you.
– No need, it’s okay. Thank you. better housing leads to better lives There’s another huge billboard
with propaganda on it. I’ve seen a lot of them since I got here. Nowhere else in China
I’ve seen as much propaganda as here. This sign says:
The belief in spirits should be banished… …and replaced by good, healthy customs. This makes me wonder how the people
who still believe in spirits are affected. The Yi are animists. They believe in spirits of humans,
animals, plants and mountains. Therefore, rituals are
an important part of daily life. They’re performed by a specially
designated person, known as a bimo. Hello. There you are. I’m Ruben. I’m Riga.
My name is Lainbo Riga. Come in, have a seat.
– Thank you. You’re welcome.
Have a seat over here. So you’ve come.
Thanks for coming. This is Lainbo Yiji.
That’s his name. He’s my father.
– Your father? What’s this?
– Bimoist scriptures. What does it say? Have a look. It’s about health.
– But I can’t read Yi. This is all for the bimo. Your mother isn’t well? She has pain in her back and shoulders.
We’ll practise magic for her. Does she have arthritis?
– Yes. But traditional Han Chinese medicine
simply doesn’t work. Can you explain something to me
about Yi culture? What exactly is the function of bimoism?
– Bimoism? In our culture, bimoism provides… …protection and good health. It protects us from evil. We believe that this ritual
has existed since time immemorial. This ritual already existed
before there were doctors and hospitals. It’s passed down
from generation to generation. Is it an old tradition? Very old.
– How old? Bimoism has been around
for more than 6,000 years. It’s been around for many generations,
and now it’s up to us. It’s on my shoulders. Aren’t you afraid the government
will ban bimo culture and exorcism? If the government says spirits don’t exist… …we won’t do anything involving spirits.
We only do what’s allowed. But you can’t practise it the way you want.
– We can, just nothing involving spirits. This ritual is without spirits.
– You can’t mention them. Spirits don’t exist. But if it were banned,
you wouldn’t be happy about that. Without the government
we wouldn’t have this new China. That’s why we should
listen to our government. Can he remember if he was allowed
to practise rituals under Mao? It wasn’t allowed back then.
It was forbidden. We couldn’t even keep
these scriptures in our homes. Really?
– We hid them in the mountains. After the Mao era, when the reforms
came, we brought them back out. The bimo might say
spirits can’t exist anymore… ….but I have a strong impression that I’ve
just witnessed the exorcism of evil spirits. The young bimo invites me
to attend another ritual the next morning… …in his new house in the next village. Where does bimo Lainbo live? He lives over there.
– There? Thank you. Lainbo?
– Come on in. Here I am.
– Hello, welcome. Here I am. How are you?
– Fine. Have a seat.
– Thank you. Your house looks nice.
– No, not at all. He’s my nephew. I’m his uncle.
– His uncle? Here in Puge, in the entire county,
I’m a kind of chieftain. Really?
– In Puge, I’m the chief of the Lainbo tribe. Nice to meet you.
– Thank you. Thank you.
– You’re welcome, have a seat. In China, there are
a few important traditions. And there are a lot of
ethnic minorities in China. We have fifty…
– 56, right? No, there are only 51 in total.
– How come? The Hala, the Ganma… …the Wuni, the Chishe… …and the Nibu. Those five minorities
don’t have any offspring anymore. Why don’t they have
any offspring anymore? Or have they been assimilated
in Han culture? No, no assimilation. But they don’t pass down
their culture and rituals like we do. Like this ritual here. What’s your impression of President Xi?
– I have an impression of him. At least he came to Zhaojue County,
to the Daliang Mountains. He shook hands with the poorest man.
That made a huge impression on me. I think we should do something in return.
I was tremendously moved by it. It took away a lot of my reservations,
you know. Is this a sensitive subject?
– A little bit, yes. This is about the relationship
between the Yi and the state. Do you know our history? In the past, people with our background,
chieftains, landowners and rich farmers… …didn’t have the right to find a job. Have you heard of Mao Zedong?
– I have, yes. During the Mao era, my father
was publicly shamed every day. When I was three years old,
they let him freeze to death. Really?
– Yes, so how can I love Mao Zedong? Then you can’t love him, no.
– Wait, I’m saying all the wrong things. I’m glad to have met you.
– Likewise. Poor rooster. We do what President Xi says:
All evil must disappear. What a day. A bimo who can make
a dead rooster crow… …and his traumatised uncle
who criticises Mao. I’m shocked by his openness, because
in today’s China, people rarely talk… …about the scars
left by the Cultural Revolution… …and how the government restricts
the freedom of ethnic minorities. I return to the village
up in the mountains… …to visit the man in his new house
and walk his son to the village school. I’m back. Good morning. How are you?
– Fine. Is it far to your school? Is it far?
– No, not so far. Let’s go then.
– Thanks. You walk pretty fast.
– Not at all. Are you worried you’ll be late? We won’t be late. Is your teacher strict?
– No. And if you do something wrong?
– Then she is. What does she do then? If we make mistakes,
she beats us and shouts. She really beats you and shouts at you?
– Yes. And then?
– That’s all. That’s all? Does it hurt? No, not really. What do you want to be later?
What do you dream of? I want to be a soldier
and join the commandos. Really?
– Yes. Why?
– The commandos are super tough. Super tough?
– Yes. And what exactly do the commandos do? They catch bad guys. Come here. Who is she? Your teacher?
– No, she looks after us. She looks after you? Does she look after you?
– Yes. Was she railing at you? Yes.
– What did she say to you? She asked us to go there. What is she talking about? Go on, the headmaster
is about to take the roll call. We have to go that way. We have to go up there?
– Yes. It seems it’s not so easy
to visit a school in this area. What’s going on? The headmaster
is about to take the roll call. The gate is locked pretty tightly now. We have to go up there?
– Yes. Shall I follow you?
– Yes. Maybe we have to visit
the government office first. And now we wait?
– Yes. But why?
– No idea, but we can’t enter right now. We can’t enter?
– No. We’re not allowed to film inside?
– No. Do they have to do something first,
like tidying or cleaning? They do?
– Yes. No problem. They take it very seriously though.
– Yes. Are you nervous?
– Yes. What are you scared of?
– The headmaster. What, your headmaster?
– Yes. Why? I’m bringing you to school.
I’ll get into trouble for that. Will it cause you problems?
– Yes. I’m sure it won’t be a problem. Why are you hiding there? Hurry up, come to school. Okay.
– And don’t bring him with you. Just wait here, I’m going to school. I can’t come along with you? He’s just visiting. I can’t help it either.
– So cute. He can’t come along, you hear. It was his idea. He’s scared he’ll get into trouble
with the headmaster for bringing us. Are you the headmaster? Are you from here?
– Yes. Are you Yi?
– Yes. I’ve found him again. Can I enter?
– Yes. Here I am. The good students are in the front
and the naughty ones in the back? No. That little boy in the back,
is he a good student? The one in the back?
– Yes. Compared to the rest, he’s not so bad. Is he naughty?
– A little bit, yes. Write your name on it. Read the questions carefully
before you answer them. Only answer a question
if you understand it. And try to write neatly. But do it yourself.
No cheating. Head up, that’s bad for your eyes. Are you Han Chinese?
– I am, yes. What was your first impression here? When I first came here,
I thought the building was run-down. If it was raining outside,
it would be trickling inside as well. Had it been up to me,
I would have immediately left again. Really?
And then what happened? I kind of got used to this state of disrepair. And in 2015, the school
was completely renovated. Is teaching Chinese to ethnic minorities
a form of assimilation? I think it is. By learning Chinese
they acquire more knowledge… …and they can also learn
better hygiene, for example. In the mountains, the sanitation
used to be very bad. Through knowledge,
they become aware of hygiene… …plus they transfer this knowledge
to the people around them. Many students already start working
when they’re only 13 or 14. That young?
– Yes. Now that they come to school
for an education… …they have a chance
at a better standard of living. More and more Yi parents
think education is important. At least it offers them
a chance for improvement. Do you think the development
in this region… …will eventually cause
Yi culture to disappear? Yi culture?
No, I’m not worried about that. They’re learning Han Chinese, but that
won’t make them forget their own culture. The next one or two generations
they won’t forget their Yi culture. But it’s hard to say how things will go
after that, with all this development. You don’t know.
– Who’s to say? Attention. Let’s summarise last week’s subjects. In terms of personal hygiene,
you’re doing better than last week. The girls managed to keep
their dormitory very clean. But the boys’ beds aren’t tidy enough yet. Before you go to bed, don’t forget… …to wash your hands,
your feet and your face. It’s almost summer. There’s a strange smell in the dormitory. So pay attention to your personal hygiene. I hope you’ll do something
about that this week. Did you hear me?
– Yes. arise, ye who refuse to be slaves with our flesh and blood
let us build a new Great Wall as China faces its greatest peril from each one
the urgent call to action comes forth arise, arise, arise millions of but one heart
braving the enemies’ fire march on
braving the enemies’ fire march on, march on, march on Study well, and you’ll make progress.
– Yes. Thank you. The national anthem
still needs some practice. It might look harmless, but what I’ve seen
in this region sets me thinking. Economically,
the Yi are better off than ever. And education connects the Yi children
with China and the world for the first time. But this progress means that their age-old
culture, language and identity may be lost. Then these misty mountains will lose
their magic, and that is irreversible.