My hometown is Sichuan Tibet where I had never lived before. But my grandma was from here After my she passed away, I started to wonder about my Tibet cultural identity. As a designer who grew up in the city, I try to explore a rural herdsman Tibetan family from my own perspective and to reflect on my life in the city. How is their rural life affected by urbanization? And the opposite: how urban life can be influenced by the rural lifestyle? In the process, I saw the gap, conflicts, and inevitable co-development relationships between the urban and rural. As a matter of fact, rural and urban are not two isolated areas. In China, through four decades of development, skills, products, and even values, all flow and influence each other in this loop. I am also part of this loop and I work under this circumstance.
But there are also obstacles, due to differences in living habits. These differences are reflected in every object during our daily life. Behind these differences, there is a huge gap in culture, environment, and education, between urban and rural areas. In other words, the objects show our differences.
How to banish those obstacles? I think exchange could work to bridge the differences. Therefore, I proposed an object workshop. The workshop will consider two aspects: online and physical. The information online on the website or app of the project will be classified into two categories: urban and rural objects. These categories will conform to different workshops. The public can get the information and introduction of objects which they are interested in, through the platform, and they can also book online to join the workshops in the different sites. The data obtained through the finished workshops will be also uploaded to the platform.
So this is my plan in the urban-rural loop:
Every five years, the Chinese government will announce the next five-year plan. This year is the 14th five-year, which contains all aspects of the society development, and one of the important parts is about the urban and rural constructing program for eliminating poverty and balancing the resource between both sides. In these five years, various levels of government will set up a great number of projects to achieve this five-year goal, which includes the construction of various public hospitals, schools, communities, and tourism facilities, etc.
I would like to assemble the object workshops as a program- urban-rural integration. I want to associate my program with these construction projects. Meanwhile, it can be used as preliminary research for specific projects, and the collected data will be returned to the on-go project and advertising of the urban-rural integration program at the same time. On the other hand, because all these projects are based on the national plan, I can apply with this project for support from various national funds and institutions. Based on this structure I designed three levels of workshops in urban-rural integration programs with different projects.
The first level of workshop design is about the exchange of knowledge for daily life objects. After changing each other's environment. Participants will use one common material to make objects in their current context, and collect items to form a daily ritual to explore and understand each other's lives.
The workshop design in the second level is about the exchange of teachers and school locations. Participants will be students and teachers, and they will get a local material that is not familiar to them to make objects, and local workers will provide technical guidance. Finally, we will collect all works to have a specific theme exhibition.
The third level of the workshop is about experts exchange. Traditional experts will go to the urban environment, while urban experts will come to the rural area. Because it involves technological operations and professional knowledge, I designed two stages. The first stage is learning and observation. The second stage will be practice by combining traditional and modern technology to create an integrating result in this specific context
Nomadic Life In Aba County
In 1959- 1961, The Great Leap Forward led to famine in the Chinese countryside with an estimated 30 million villagers dying. My grandmother moved out of the country to the city for surviving, during that hard age. In the next 40 years of economic development, China has experienced significant changes in urban and rural transforming, including collisions, paradoxes, abandonment, cultural destruction, and of course, the improvement of living standards. Throughout the last decades, the concept of the "New Modern Socialist Countryside" has made the Chinese rural an ongoing site for experimentation with consecutive implementations of radical land reforms. In 2013 the countryside reached a state of limbo: neither modern nor traditional, industrial nor agrarian, new nor old, rural nor urban.
My grandmother is from Aba County, the Tibetan autonomous county of China, in the Sichuan Province. I lived with my grandmother when I was a child and was greatly influenced by her. This project, for me, is trying to experience and understand the original Tibetan nomadic culture that I have lost, by studying a nomadic family in Aba. Nowadays, herdsmen in Aba County are different from life in my grandmother's memory, because the closed geography and culture have opened up due to modernization. So，I am curious what is the nomadic living pattern in Tibet's Aba County now rural people and their descendants who have settled in cities as far away from my remote hometown like me also feel culturally lost? I asked this question to my friend, Rita, who was born in Aba County and moved out of the countryside to the city with her father when she was seven years old. She is my connecting person for this research in Aba County as well. She said she was grateful that her father had let her leave Aba County for modern education, but also felt pity about her life in Chengdu had almost lost her Tibetan cultural identity. She did not notice those changes in her daily life. Even after returning to Aba County to live with her relatives for each Chinese New Year, she still maintains the values of city life. She has instilled the modern education concepts with her relatives in Aba County. This difference in values, to some extent, make her hard communicating with her relatives in Aba County.
Generally, for cities' residents, the impression of nomadic life is mostly based on the documentary about traditional culture and short-term travel experience. On the other hand, people living in remote areas do not seem to realize that a variety of new products is gradually replacing their regular lives. These modern products offer more convenience, efficiency, and cheapness, and seem to be more refined. And the beautiful urban life expressed by mass media has encouraged many young labours in China's countrysides to give up traditional experience and live in cities in the past few decades. Indeed, all this is based on the necessary urban and rural policies of the Chinese government - as of 2018, nearly 100 million rural people in China have moved to cities becoming city dwelling. And the government still promotes the modernization policy at a rapid rate in national full . This irreversible change affects both rural and urban areas. Therefore, what is the impact of modernization on the lives of residents in remote Tibetan Aba County? What are the contradictions between modern and traditional life of residents? What are the fundamental reasons cause these living conflicts?
In China's remote rural areas that have been isolated in its history, the environment and culture are both relatively fragile. The popularity of industrial products and urban lifestyle in the countryside also undermines the local climate and traditions in a fast way. As villages in China undergo such rapid and dynamic changes, the question for me is whether it is possible to balance a sense of history with a sense of forward-looking development in this area. By understanding the current changes about the past, design interventions may act to preserve continuity between past and present, sustainably proceeding future transformations of the countryside, instead of rudely breaking rural culture. As a designer, what is the appropriate way to cooperate with local villagers and to participate in the process of modernization?
This research sets out to investigate the residents' life within rural-urban transformation (by taking one Tibetan family as an example) in Aba County through fieldwork, interviews, and documentation. The goal of studying such micro-conditions is to gain a further understanding of local culture associated with the environment and villagers' daily life. I hope to discuss with the herdsmen the changes occurring in their learning and their unique skills. Even though most villagers don't realize the value of their traditional culture, I tried to learn the traditional knowledge that they had almost forgotten and neglected. Thus, those technologies can readopt in their daily life with a reasonable way to cope with the impacts of modern products on the traditional culture. Afterwards, I can explore transforming the value of a specific vernacular culture or knowledge into a technology with relatively universal implementation.