Posted: Submitted by wtanaka (648) on Mon, 2005-08-29 12:17. | Subject: The Fire Starter of Guizhou’s “Cave-dwelling Tribe”
This is a writeup, translated from the original Chinese, about a "cave-dwelling tribe" in Guizhou
Wang Dong-Ling, a common worker at Qinling Gold Mining, a common woman from the city of Sanmenxia in Henan, went by herself to the rather primitive place of the “cave-dwelling tribe”, in Guizhou’s Ziyun Miao Buyi Autonomous County, Shuitang Township, Zhongdong Miao village, to be a volunteer teacher. The altitude of Zhongdong Miao village is over 1800 metres; the cave is 215 metres deep, 115 metres wide, almost 50 metres high. Inside the cave reside 19 families, 87 people altogether. The Miao people of Zhongdong are cut off from the world, unknown to the outside. This branch of Miao people have been the subject of research by the national Tourism Bureau. They are Asia’s only currently existing “cave dwellers”.
The persistent Wang Dong-Ling has been in Zhongdong volunteer teaching for almost two school terms now. This allows us the chance to get a feel for Zhongdong.
April 29th, start out from Sanmenxia, by train and car, travelling into the night. It’s already noon on May 1st when we reach Ziyun.
Leaving Ziyun County Town heading south for about 70 km, we reached Darao Village in Zongdi Township. At the end of the road we disembark from vehicles. This place’s Educational Bureau comrade pointed out the windy mountain road and said to us, “On this road, it’s about 2 hours to Zhongdong.”
Fortunately, starting to climb the mountain, we ran into members of the Guizhou Starting Point Outdoor Activities Club. There were 30 of them, men and women, under the command of Zhangjun, carrying tents, sleeping bags, and food, also headed to Zhongdong. Zhangjun had been there once last year and had seed Wang Dong-Ling. After Wang Dong-Ling’s heroic efforts had been reported in a Guizhou local series of reports, he responded to members’ requests and brought them all here. Zhang Jun said, “We headed straight for Zhongdong, which is really to say we headed straight to Wang Dong-Ling.”
At this time, the sun was already beating down directly on to us. Our backs were soaked with sweat. Our legs felt like lead. Some stretches were too steep; we had to use our hands to support us. The Outdoor members had already had one of their members – a younger woman – suffer sunstroke. Her face was ghost white, she was lying stretched out by the side of the road.
Following the windy mountain road, we entered the heart of these deep mountains, where aside from the mountains, there were only more mountains. It felt a bit oppressive.
Standing on the mountainside from where we could look across to Zhongdong (Zhongdong means “middle cave”), you get a good perspective of the whole area on the one mountain slope are altogether three big caves. The ones on the top and bottom were like huge sky bridges penetrating into the mountain range. It was only the mid-level one that was suitable for residing. Its entrance was blocked off by a heavy dense grove of bamboo. The entrance wasn’t visible – if there hadn’t been the faint sounds of livestock and wisps of smoke, one wouldn’t have thought there was human habitation there. On a relatively flat area of the mountain not far from the cave entrance were seventeen reinforced concrete houses. These buildings, to varying degrees, gave off the feel of modern culture and rural countryside life, yet without a trace of human sign, as if no one lived here. We were told that these are what the local government built for the cave dwellers to move into. But as to why the cave dwellers have not done so, we had no idea.
It could be said that if Wang Dong-Ling had never come, it would have been extremely difficult for us to have arrived.
It was twilight when we finally arrived at the cave. Wang Dong-Ling had heard people from her home town had come, and made haste to come and greet us halfway along the slope by the cave entrance.
She was from the same town as us, and we didn’t know where to start talking. On the surface Wang Dong-Ling was attentive, generous, worried how tired we were. She wore a thick down jacket.
We asked, “Why do you wear such a thick jacket?”
She said, “It’s cold in the cave, very cold.” At the time, we didn’t feel in the least cold. Our short-sleeve shirts were soaked in sweat, as if doused in water.
All for the sake of a cherished dream.
Amongst the cave dwellers – all of the Miao ethnicity - are four surnames – Wu, Wang, Luo and Liang. According to what one of the elder ones said, “The older generations told us our ancestors came here to live in order to take haven from the chaos of the war. When they first came, there were only three families. Just before and after the liberation, a few more families came.”
According to how it was told to me, in 2000 the government of Ziyun Autonomous County raised 200,000 RMB in special funds to build concrete single-story houses for the cave dwellers to reside in, not far from the valley entrance on a flat piece of land. Unexpectedly, after the people had moved into these houses for a period of time, they decided they felt unused to such living, and moved back to the cave.
Owing to the unique way of living of the cave dwellers, they are also referred to as the last “Cave Dwelling Tribe”.
After a quick tour of the premises, led by Wang Dong-Ling, boiled water was ready for us. We sat in her little room, and could wait any longer to ask her why she’d come here.
She answered, “Many people who see me ask me this. Actually, it’s very simple. A few years before, I wanted to find somewhere in Yunnan or Tibet to teach, be a volunteer.”
On May 3rd, 2003, Wang Dong-Ling was watching a CCTV program on the west, about a primary school for the cave dwellers in Ziyun Autonomous County’s Ma Shan (Ma Mountain) area.
When she saw these students awkwardly perform the flag-raising ceremony, and the innocent manner of the children standing under the flag, eyes full of a thirst for knowledge, it made her immediately decide, “Go there!” She then wrote a letter, enquiring of the conditions there.
Wang Dong-Ling was born on Dec. 11th, 1973, in Lingbao City to a revolutionary family. Her father had been in the army, was one of the bright lights in the Liberation army. The family had moved around with the father, to Tibet, Shandong, Beijing, etc. In 1993, after Wang Dong-Ling graduated from Sanmenxia City Medical College, she was placed in Qinling Gold Mining Workers Hospital as a laboratory assistant, and worked there steadily for eleven years.
After less than a month, Wang Dong-Ling received a reply from the school’s principal, confirming that facts were as portrayed in the television documentary. At the same time, he also reminded Wang that conditions in Zhongdong were extremely difficult, and asked her to seriously consider her decision. This had the effect of making Wang Dong-Ling even more resolved.
During the time of SARS, Wang Dong-Ling went to Zhongdong to volunteer teach. She arrived there in August.
On August 20th, Wang applied for a half-year sabbatical from her work unit (danwei). It was accepted, but she had to forfeit all salary during that time, and every month was still obligated to pay her work unit a 20 RMB Social Services fee. She didn’t tell her work unit of her plans, nor did she tell her family. On the 29th, she withdrew all her savings, as well as borrowed some money from some of her closest classmates, and immediately boarded a Xian-Chengdu train to Guiyang. She eventually reached Ziyun County on September 2nd.
Wang’s aspiration was to teach in a place a few thousand miles outside of town, in Zhongdong. Only her nephew knew. Just before she was to set off, she handed him a letter, saying, “After I’ve arrived in Ziyun and have called you, then you can give the letter to my mother and father.”
Wang Dong-Ling had taken the first step.
We noticed when we were there that wherever Wang went, a crowd of cute children were inseparable from her.
When she first arrived, Zhongdong primary school had only two years, 1st and 2nd grade. Aside from the school principal, she was the only other teacher. Her responsibilities were teaching math, nature and physical education. Later, 3rd and 4th grades were added, and the county sent two women substitute teachers who’d just graduated from the Teachers College. Life in Zhongdong was getting exciting.
Obviously, Wang’s Chinese was the most standardised. At the start, she wasn’t used to teaching or the living conditions in Zhongdong. But she was full of passion and the desire to learn, and gradually became used to the lifestyle of the Miao people there.
Unable to write lesson plans, she would ask the principal for advice. She even went down the mountain to a township far away to seek help there. She said, “There is no boulder in the world that cannot be moved, you just need tenacity, you can’t give up.” This was something that came naturally to her, but most of the children around her were not used to taking such initiative, and this put a sense of distance between Wang and them, and made it difficult to communicate on an emotional level. Some of the children’s basic education was very lacking, some couldn’t concentrate in class. Accordingly, Wang Dong-Ling undertook to have more of a game-oriented teaching method. During math class, she would write formulas on the black board, and have the students pretend to be doctors, and see who could cure the problem of the blackboard first. Accordingly, with this method, very soon students were being much more involved and proactive in class. For those students whose basic education was very poor, or who couldn’t concentrate, Wang’s teaching method was based on love, to motivate them and get closer to them.
On the 2nd of May, the sun was shining. We were sitting in the shade outside talking with Wang Dong-Ling, about the odds of us Sanmenxia people all here together in Zhongdong. Who would have thought. Wang Dong-Ling was still wearing that same thick down jacket. She didn’t need to say it, as it was obvious - during the winter, the cold winds, the snow blizzards, the days and nights living in bamboo houses. It could not have been easy.
Wang Dong-Ling didn’t speak about her personal life. She first told us about the school, her students. Just then a young female student ran by us heading down the slope. Wang called to her. She was a second grade student named Little Liangxiang, who went by the nickname of Freedom Soldier (Ziyou Bing). In class, Freedom Soldier was very inattentive. As soon as school was out she would hurry straight away to home. Wang went to her family to enquire after her and was told the situation. This little 9-year-old girl was the major household worker for the family. Her older brother was in the township in the sixth grade, her little sister was in first grade in Zhongdong. Outside of heavy labour, all other household matters fell on the shoulders of Little Liangxiang.
A few of the students had similar circumstances to this, like Wu Liao-Guo, Gao Liang, etc. Wang Dong-Ling made it a point to get close to them and their families, and gradually understand their situation. After the children get up at seven in the morning, their first duty is taking the cows up the mountain to pasture. They return home at 8 o’clock, and start school at nine. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when school lets out, they must hurry up the mountainside to tend to the cows, and if they have any spare time, they help their parents with the farm work. It’s only once night has fallen that they return home. Such small children with such a busy and tiresome way of living, year in and year out. Wang Dong-Ling doesn’t complain, doesn’t lose hope. She only has understanding, empathy and patience.
So outside of class time, Wang goes with the children up the mountain to pasture the cows and play games with them, thinking of ways to get closer to the children, to make them like her. Gradually, it is working. They all call her Big Sister (Jie Jie), and like to be around her. Today, wherever she goes, she is surrounded by a playful gaggle of children, making Wang feel as if every mountain cave is full of happiness.
That day, when Wang Dong-Ling was returning to the cave, night had already fallen. As she neared the cave entrance, she noticed a cluster of very young saplings suddenly shake, startling her. Thinking an unsavoury person was lurking about, or some wild creature, and seeing there was no place to hide, she grabbed a rock to give her courage, and picked up her pace. Shortly she saw what it had been – a group of monkeys. When she arrived back at the cave entrance, the children has already gathered there, and were preparing to light a torch and go to meet her. Wang Dong-Ling started crying. She feels she will never be able to leave these children.
Wang Dong-Ling doesn’t have living quarters at the school. She lives with the family of Wang Feng-Guo. Their living quarters are very crowded. They took the small room that used to be for the kitchen, cleaned it up, and gave it to Wang Dong-Ling to use.
The Miao people of Zhongdong still live a very primitive way of life. Living inside a cave, digging fire pits, house walls made of bamboo fencing, which light and wind can penetrate. The kitchen and living quarters are also separated off with bamboo. There are no ceilings in any of the rooms. From nightfall to morning, all work is done in the dark. To simply be warm and eat one’s fill are toilsome tasks. The average annual income is just 200 RMB. Ten months of the year they eat rice mixed with corn (as opposed to pure rice). After the grain runs out, they are dependent upon government relief, or sweet potatoes and yam, to make up their diet.
The level of hardship of the Zhongdong Miao has to be seen to be really believed. The most valued possessions of a household are the water vats and a big metal cooking wok, as well as the home-brewed 10-odd percent alcoholic corn liquor. Not calculating in the family livestock and poultry, every household’s wealth is only a few hundred RMB.
Extremely poor and used to a rough lifestyle, these people, along with their cows, goats, etc., live, eat, defecate and urinate within the confines of the cave. There is no sunlight, no breeze. Year in, year out.
Wang Dong-Ling doesn’t light her own fire to cook. With the Wang family, she has two meals a day of corn rice. Once a day they have boiled vegetables. They add a bit of salt to the vegetables, and in the ashes of the fire cook a few chilli peppers, using their fingers to scoop food into their mouths. Two worlds, two ways of living. Wang Dong-Ling had a difficult time adjusting when she first arrived, often hungry to the point of blacking out. One time she did pass out from hunger; the Wang family thought she’d been possessed by a demon. They splashed water on her face, and performed some rites.
Wang Dong-Ling said, “I was so hungry, I even wanted to eat chillies.
There is no electricity, so the villagers go to bed very early every night. With nothing to do, and nowhere to go, Wang’s only choice is to also envelope herself in her quilt. But the quilt is damp, and flea-ridden. It makes it difficult to fall asleep. At this time of night, it’s utterly quiet within the cave. The sound of the rumbling of the spring water flowing into the livestock drinking pond, over fifty metres above, sounds like the “rustlings of heaven”.
Wang Dong-Ling has been writing in her journal. These journal entries detail her days and nights at Zhongdong, recording her happiness, angers, sorrows and joys during her time here. She has witnessed the arrival of electricity to Zhongdong, last year on the 20th of November at 634 in the evening. She has also witnessed in February of this year the process from start to finish of building a toilet in Zhongdong, and has recorded on March 30th of this year the first time the people of Zhongdong had watched television. Electricity, toilet, television, these ordinary words, in Zhongdong they have an extraordinary meaning.
February 25th cloudy
March 9th clear
The power went off in the evening. Close to 9 o’clock at night, parents of one of the students finally arrived back at Zhongdong with the books.
March 10th clear
March 19th, Zhang Xiang-Mao (head of the Qinling Gold Mining Office), Liu Jun-Liang (Committee Secretary), and Wang Dong-Ling’s brother showed up at Zhongdong. They were visiting Wang Dong-Ling as representatives of their work unit, and at the same time passing on to the primary school monetary and food donations from the employees of their Gold Mining work unit. Zhang Xiang-Mao told Wang Dong-Ling that the work unit had decided to offer 1000 RMB every month for her living expenses. What’s more, the work unit was going to take over paying Wang's Social Service fee for the duration she was teaching at Zhongdong. Now, her example was setting off an upsurge throughout the entire Gold Mining work unit. It was something she never expected, and the news excited her tremendously.
Something that Zhang Xiang-Mao and the others hadn’t expected were the extremely lacking conditions of Wang Dong-Ling’s living and work environment in Zhongdong. They stayed in Zhongdong four days. The donations they brought were 10900 RMB from the Gold Mining Worker’s Fund, 2000 RMB from Hexi village, and another few thousand RMB worth of food.
March 26th, Ziyun Autonomous County Committee Secretary Chen Hao-Li escorted four big heads of leading companies along with heads of relevant bureaus to the Zhongdong local affairs office. Chen Hao-Li said “Wang Dong-Ling’s touching efforts, it’s like one rock creating a thousand waves. If Ziyun wants to thrive, it should study Wang Dong-Ling.”
The local affairs office decided upon three matters the electric company will make all the residents as well as the school exempt from paying their electricity bill; strengthen the teaching staff by selecting three thoroughly trained and experienced teachers to send to Zhongdong to teach; and the County Cultural Production Bureau was to undertake the installation of a satellite ground receiving station, to enable residents to be able to watch TV and receive more stations. Other concrete factors listed out in the tentative plan concerned water, roads, methane, etc.
The school is located at the back, innermost part of the cave. The classroom and teacher’s living quarters, as well as blackboards and desks, are all new. This was donated by the Shanghai Traffic University. At night, we slept on the school desks. The number of people who are concerned about Zhongdong is growing day by day.
May 3rd, morning, a few tens of people brought rice to Zhongdong. It is a little something being donated by the teachers and students of Shuitang and Yanjiao primary schools, for Zhongdong primary school. They are certainly not comfortably off, but still, they donated 1400 pounds of rice and 60 pounds of dried noodles. After the week-long May 1st holiday (Labour Day) ends and school resumes, the teachers and students need not go hungry during lunch break.
Zhang Guo-Xing, the head of the Ziyun Autonomous County branch of China Agricultural Development Bank (who has since been promoted to a higher branch in the city of Anshun), came many times to see Wang Dong-Ling and the teachers and students. He also donated 600 RMB. He requested all staff members to go to Zhongdong and take a look, and think about their situation. The new head of the bank has a bad leg, and though has tried several times, had yet competed the journey to Zhongdong. Recently, with the help of others, he finally made it to here. He feels the initiative shown by Wang Dong-Ling should be the joint initiative of the spirit and culture of enterprise.
Wang Dong-Ling says “My experience in Zhongdong has been enough to inspire me for a lifetime.”
Last year, Wang Dong-Ling asked for just a half-year’s leave. She was sure she would only volunteer for that long. But now, as the fall term looms just around the corner, Wang Dong-Ling appears unexpectedly back at Zhongdong, luggage in hand. No one is happier than the students. They say “Teacher Wang, we have been waiting for you for three days already.”
The students take her luggage, some try to pick her up. Wang Dong-Ling says “It’s fortunate I came back, or the students would have truly been disappointed.”
What most propelled Wang to “twice enter the mountains” was something that an old American said. During the second half of 2003, an old American named “Hulanke Bode” came on his own to Zhongdong and decided from that year on, every Christmas he would give every family in Zhongdong 800 RMB, and give 400 RMB to every teacher at Zhongdong. He also invested 300,000 RMB to connect electric cables from the foot of the mountain up to the village. When this American met Wang Dong-Ling, he was moved deeply. Holding her hand he said, “In America, volunteers are very common, in China very rare. I can feel it, your hand is cold, but your heart is warm. You are a bright light.”
Zhongdong receives tremendous amount of attention these days. Five second year students at the Guizhou Minorities Institute - Yang Yu-Hong, Lin Juan, Wang Qing-Qing, Huang Zhu-Yan and Ban Da-Li - use the week-long May 1st holiday to come to Zhongdong to volunteer, teaching the students to sing The Internationale in Miao language and dance minority songs. Tu Xiao-Xia of Xifeng is now Zhongdong primary school’s second volunteer, and is part of the teaching faculty there. May 1st was the most festive and joyous day yet this village had ever seen. Zhang Jun brought 30 members of the Guizhou Starting Point Outdoor Activities Club to Zhongdong to set up their tents. In the evening, in a small clearing, a huge bonfire was prepared. The Miao families were there, along with the teachers and guests. The Minority institute students were urging the festivities along with their dancing and singing, etc. etc.
Wang Lian, a substitute teacher at Zhongdong, is a happy and generous sort. She graduated in Anshun as a kindergarten teacher. Every week, she comes from Bazhaigebei a few dozen miles away, carrying rice and vegetables. During the May 1st holiday she doesn’t have to come, but she thinks, since Wang Dong-Ling is up there in the mountain, she will come too. But this time she has no vegetables, just rice. She says “The energy of Wang Dong-Ling is tremendous. We young people should learn from it. She’s a city woman who has come to the mountains, willing to live a hard life. The kind of hardship she endures is something most people wouldn’t be able to bear.”
Guizhou University students Ze Xiao-Qun, Zhang Yuan-Bing and four other students hurried in the dark of the night up to Zhongdong to see Wang Dong-Ling. Zhang Yuan-Bing is a student leader. She said with emotion, “We are fourth year students, we have to write our theses, look for work. Teacher Wang Dong-Ling is a huge inspiration for us. What she does is meaningful. I believe any person couldn’t help but be moved by what she’s done. We hope we will be like her, truly helping people that need help by offering our strength.
A young couple who work for Guizhou Property Tax Bureau arrived with their child. The husband, Feng Jian-Jin, said, “I was born in a village. I was in the army. I know what it means to suffer hardship. My child needs an education. I want him to know about Wang Dong-Ling, to know about Zhongdong. From Wang Dong-Ling, I can see hope.” His wife dug out 200 RMB from her purse and put it into Wang Dong-Ling’s hand. “Dong-Ling, you suffer must hardship here.”
Wang Dong-Ling’s personality is such that she wouldn’t be able to take the money. Later, the money was given to us, and we gave it to Wang Feng-Guo, at whose home Wang Dong-Ling was living.
Huang Bin, an older Japanese fellow, came to Zhongdong accompanied by his Shanghai friend Yu Zheng-Ying. Huang Bin could only go to the foot of the mountain, as his vision was impaired, so Yu Zheng-Ying came up to the village as his representative. She was very moved, and also regretful her Japanese friend couldn’t make the trip himself. She said to Wang Dong-Ling, “Child, you’re a good person.”
Another Japanese visitor to Zhongdong is a reporter for Chao’ri News, and after leaving, wrote many dispatches concerning Zhongdong.
Liu Tai-Xing of Jilin works in a bank. The parents brought their child thousands of kilometres to Zhongdong. The child wants to study abroad, and before he goes, the parents wanted him to see Wang Dong-Ling. Before departing, they gave Wang Dong-Ling 500 RMB, which she immediately passed on to the school.
A specialist working for the French Snow Iron Dragon Company in Wuhan used his vacation time to come to Zhongdong. Via a translator he told us, the impact of Wang Dong-Ling resonates loudly in the outside world. According to a comrade in the Ziyun Autonomous County Education Bureau, there are already more than twenty young people throughout the country who have gotten in touch, inspired by Wang Dong-Ling, and want to come to Ziyun, to Zhongdong, to volunteer teach.
Wang Dong-Ling’s work unit has been very supportive, and given her the highest reviews. The head of the work unit Zhang Xiang-Mao put it like this – “The spirit that Wang Dong-Ling embodies has a wide-ranging social meaning. During a time when business is not doing well, it is not only that the value of gold is down - the bigger picture is we are lacking spirit and strength. Wang Dong-Ling is a striking woman. We not only want to support her in her endeavours, but also take responsibility by caring for her, loving her, helping her, and even more we should help her in her work. Our company needs workers like her. Educational work in Ziyun County’s poor areas and socialist work of creating enterprise need this kind of example.
April 26th, afternoon, Wang Dong-Ling gathers together the 3rd and 4th grade students. She reads a book with them, then gives them a rather ground-breaking test. The questions are very easy. There are only two
1. What do you want to do when you grow up?
Very soon, the completed tests were collected. Wang Dong-Ling discovers the answers are all the same, and very surprising. First, when they grow up they all want to be farmers. Second, the people they most like are their mothers and fathers. Some of the children added an explanation – it is only by farming that you will have food to eat. If you don’t like your mother and father, then there will be nothing to eat. In short, both answers in a nutshell were so we can eat.
Faced with this kind of an answer, what can Wang Dong-Ling say about it? In one year, the number of students had increased. The appearance of the school had also undergone huge changes. But the students’ thinking was still imprisoned within a wall of poverty, of “cave-dwelling tribe” kind of thinking. Her heart was heavy.
In Zhongdong, Sun Bao-Hua, the head of the Guiyang Labour & Society Insurance Bureau, said with a great sigh, “Now in this country, 70% of young people do not test well enough to enter high school. If you wanted to take a great number of farmers and relocate them into the city, the crux of the problem is the quality of the labour force. Vocational education is the heart of village education. It could be said that village vocational education and China’s university education are equally important. If you say that villages cannot bring about modernization, then you also have to say that China cannot bring about real meaningful modernization.”
But we have seen the hope of Zhongdong. Wang Dong-Ling is brave, she has sown the seeds, and it could set the prairie ablaze. Behind her come supporters of morality and justice, people with similar ideals and aspirations.
Chen Chang-Qiong, a member of the Communist Party’s Ziyun Autonomous County’s standing committee and head of the propaganda bureau, is a warm-hearted comrade. Her work involves liaising with intra-county culture, television broadcasts, education, travel, etc. She said, “It is already decided that Zhongdong will be included in the Getu River Province-level Famous Scenic Spots Plan. The development of tourism is changing the Zhongdong Miao people’s poverty and backwardness. The plan is to take the Zhongdong primary school and move it to a flat area in a nearby village. Make Zhongdong a step more reformed. Make the villagers able to preserve their original aspect, but allow them to have a more modern, civilized lifestyle.
Zhang Wang-Si, the deputy head of Ziyun Autonomous County’s Committee Propaganda department, has written a number of reports about Wang Dong-Ling. His primary school-age son often receives educational awards at the province and city levels. During the May 1st holiday, he entrusted his son to Wang Dong-Ling. He wants his son to study under her at Zhongdong.
Wang Dong Ling? Always very calm, she says, “When I am here, I am a good teacher. Back home, I am just a worker in an ores factory.”
Editor Men Jie-Dan
Translation by Amy Wright of Haiwei Trails
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