welcome to the journey to Gayuan.
you'll see what I see,
and feel what I feel,
in the ancient village among the mountains.
“Wild fruits are growing.”
Locating in a mountainous area in southeast China, the rural village Gayuan is where I grew up. Like in many other villages, people here still live a traditional farming life. By telling stories of Gayuan, and taking the self as a method, I’m trying to share a methodology of how we can situate ourselves within the Nature shared by other (living/non-living) beings, observe our complicated and intense connections with them, and reflect on what we are as human beings.
Here I want to tell a set of little stories of Gayuan, besides my thesis and video stories above, to reveal the grand and invisible map where we are all connected together.
Herbs are very important for our medication and daily cuisines. The herb agrimony grows randomly by our yard. Once after we weeded for the oil tea grove, my grandpa collected some agrimony to make soup, because it would help him recover from tiredness after days of weeding work. Then I knew the function of this herb (I looked it up on Wikipedia and found ancient European also use this herb in a similar way). And grandpa told me they also used to eat it, together with many other wild plants, to get through the serious famine happened decades ago.
My understanding of it before was simply that when the flowers drop, and the seeds grow mature, they can easily stick to your clothes. Especially when I was a child, I always carried a lot of seeds with me unconsciously after playing in the fields. It’s interesting that it’s not just we use them as medicine or food, but they are also utilizing animals, including human beings, to transport the seeds and multiply themselves.
At the same time, many more animals are sharing relationship with the plant. Birds visit our yard for seeds t eat or nesting materials every day. The small clump of agrimony is the habitat for a kind of lynx spider. Butterflies and honey bees come for collecting pollen. It’s also available for our chicken and duck.
Chinese honey bee
Let's avert the sight from agrimony to the honey bees. One day I saw a few of them seemed to be prospecting in the house. And the next day, tens of thousands of them came to set their nest.
The bees are pollinating not just for our vegetables, but also for the roadside wild grass which might be ‘nameless’ to us. The ordinary behavior of them can actually help a lot with the ecologic environments in the village to grow its biodiversity. Even the biggest predator animals can be influenced positively from it, because the food resource for them can grow richer.
When it’s time for rice flowers to bloom in the late Summer, bees will be busy pollinating in the fields. I never knew how they could have a direct and deep influence on the growth of my own food, until I witnessed them flying around the fields when I was taking a walk. After the pollination, white liquid with protein, starch and nutrition will slowly fill the husk of rice, then it would grow solid and become the rice we harvest and eat.
Tea oil camellia
Persicaria thunbergii (Latin name)
Honey bees also have to face many threats. For instance, when my family make rice wine every year before cold winter, a few bees might smell the wine and fly into the room through, but forget the way out. Unfortunately, they would possibly keep hitting against the glass window until die.
There are many predators of honey bees, including jumbo dragonflies, robber flies and my another neighbor, Chinese paper wasp.
The biggest threat could be Asian giant hornets. They usually stay and wait by the entrance of bees’ nest and capture them very easily. A giant hornet also appeared on the day of the wild bees moving in the house. They are the biggest, and one of the most poisoning wasps in the world, being known as ‘murderer hornets’. My grandpa’s dog died because of saving him from attack of an army of giant hornets around 10 years ago. So except working hard in the mountains to maintain our life, there are many danger we have to face when interacting with Mother Nature.
Asian giant hornet
Chinese paper wasp
The stories are endless to tell, but let's take a step back to have an overview of what is happening in between. If we list all beings mentioned in the interconnected stories above, and map the connections within, it would possibly be like this:
But it’s too simple at its form and content, and can be improved in many ways: 1).It could be in three dimensions and be colorful; 2).Many more beings should be involved in a more complex way; 3).More subjects will appear if I continue the stories; 4).Most importantly, connections being listed in between are lacking their complexity. When facing threats like hornets, we might easily tend to think they are evil, but after learning their outstanding ability of reducing the number of pests for our crops, we would then possibly think them to be friendly. But such way of thinking is actually deeply human-centered. So the map should also be dynamic and developing all the time. Each being exist for the aliveness of themselves.
Through the reflection, I found my narrative still being limited within my human language and perspective. It seemed there would never be an ideal model of the complex relationships of creatures of the entire world. But why do I bother to model it when we are already a part of it? It is existing in the reality we are living in, and what we can do is only to sense it through our close observation into the nearest surroundings in our everyday life.
Through my daily practice of it, it seemed like I could start feeling the existence of my cells growing, dividing and dying constantly. I can feel the aliveness of the air, the water, the bacteria and the virus in my body; I feel my surroundings; I feel the wind and the light, and I breath with them; I feel all beings that form the landscape I see, and form the world. Ultimately, I’m connected with the universe.
From a small village, I sense the endless existence of life that interconnected with each other. And I try to make a narrative of my own aliveness in it. It reminds me the idea of Dao proposed by Laozi over 2000 years ago.
“It is regarded as the Mother of all beings.
I do not know Its name, except to call It Dao.”
-Laozi, Dao De Ching, Chapter 25
According to Laozi, “Dao” is not a "name" for a "thing" (I suggest he named it only because our limitation as human beings, that we can only communicate by naming and defining things). Dao was born from the nothingness of the beginning of the Universe, and developed nonstop. Dao is the underlying natural order of the Universe whose ultimate essence is difficult to circumscribe due to it being non-conceptual yet evident in one's being of aliveness.
Dao is far beyond our understanding as human beings, and we have to admit our ignorance that we can only speak for ourselves rather than representing for any other being. So I prefer saying human narratives, including my narrative here, as something within the human-ecosystem. It’s a term I use in my thesis to describe human’s Dao. When developing one’s human ecosystem, people should be also included. Unlike our social network, there should not only be your families, colleagues and friends on this map. We should also reflect on our connection to people like the delivery men, the street pedlar, the city builders and restaurant waiters. Beneath their occupations, they are the same human beings who are maintaining their aliveness like any of us are doing. It could be hard to imagine that my grandpa and many of the villagers used to be sent to cities by local government to build roads voluntarily for free when they were around my age. The convenience for citizens is possibly costing or have cost real people’s labor which should be counted in the human ecosystem.
Doing so is actually a process of objectifying and problematizing the self, which makes the whole idea completely on the contrary of narcissism. We care about the world but not ourselves, but due to our limitation, the self is a better start point to comprehend the meaning of our existence and its tight and pluralistic connection with our surroundings, which is already a big step of connecting to the world by situating firstly.
Gayuan as the method
Gayuan is the miniature world for me to practice this methodology. A part of the village is so remote from modernity and yet it can still be current and be connected to grander global topics that we are all facing together. With over 20,000 files of photos, videos and audio in my devices, and together with the memory of growing up in the village, I’m putting them together to tell personal stories of Gayuan. Hopefully it can resonate with my audience and become a vivid example of how to root oneself and grow stronger after. Like the subtitle of my thesis, it’s a return to rural life as a way of heading forward.
I want to honor my villagers through the video stories, and make them feel proud of their hardworking in the mountains. Because they usually think it’s valueless comparing to those ‘decent’ and ‘high-class’ work, according to my daily conversation with them. I also want to remind people who left Gayuan the beauty of it. It’s a common phenomenon in China that young generations migrant to cities and seldom go back, forgetting the rich culture and philosophy of life back there like I used to. To people who admire and fantasize rural life, I want to show them the reality I’ve experienced in Gayuan, which can be very different and even cruel for them. To those who are not familiar with it, I want to show them a different aspect and possibility of life for human race.