Pan Jian Ming is a villager from Zhu Village and also a deputy head at the Guangzhou Folk Literature and Art Association. From Professor Chu’s recommendation, Pan is the person to go to for culture associated issues in the village and he has worked out a name for himself in regards to intangible heritage of villages. I was able to sit down with him during the dragon boat lunch and chat about the heritage of the village, from dragon boat festival to the conservation of historical buildings.
What I found especially interesting is when speaking about the restoration of the Grand Pan Shrine, he highlighted that they used the method ‘修旧如旧’ or ‘restoring the old like the old’. And yet, looking at how they have carried out the restoration, this ‘restoring like the old’ mainly remained on the level of appearance or ‘oldness’ instead of sustaining traditional construction techniques. He explained that the money for the reconstruction comes from villagers themselves and the importance for them is that the building survives as a representation of their clan.
It seems to me that what is important very often is the outward impression that the clan makes onto others. This is especially true when shrines are male spaces. Traditionally women are allowed into the shrines two times of their lives – when they get married and when they pass away. The male-oriented shrines dictate that the focus of the shrine is on the external appearance or the look of power. The focus on the relationship between clans is also visible from the dragon boat festival where the main events of the festival are visiting and hosting ‘relatives’ (who are again, male) as a signs of respect.
Another issue that I found interesting was speaking to Pan Jian Ming’s elder brother. He raised the point that the clan system works as an invisible system that supervises the behaviour of the villagers. He distrusts migrants because they do not answer to the system. Being ‘not of the same surnames’, these people in his eyes are outsiders and are uncontrollable.