Dragon boat festival also happens to be during the monsoon seasons. Flooding in the Zhu Village has become an issue. This is evident especially in the Pan Clan Shrine area. Hearing from the villagers, the Zhu river used to continue into the village and passes in front of the Pan Shrine. However, the river has now stopped before the shrine and many parts of the pre-existing river have been infilled with earth to enable construction of buildings. Keeping the rivers within the village flowing might be an important way to sustain a drainage system that has proved to work over the centuries in the village.
After the rowing ritual, guests are brought to the Grand Shrine (Pan Clan Shrine) where there are hundreds of seats for Dragon Boat Lunch. Ladies of the village can be seen preparing and serving food for the event. It is worth mentioning that there are no females allowed on dragon boats and they are seen to cause bad luck to dragon boats. Instead they are tasked with preparing huge amounts of food for guests and local villagers.
Following the sounds of drums, a dragon boat appears from the start of the river. The boat carries with it around 60+ people and drums and flags of a different village in Guangzhou, Liede Village. The host village then welcomes the visiting boats with fire crackers and also start their own boats. The event is not a competition however. Dragon boats are rowed up and down the river in smokes of fire crackers and sounds of beating drums. The louder and busier the ceremony is, the better.
I was able to meet Yang Jing, the Head of Culture Station at the local street (Zhuji Street) and she explained to me many of the traditions of the dragon boat festival in the Zhu Village. The earlier a visiting boat arrives, the more important the family bond is to the host village. In fact, Liede is a brother village of Zhu Village and as a sign of respect for their kinship, Liede was the first dragon boat to appear.
Early in the morning of the day, dragon boats are dug out of Zhu river. The villagers tell me that hiding the boats in the river protects the boats when it is not in use.
Around 9am in the morning, people started gathering at Zhu River at the entrance of the village, despite the light rain. Many of these people are nearby residents from urban villages in the area (the region is predominantly made up of urban villages). Speaking to some of them, I found that while some came purposely to watch the event, some have been attracted by the crowd. The close proximity of the river to the main roads and entrance of the village helped gather them to the event.
Along the edges of the river there are a couple of boats lying adle, with drums, charms and all necessary equipment ready on board. These boats are from Zhu Village and carry with them flags and drums with the Pan surname. As time approaches 10am, rowers started boarding the boats. What fascinated me was that there were a lot of young people on board, including a couple of kids (less than ten years old). After speaking to them, it became clear that all of the people on board are either villagers or their relatives. They had to go through a bidding process to get a place on the boat. The rowers then have to go through months of training before they are ready for today’s event. It is interesting to see that there is so much interesting in the traditional event from the village. However, it also confirms that there is no participation opportunities for migrants in these activities. They are neither entitled to participate nor have the money to bid for a place.
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.
As I arrive in Guangzhou, I was able to meet Professor Chu Dong Ai from South China University of Technology. She is the author of the book (above) which looks at Zhu Village from the perspective of anthropology. She spoke to me about the different experiences of doing research in Zhu Village and got me into contact with local street authorities and some heritage academics.
Stepping out of Yangji Village train station, I found it especially difficult to find any signs that this is technically a ‘rural’ piece of land. Highrise residential towers and office buildings, highways and bustops are all that one can see. What hides within the ring of modern buildings is a demolished migrant enclave turning into gated communities. Yangji Village is one of the few urban villages that are being redeveloped in Guangzhou. Its location of close proximity to the new city centre meant that pressures on the land is too high for it to remain as an urban village.
The plans for the redevelopment of Yangji Village is indicative of the typical style of a urban village project – wholesale demolition, reconstruction of gated communities, historic buildings are demolished and regathered in a corner of the village (here I have highlighted it in purple).