Traditional village-based networks have always existed in communities along the Longchuan River and are especially valued by older people. In past years, for instance, there was a practice of sourcing quality rice seeds from a specific area of Jietou Township of Tengchong, Yunnan Province. Every two years, farmers went to villages at lower altitudes to select those seeds that grew so well, bringing their own grain and other items to barter. Not only did this exchange preserve local rice varieties, it maintained friendships and relationships among villages.
A kind of self-sufficient craft-scape existed along the river. Villages teemed with artisans who made many items for people’s daily lives. On market days, people came from all directions, on both sides of the river, bartering items like eggs, rice or salt, or bought necessities not locally produced, like needles, thread and yarn.
Strong bonds connected communities. People worshipped the same gods. The young visited the old, infirm or families in bereavement. Gift-giving was common: rice at funerals, and rice, eggs, fabric and thread at births. Neighbours helped build houses in a kind exchange of labour.
Yongan village was a centre for artisans and many festivals. Villagers came from surrounding areas to celebrate here, with the lantern dance and shadow puppet shows at Lunar New Year being a time of deep spiritual sustenance.
With the economic development of the 1980s and onward, society has changed. Machines replaced handicrafts. The demand for labour declined. Artisans moved elsewhere to do business. New roads brought goods from faraway places. A cash-driven market economy replaced bartering. The traditional variety of Jietou rice for the famous Yongan rice noodles was dying out and by the 1990s, no longer cultivated. Instead, new varieties marketed by seeds companies for higher productivity. In short, village systems that fostered mutual support, spirituality and social exchange were ending.
Witnessing this loss, elderly associations of four villages–Yongan, Datang, Yongsheng and Qiaotou–decided to restore what they could, bit by bit. A priority was the lantern dance, with all its traditional knowledge, crafts and indigenous meanings. For Lunar New Year 2019, the dance was revived in Yongan: it lasted for 14 days, and more than 100 people across the generations participated in learning how to make the lanterns, how to dance, and their cultural value. The Yongan elderly association also visited neighbouring villages to learn more about shadow puppetry, story-singing, ecological farming and traditional crop varieties.
The four associations also partner with the Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve Tengchong Administration Bureau. After learning about – and being very saddened by – the severe soil erosion caused by deforestation, the associations have worked to restore the practice of revering heaven and earth, which includes all the trees of Gaoligongshan Mountain, the source of the Longchuan River. They are also reviving the principle of “obtaining resources in the right way and using them in the proper measure” in terms of conservation. Through all their work, they build up platforms for exchange and learning; additional topics include fish- rearing in rice paddies, handicrafts, and garbage management.
The associations are restoring community networks like spiders repairing webs. One strand at a time, they have been re-connecting the communities along the river and Gaoligongshan, affirming local culture and protecting their beautiful homeland.
（from Annual Report 2018-2019）