Phase 1: Posing Real Questions

Updated 3 years 8 months ago

With the wide variety of topics available for us to choose to investigate further on, I have decided carefully with consideration to work on Silver Smithing as my final inquiry project topic in Phase 0. I have also recognized suggestions from previous student examples that would help me as I move forward. In this Phase, I established investigations focusing on my topic to build background knowledge.

I already know that Silver Smithing, my topic, plays a huge role in the Bai minority's culture as it is used to decorations and clothing. It is a traditional art with complex skills inherited from generations to generations. Although the amount of skilled silver smiths is gradually decreasing due to the development of machine manufacturing, it's still a valuable intangible cultural heritage. The art of crafting with silver includes many complicated steps and a variety of different skills and tools. I learned about these general information from a documentary that I watched on TV before, as well as some previously existing background knowledge of Chinese minority groups. 

There are in general many different aspects that I want to learn more about. Firstly, I want to investigate further on artistic backgrounds, culture, and history of this specific skill. I am willing to discover more in topics such as the background family story of silver smiths as I know the inheritance of silver smithing may face problems, the creation/development of this crafting skill as I know it is a big part of the minority history and it likely has a long and diversified history, and the artistic side of its creation as I know that the principles of design and the art elements play a huge role in its crafting. I believe there would be many interesting and fascinating stories that I will hear about at this village behind those inherited door frames and the well-crafted decorations. I would love to explore more about these general topics once I get a chance at Xizhou. 

Secondly, I want to learn more about the creation and specific skills required for silver smithing, and, if possible, try it out myself to get a real sense of this amazing crafting skill. Understanding the process of the creation of a piece step by step and trying to be involved in part of the creation process would truly be my main purpose with this inquiry project. The fact that the chunks of silver can be made into such refined objects is truly fascinating and I really want to learn about it. As someone who loves making art, it would be very fortunate for me if I could create a simple piece myself. I would appreciate an opportunity like such a lot. 

I will be conducting more background research on this topic in order to understand it better and develop the Big Questions. I will work on this in Phase 3, where the results can be found. 

The list of Big Questions are meant to be the initiates of our research process once we reach Xizhou. They are what I am wondering about and what I want to find out, listed out purposefully in a sequence where each inquiry would naturally connect and lead to the next in order to make the research process more fluent. I also grouped them into specific categories of silver smithing: 1~3 cultural connections; 4~6 techniques and skills; 7~10 inheritance. The words in italics are possible answers that I give to the questions without conducting any research. 

The following list of Big Questions have already been answered with my research at Xizhou in Phase 3, please visit the page for more details. 

  1. What are the relationships between silver smithing and Bai minority's culture?
    I think there is a very solid relationship between silver smithing and the Bai minority culture since most of its application and mandates are for cultural/traditional purposes. Silver smithing could be an essential and unique aspect of the Bai minority culture.

  2. Where did silver smithing originate from in the Bai minority culture ? How? Why? 
    I know that silver smithing has a long history that can be traced back to ancient Chinese times. It might have originated because of the demand for such fine jewelry from the royal family, resulting in the inheritance of the crafting techniques for generations and generations.

  3. How does silver smithing reflect on the Chinese culture/traditions?
    I believe the Chinese culture/traditions can be easily found in silver smithing designs and products, in forms such as symbolic plants and animals, as well as meaningful Chinese characters. The purposes of silver products can also be reflecting on a Chinese tradition/belief as they could be made

  4. What are some applications of silver smithing in the village?
    The most common applications of silver smithing are probably on traditional clothing and daily equipment. However, I think there might also be some other special applications of silver that may be related to the Bai minority traditions or culture. 

  5. What are some specific techniques, skills, and designs unique to the Bai minority culture?
    I think there must be many silver smithing techniques, skills, and designs specifically unique to the Bai minority, especially in relationship with the environment it was developed in and the cultural aspects. They may have deep connections with the local history, culture, and origins. 

  6. How do the traditional silver smithing techniques compete with the modern machines?
    I believe that there must be aspects of silver smithing that the modern machines cannot compete with. Moreover, the values in its crafting techniques is what truly makes it precious. The history and culture behind it is what machines and never duplicate.

  7. How is silver smithing inherited in Xizhou?
    Silver smithing could be inherited in families down continuously to the next generations. However, there may be issues if it's only inherited this way. Therefore I believe that the silver smiths may also accept apprentices as a solution. 

  8. What are some issues and challenges of inheritance that silver smithing is facing? How could these issues possibly be resolved?
    A problem that the inheritance of silver smithing is facing may be the lack of inheritor since many youths in such villages now a days want to leave the rural area and explore the urban cities. The issue could possibly resolved by increasing the interests and raising awareness of local children on this subject. 

  9. Is silver smithing protected as a cultural heritage in the village? How?
    I believe silver smithing must be protected in the village by multiple influences such as the United Nations and the Chinese government as it is a very important cultural heritage representing unique Bai minority culture. 

  10. Will silver smithing likely be inherited in the future where the development of technology is advanced? How?
    Although the competition of traditional techniques and modern technologies has never ceased, I believe that silver smithing will likely be inherited in the future as it is not just a skill, but also the passions and cultural values of generations. Such existence, with help and protection, must be inherited despite of the challenges. 

Before heading off to Xizhou, I believe I will need to study more on some technical Chinese terms of silver smithing in order to ensure the communication with silver smiths in Xizhou happen smoothly and fluently without misconceptions. I also think I need to learn more about the cultural heritage protection policies in China in order to fully understand the inheritance aspects of silver smithing. 

With the big questions established, I am now ready to move on to Phase 2 to find helpful resources. 

My name is Stella R. I am an 8th grader at Shanghai American School Pudong campus who already returned from Xizhou as a member of the Revival group. The 27 days Microcampus adventure was truly one of the most fascinating experiences I have ever had. I will not forget about the beautiful environment with the clean air, green lands, and blue sky, the welcoming village full of cultural and historical values, and the challenging opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself in many aspects. This may be the end of the 4 weeks long journey, but it is the start of something brand new.