Phase 1: Posing Real Questions

Updated 3 months 3 weeks ago

In Phase 0, I chose my topic (Local Legends/Spirits/Myths). Now, I am in Phase 1 where I will be posing big questions and gaining some knowledge regarding my topic. 

What do I already know about my topic / Where did I learn these things / What else do I want to learn about these topics?

Growing up as a Taiwanese and moving to Shanghai at a very young age exposed me to many different legends and myths throughout my childhood. In school, my elementary Chinese teachers recounted many great myths, like the ferocious beast "Nian", and the clever but brave "Monkey King". Although my knowledge about general Chinese myths is quite extensive, I do not know much about the legends native to Xizhou. Apparently, the local religion in Xizhou is quite complex, so I am quite curious if the legends are as complex as its religion. Legends and myths are mostly passed down from generation to generation, and each version is probably different from the last. I would like to ask a variety of locals to talk about a certain myth and compare each story to see if there is a difference. This experience will definitely be eye-opening and very nostalgic, which is exactly why I chose this topic. 

I have some prior knowledge from reading the inquiry projects done by past students and talking to Mr. T. According to them, the local elders at Xizhou have lots of old myths and stories to tell, so I hope I will get a chance to talk to them. During one of our meetings, Mr. T told me about the mysterious ficus trees. Apparently, when the locals started cutting down trees in the mountain, they always left the ficus trees to be. Although the ficus trees were a lot closer to them, they always avoided them and went further up the mountain to collect their materials. I found this very intriguing, because what made the trees so sacred that the villagers would be willing to walk further up instead of cutting down the tree that was closer to them?

In order to help make my Microcampus experience more successful, I did some research in Phase 3

Below is a list of 10 questions related to my topic, Local Legends/Spirits/Myths. This will serve as a "fuel" for my upcoming experience in Xizhou. The italicized words are my answers (based off of my current knowledge) to the questions. I have not done any research to answer these questions (yet), so the purpose is to provide a sense of what the answer would look like later on. 

Jia Ma

How does jia ma change over time?
The style of the jia ma do not change much over time. The ideas may be different, but the styles still stay the same. It is hard to tell which jia ma is older when you are purely looking at the design. [14]

What are the uses for jia ma?
Jia ma can be used for almost anything. It is often burned as an offering for the ones who have passed [7], a good luck charm, a representation of a god/goddess (similar to a statue), or even a solution to a problem.[13]

What type of wood is most commonly used for jia ma blocks?
There are many different types of wood used for jia ma, but most people use wood from a pear tree. [13]

What is the printing process of jia ma?
The printing process for jia ma is relatively simple. You first pour some ink onto a plate with spongelike material, and then use a brush to apply it onto the block until the block is evenly coated. After, you carefully place a piece of paper (usually flower paper) on top, and then first use your hands to smooth it out, and then use a brush. After a few minutes of smoothing it out, lift up the paper carefully and you are done![13] 

Is jia ma still used today?
Jia ma can be used anywhere, although not many use it. Jia ma is still used in some traditional Bai homes. It is often placed in the kitchen, or on top of the front door. Some old people use jia ma when they are building a new structure. [8, 14]

How do we preserve the art of jia ma?
Many people lost interest in jia ma and only a few do it as a living. Being a jia ma master does not pay much, and they do not get much recognition. However, if people start respecting and actually get to know the art, it will encourage more people to do jia ma.[14]

Are there any people that are still producing jia ma?
Jia ma is slowly fading, and not many people produce jia ma. During my inquiry project, I found out that nobody in Xizhou produced jia ma. There are only two well known masters, Mr. Zhang (the one I met and another Mr. Zhang who lives in Zhoucheng.[14]

Religion / Myths

What are the local gods (Benzhu) in Xizhou or in other villages?
The local god in Xizhou is Da Peng Jing Shi Niao, a god with a bird head. The benzhu for Ma Jiu Yi village and Zhoucheng village are both Da Hei.[12]

What are some popular myths told in Xizhou?
A pretty popular myth is the one about Da Hei. He was sent by the Jade Emperor to punish the people by poisoning them. However, Da Hei pitied the people and drank the poison himself. His snake in his hand tries to suck the poison out of him, but the poison ended up being too strong. Da Hei and the snake's skin started turning black, hence the name "Da Hei" The people in Dali were amazed by the feat and decided to worship him in order to thank him. [7]

What is the most commonly worshiped god / goddess in this region?
Da Hei Tian Sheng or Guanyin. I have seen the statues of both gods in local temples such as Jiu Tan Sheng, Ba Mu Se, and Ziyun. Da Hei is the local patron god of Ma Jiu Yi and Zhoucheng, while Guanyin is generally worshiped everywhere.  [8]

When I arrive at Xizhou, I hope to ask the villagers about their interpretation of the myths (as said above) and also to interview them about the ficus trees. I would also like to know more about their local religion, but Mr. T advised me to not go too deep, due to its complexity. It will definitely be challenging due to my Chinese not being that great, but I will still try to do the best I can. 

I have created a set of 10 big questions in Phase 1, and now I will move onto Phase 2, finding helpful resources.

Hello! My name is Debbie S. and I am 13 years old. I am Taiwanese and I love swimming and roller coasters. Applying for Microcampus was definitely one of the best decisions I have ever made, and it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Even though the experience only lasted for four weeks, the memories will stay with me forever.