Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 1 year 1 month ago

In Phase 3, I will be researching and learning more about my topic, Local Stories/Legends/Myths. Previously, I chose my topic in Phase 0 and asked thoughtful questions in Phase 1.

Background Information (From Phase 1):

Due to my limited knowledge in this area, I had to research and talk to different people. I first started off with talking to Mr. T and read some past inquiry projects about my topic, which really helped me get a good foundation. Although the students who did my topic were scarce, I still got a lot of information out of it. It was a huge help because they wrote from a student's angle, and was a great introduction to my topic. However, in order to further my understanding, I had to do some research online. I knew that most of the population was made of the Bai people, so I decided to approach my research from that angle. Mr. T and the inquiry projects all warned me to not go too in depth into the religion of Xizhou, due to its complexity. Because of that, I decided to research the most famous/important Bai Minority myths (which are probably still told in Xizhou). After researching, I found out that the most important myth in the Bai minority was the story of the "Creation of the world". The myth was split into three different parts- the Primordial times, the creation of the world, and the creation of man. During the Primordial Times, humans did not exist. Instead, the trees and rocks were able to move freely, and every animal could communicate and talk. The second section told the story of Panggu and Pangsheng, who created the world. The last section recounted the story of how Guanyin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy created Man[2] Guanyin hid a couple of brothers and sisters inside a golden drum, who created humans after the flood. 

Only a few people did my topic, so I tried to get as much information as I could out of the two inquiry projects. Hillary C, from the Revival trip, provided a great description of her experiences in the village. She also wrote down some quick background knowledge, which allowed me to learn a bit more about my topic [1].

My main focus for my topic is ficus trees. Ficus trees, or ficus benjamina is a tree that can grow up to 30m if grown naturally. It is native to Asia and Australia and is also the official tree of the Bangkok. It is very popular houseplant due to its durability under harsh conditions and is easy to take care of. However, I believe that the ficus trees we will see will be extremely different than the ones we see in houses. However, the roots grow extremely fast-- which causes many problems for cities and residential neighborhoods[5].  Apparently, when the locals started cutting down trees in the mountain, they always left the ficus trees alone. Although the ficus trees were a lot closer to them, they always avoided them and went further up the mountain to collect their materials. Apparently, ficus trees are also considered as a symbol of thrivingness, which could be a reason why the trees are so sacred is[3]. However, they serve an even greater purpose- ficus trees are an important part of burial rituals. When a person passes away, the brother and the wife carry the casket around the city square and then sets it next to the ficus tree. Then, the people in charge of burying the dead bring the coffin up the mountain and buries it there[4]. When I heard this, I was extremely interested and wanted to learn a bit more. Since I will be using photography to help document my final project, I needed to know some background information. I talked to my dad, who is a huge photography enthusiast. He taught me some basic things, so I do have some background knowledge in that aspect. 


Information from Local Contacts:

Mr. Du, an antique dealer that has countless old antiques. He was kind enough to show me his antiques and the stories behind it, which were extremely beautiful. 

Statues of the gods and other deities in Chinese Mythology
-Da Peng Jing Shi Niao is one of the local Benzhu gods. He is depicted as a bird. 

-Pangu, one of the creators of earth and the god that lifted up the sky 

-Fa Niu protects the people from floods and other water-related disasters

-Zhi Shui Huang Nan sends infants to mothers that do not have children

-Lei Kun, a bird-headed god that strikes lightning from the heavens

-Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy and commonly worshiped by people and liked by both 

-Li Yuan Bang, an extremely strong general that was feared by everyone. He carried two iron clubs that were very heavy, but powerful. 

-Dragon Staff/Cane: the dragon staff was made out of dark wood. According to Mr. Du, it was a retirement gift for a person from a very wealthy family. 

-Guan Gong/ Guan Yu: An important figure from the Three Kingdoms period, and eventually made into the god of war and loyalty. 

-Nu Wa: Created the first human beings using yellow mud and repaired the pillar of heaven。

-Cai Shei Lao Ye: He sits on a tiger, who loves eating humans. In order to keep the tiger in line, Cai Shei Lao Ye holds a whip. Mr. Du told me a Chinese idiom about this piece: Cai Sei 不开口,老虎不是人. This basically means that if Cai Sei is not strict with his tiger, it will start eating humans. Apparently, this piece was hidden during the Cultural Revolution, because similar pieces were destroyed. The statue is made out of dirt, but the base is made out of wood.

-Ru Lai Fo Zhu: He was born when there was no ground or sky, which made him pretty angry. Frustrated, Ru Lai Fo Zhu lifted one finger up, and the other down. Miraculously, the sky and the ground appeared. 

Other Information 
-Many of the statues were kept in temple caves

-Most of the statues are made out of rock, but a few are made out of wood

-Mr. Du sells some of his antiques to museums

Information about Jia Ma

-Jia ma is often burned as offerings for the deceased. They also burn fake money with it.

-Zhao Jun Lao Ye is a god that is commonly depicted in jia ma. People usually place him in the kitchen, hence the name "kitchen god"

-The offerings are usually burned on 7/14 (lunar calendar)

-Can also be used to get rid of spirits

-Jia ma was used even before the Tang Dynasty

-Jia ma can also be placed on the main entrance

-People also created a jia ma that has designs like the ones on money, which allows them to create a lot of fake money in a short amount of time

Mr. Tian, the owner of a gallery with lots of traditional Bai Minority things and also the owner of a guesthouse. Mr. Tian was nice enough to show us some of the 甲马 (jia ma), which are basically little
paper charms. He also has a lot of handmade wool stuff such wool rugs, and wool vases. 
-Da Hei (大黑)is a very popular god that is commonly worshiped in the Dali area. According to Mr. Tian, the gods sent Da Hei to punish the people of the Dali Area, by poisoning all of them. Not wanting to poison the people, Da Hei drank the poison and prevented the people from getting poisoned. In return, the people thanked Da Hei by worshiping him and praying to him. However, the poison made Da Hei's skin turn black, hence the name "Da Hei". 

Mr. Yang Wen Dong, is the owner of the Old House Cafe. He is not a local, but he has been here for a very long time. Mr. Yang has a son and is familiar with SAS's Microcampus program. He is also pretty fluent in English.

Information about Jia Ma:
-Jia Ma is a type of ancient block printing, used for religious purposes and also for art. 

-Originated in Zhongyuan

-Originally a Han tradition but it spread to the Bai minority and has become a big part of their culture. 

-It is common to stick three jia ma depicting Zhao Jun (the kitchen god) in a traditional Bai minority kitchen. 

-Nobody really knows when jia ma actually started, because it was such a long time ago.

-Jia ma is also placed in temples and mountain temples

-There are not any jia ma placed in the temples in Xizhou because not many people know and care about them, and it is slowly fading and disappearing because of that. 

-Schools do not teach about jia ma anymore, which makes it harder to preserve the art. 

-Not many people carve jia ma as a living anymore, because it does not pay well and does not have much recognition. 

Information about Da Hei

-Da Hei 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 tried 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.

-Da Hei is the Benzhu god of Zhou Cheng village and Ma Jiu Yi village. 

Ms. Song is one of the teacher supports and is very knowledgeable. I started talking about my topic (jia ma) and she told me a lot of additional facts. 

-Jia ma is often placed on the archway of the main door. 

-Jia ma is often burned, as an offering in temples. 

Mr. Zhang is a jia ma master, and he carves jia ma blocks in his home. He has been carving for over 30 years, first taught by his father. He is the 7th generation, and his son is also learning the art. 

Process of printing jia ma:
- First, pour the ink onto a small plate, padded with spongy material.

- Press the wide brush on the plate, to soak up the ink.

- Apply the ink onto the protruding parts evenly, going back for more ink if needed. 

- After everything is evenly coated and the block looks relatively shiny, place a piece of paper on top of the block.

- Spread your palm out and smooth out the paper from left to right.

- Take another wide brush and start smoothing out the paper by simply brushing it.

- After a minute, stop brushing and carefully lift up the paper. 

Information about jia ma

-Most of the jia ma blocks are made out of wood from a pear tree

-You have to wait for 2-3 years to carve a piece of wood. If you do not, the wood will start splitting.

-During the Cultural Revolution, many people hid the jia ma blocks in soil, which ruined them. 

-The more you use the blocks, the better they perform

-The best paper is made from bark or 树皮纸

-The paper used in printing the jia ma (花纸) is also used for decoration and occasionally lanterns. 

Answers to Previous Questions (from Phase 1):

Jia Ma

How does jia ma change over time?
The style of the jia ma does 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 image 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 for 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]


6. Yang, Fei. Personal interview conducted by Debbie S., 8 of May 2017. 
7. Yang, Wen Dong. Personal interview conducted by Debbie S., 10 May 2017
8.  Du. Personal interview conducted by Debbie S., 5 May 2017
9.  Yang, Xu Qing. Personal interview conducted by Debbie S., 3 May 2017
10. Brodnax, Sarah. Ewing, Sophie. Salinas, Elena. Jiama, The Craft and Skill.
11. Song. Personal Interview conducted by Debbie S., 10 May 2017 
12. Du, Tong Zhi. Personal interview conducted by Debbie S., 15 May 2017
13. Zhang. Personal Interview conducted by Debbie S., 13 May 2017
14. Tian. Personal interview conducted by Debbie S., 16 May 2017

Now that I have gone out and got information, I will begin my final product. However, I have to create an outline, which I will do in Phase 4

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.