Village cultural halls set to revive heritage

The demand for cultural activities in vast rural areas has seen the government and communities come together and initiate the construction of several venues.

Life in the city and life in the countryside couldn’t be any further apart.

Urban dwellers love to take advantage of the dozens of choices and cultural activities they have as a result of living in the city. They hang out in museums, go to music concerts, watch plays and join in a myriad of social activities, whereas their rural counterparts didn’t have that luxury in the past. They had a limited or simpler life watching TV and chatting with neighbors.

But that is changing.

The large demand for cultural activities in the vast rural areas needed government support. And, in 2013, the Zhejiang government initiated the construction of several cultural venues in villages and unified them as Cultural Hall. As a consequence of that initiative, by the end of May this year, more than 6,900 halls were erected across the province.

The number of halls is expected to rise to 10,000 by 2020. Today, these venues are taken as an ideal place to popularize agricultural science, train skills, display local history and craftsmanship, and host entertainment activities.

Zhejiang also issued a regulation of construction standards, stipulating that halls must be built in harmony with surroundings and ethnic features.

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Kids dressed in traditional costume read “Di Zi Gui” (“Standards for Being a Good Pupil and Child) and “San Zi Jing” (“Trimetric Classic”) at a Cultural Hall in Dongjiangzui Village, Hangzhou.

Villages are encouraged to use local materials and traditional architectural techniques to construct halls. Every venue should meet villagers’ requirements so they can host wedding and funeral ceremonies, and be divided into areas for different functions.

The Cultural Hall of Shangzhai Village in Yiwu County is the epitome of traditional architectural style. A memorial archway engraved with dragon motifs is erected in front of the venue, while the interior of the hall features ancient wooden pillars and sculptures.

The Liu surname dominates the village. Therefore, the Cultural Hall is also a spot to learn about the Liu family history and hand down traditional family concepts to the younger generation.

Establishment of the cultural hall also gained support from local residents, and they have donated more than 4 million yuan (US$577,508) to its construction. A former resident and villager even contributed 3 million yuan, in a bid to revive his hometown’s cultural heritage.

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The villagers from Dongjiangzui Village learn paper cutting.

In addition to the residents’ contributions, the local government also launched a series of subsidy policies to stimulate the initiative. In Yiwu, local authorities offered 30,000 yuan of financial assistance to qualified halls every year. As for top venues, they could get a grant of up to 500,000 yuan.

In Jiaxing, the local government selected prime halls and provided a 200,000 yuan subsidy. It encourages villagers to take an interest in the social, cultural and economic scheme and inspire people to take an active part.

A large number of hamlets have seized this opportunity to protect cultural heritage and boost the economy at the same time.

In Yucai Village of Haiyan County, the local Cultural Hall is themed in wooden handicrafts and kitchen-stove paintings. The displayed wooden utensils came from a noted craftsman, Zhuang Linsheng, who has been dedicated to his trade for more than 60 years, and honored as an intangible heritage inheritor by local authorities.

Kitchen-stove painting is a traditional art form in Jiangnan (south of the areas in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River). Almost every farmhouse’s lime kitchen stove was painted with auspicious figures or floral motifs. Artists expressed the passions of the times through these paintings. This special art was given national protected intangible cultural status years ago.

Qiaobei Village, in Yueqing County, has been famous for handmade noodles for centuries. However, the traditional food was in decline as effective machines replaced the time-consuming handmade process.

Now, the Cultural Hall revives this craftsmanship. Seniors are invited to teach youngsters to make noodles. Old tools and utensils have been collected from farmhouses with an aim of reviving the old authentic procedures. The village hopes to hand down this tradition and give it momentum for future development.

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 Sports equipment is under test at a Cultual Hall in Jiashan County.

In Hangzhou’s Waitongwu Village, dozens of artists have been encouraged to establish studios in the tea-growing hamlet. An old ancestral house was rejuvenated into a Cultural Hall, which integrates a library, auditorium and a traditional academy for Sinology.

Family-run guesthouses, galleries and bistros have emerged alongside the Cultural Hall. Farmhouses have been given a facelift in the old Jiangan-style appearance, featuring white walls and black-tiled roofs. All the work makes the village popular with tourists, shutterbugs and local hipsters.

During the summer vacation, a number of cultural halls have become a venue for volunteer activities. In July, volunteers from Zhejiang Chinese Traditional Medical University have held lectures on traditional Chinese medicine in the cultural halls of Hangzhou’s Fuyang District. Other teams provided a haircut service and basic physical examinations including blood pressure and sugar level checks.

Zhejiang Gongshang University dispatched a team to Jiangnan Village in Fuyang District, and organized a summer camp where local kids could have science, English and calligraphy classes.

Summer vacation is a peak for accidents. To educate children about self-protection, volunteers from Zhejiang Police College teamed up with villages in Lin’an District and offered kids a five-day safety education camp.

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