Saving Our Roots
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,
When I was little, I lived in a remote village in southern China with my grandparents. Like many kids in the countryside, I enjoyed digging a hole in the opening among paddy fields, using branches and hay to bake sweet potatoes and playing hawk-and-chicken with my friends. Every Chinese New Year Eve, my grandmother would prepare our festive food called Guo. It was a tradition that neighbors help each other prepare Guo. While adults were busy pouring flour on the cutting board, pressing the paste flat and moulding it into beautiful shape, kids would run around in the village’s ancestral temple and immerse ourselves in the enchanting and cheerful smell of holiday.
Having lived in the city for the following ten years, I always feel the changes happening in my hometown every time I go back--the village looks surprisingly similar to the coastal city where I live! The opening field where I baked potatoes was leveled and a manufacturing factory has been built there, blocking the sunlight of our yard. The ancestral temple has been torn down and is now a small supermarket for villagers. The number of people knowing how to prepare Guo is diminishing and young people seem to be more interested in fast food and oblivious of traditional arts and skills. The village seems quite empty because most young people have become migrant workers in cities and only return home once or twice a year.
In the course of urbanization, villages gradually languish and die out when the passing on of traditions lose its population base. The total number of Chinese villages has declined from 3.7 million in 2000 to 2.6 million in 2010. Approximately 300 villages in China are disappearing every day. It’s saddening to see that many ancient villages, which survived warfare and natural disasters over thousands of years, have been demolished or annexed by cities in peacetime. Lulei Village, hometown for the famous mathematician, Chen Jingrun, was an affluent village in southern China with a history of over 700 years. Since the village obstructed the construction of the local railway station, it was almost torn down, including the former residence for Chen’s family.
We Chinese have been reveling in urbanization for decades. What worries me is that one day on this way to modernization, we turn back but are unable to see the link with our origins and ancestors. When we’re surrounded by skyscrapers and neon glamour, what defines us as Chinese? Urbanization does not mean brutally encroaching upon the countryside and strangling rural culture. It should not sever the ties with our beloved homeland. While promoting the country’s economy, it should also allow space for cultural diversity. In the ideal urbanization process, we should no longer emphasize the binary opposition of city and village, but endeavor to form a reciprocal relationship between the two.
Ladies and gentlemen, fallen leaves return to the roots. If we do not redefine and reorient urbanization, we will not be able to save millions of villages, neither can we revert to the origin where we belong.