A Huge Grave

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 9.44.54 PMDong Guochang was born in 1934 in Fenghua. At the age of sixty, he builded a huge grave for himself in addition to two pavilions for future generations to rest when they visit him. The township head discouraged him from taking so much land for his grave that even the mother of Chiang Kai-shek did not own such a huge one. Dong, with rulers in his hand, went three times to compare two graves. Finally, he agreed to dissemble the two pavilions. Now, he becomes a famous painter in the village.

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More than Nostalgia: Our Exhibition in Lake Forest

Location: The Gallery

Address: 202 E Wisconsin Ave, Lake Forest, IL 60045

Check it out if you can!

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In the museum of Van Gogh in Netherland, I encountered this palette of him with remains of pigments. At that point, I felt I was so close to the artist yet distant. I felt the sense of intimacy meticulously tracing each crack on the pigments even more than the time when I was complimenting his oil paintings on the wall. However, I was also frustrated by the glass between the palette and me. It was the first time the concept of distance came to me.

A couple years later, I became a curator myself for my dad’s photos of people in the Siming Mountain, the mother mountain that cultivates rural culture in Ningbo. The concept of intimacy is always with me.

I named my first two exhibitions “Nostalgia” because they are exhibitions that trace roots for the urban Ningbo people. For the two exhibitions, I not only displayed photos but also their stories below each. I wanted to establish the feeling of intimacy to the photos with the stories. I reflected on the role of photography. Nowadays, people look at photos on social media for no more than five seconds before they scroll down. During my first exhibition, the approach for me was to use stories to bring people closer to pictures. During my second exhibition, I invited a 96-year-old mother and her 76-year-old son to the opening ceremony so that the audience could interact with them.

After two in Ningbo, I decided to reach global audience. I went to the local art gallery and persuaded them to provide a place for these pictures and their stories. Besides thinking about what I can do with all those photos and stories, I thought about what it means for the old residing in the Siming Mountain for their entire life. They have never been outside of the mountain before, and the exhibitions would not even matter to them. I came up with the idea of not only shortening the distance between art and audience but also the subject of art and the audience. I have made my photos for sale, and I am going to bring the money back to them. I have also encouraged the visitors to leave messages to them so that they know there are also a group of people knowing and caring about them from the other side of the earth. They depend their entire life on labor of themselves and they probably do not realize they need help from others. On our notebook for message, I already received some warming messages praising this caring sense and reflect on the rural life between China and U.S.  I do want to break the geographical isolation and connect to them and the history they have witnessed. For those foreign visitors, I have printed out posters, and I hope they will keep this glimpse of lives in rural Ningbo with them. I, therefore, named this exhibition “More than Nostalgia.”

A Blind Lady

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Ms. Ge was born in 1949 in Huangshakeng, Fenghua. She was sick and lost her vision at the age of five. One incredible fact about her is that she is better at housework than any other women in the village. Her home is always organized in a clean way. She is able to catch chickens and ducks walking in her yard based on her intuition and even to thread a needle for her aging neighbors. She walks without a walking stick. Resting between housework, she would step out of her home, walk along the trail near the stream, confidently arrive at the central square of the village, and chat with others in order to hear about important issues in the village. After the conversation, she would return home in the exact same route. She is gentle, nice, and optimistic, smiling all the time. No one refers to her as “the blind one” in a condescending tone. Many people even believe that her vision is actually better than the majority in the village. Her 48-year-old son lives in Xikou, who had a grandchild last year. In other words, this 68-year-old lady has already been a great grandmother.

A Hundred Years of Living

Aiju Wang was born in 1918 in Maoyangtou, Fenghua. The picture is all her family members at the birthday celebrating her age of 100 years. Right after she was born, her mother lost conscious and was unable to feed her. After a year later, her biological father sent her away to the Zhangs. He was a child bride for their adopted son.

The biological son of the Zhangs died 18 years before (ca. 1900). They adopted a son who used to be an orphan. Life was hard for the Zhangs since they had to feed both their son and the child bride. A hundred years later today, she says that she survived because she drank lactic of the mother. Wang is lucky to have more than a hundred members on her family across five generations.E1∞ŸƒÍ»À…˙

Chiang Kai-shek’s Bearer

Historical background: Chiang Kai-shek resigned from the political arena for a short period during the Republic of China

Jiang Xiaochang (in the middle) was born in 1921 in Xikou Fenghua. He is from the same clan as Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi). In 1949, Chiang Kai-shek lived in Xikou for half a year, visiting Xuedou Temple and Miaogaotai often. The Siming Mountain is steep; a sedan chair was the best means going up the winding roads. He was the bearer who carried Chiang Kai-shek uphill. Chiang was a very nice man, as he recals. He also considers it an honor, and his family takes delight in talking about it. He is 96 years old now and still healthy besides deafness.

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, gangs were active in the Siming Mountain. He was once abducted by a gang, and his parents borrow money for four days in order to save him. According to him, during the four days, although he had to be tied at night, the meals were not bad at all.

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Adoption

Wang is a 91 years old man living with his nephew. He is a little deaf and does not like to talk. When he was 31, his wife died when giving birth. Thereafter, he decided not to marry but adopted his nephew. The sad story has never been mentioned in front of Wang by the nephew and his wife. Besides helping with cooking, Wang spends most of the days sitting outside, ignoring other’s chat.  The shabby house was inherited from his great-grandfather a hundred years ago. The mottled address card on it was from the Republic of China era.

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Chiang Kai-shek’s Bearer

In 1949, Chiang Kai-shek* lived in Xikou for half a year, visiting Xuedou Temple and Miaogaotai often. The Siming Mountain is steep; a sedan chair was the best means going up the winding roads. It was this bearer who carried Chiang Kai-shek uphill. Obviously, he considers it an honor, and his family takes delight in talking about it. He is 96 years old now and still healthy besides deafness.

*Chiang Kai-shek: Leader of the KuomintangIMG_4784IMG_4785IMG_4786IMG_4787IMG_4788IMG_4789IMG_4790

Nostalgia: The Enemies of “The Emperor”

In 1949, the militia of the village killed a member from the Liberation Army. In order to quell the rebellion from Yankeng Village, thousands of soldiers from the Liberation Army gathered at Shanjia Village. The commander lived in the house of Zhang. Though it was a small village with few people, they had 8 guns in total. The villagers with guns all had connection with the leader of the militia. Zhang’s husband identified the eight villagers for the Liberation Army, who confiscated their guns.

At that time, the leader, whose nickname was “the emperor,” had already escaped to the remote mountains. When he heard the news, he threatened Zhang’s husband to send 150 kilogram of rice as apology. Afraid of his local power, they fulfilled his request. Soon, “the emperor” was still arrested what he had done under the pressure of the Liberation Army.

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Nostalgia: A chance to meet people

My family was there the whole day on weekends receiving both friends and strangers as our visitors. The power that our exhibition brought really impressed me. The older generation living in urban Ningbo was moved by the photos and the stories of the individuals in the photos. Much of their personal experience resonated with the stories, reminding them of the past. In addition to the old, the younger generation was also attracted. I saw many parents explaining these stories to their children who could barely read. They told the stories, explicitly. Obviously, this photography exhibition was a pretty good chance spreading local culture to the public, especially those who feel far away from them, like myself.

A middle school teacher even brought a number of students here, helping them learn more about local culture and history.

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After the interview with my dad and me on Saturday, the article about us was finally published on the local newspaper and its website. I am glad that the newspaper helped us inform more people of this exhibition.

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Details about this exhibition were also published by the most popular website recording lives in Ningbo!

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The exhibition this time is very successful, and I plan to hold another one in this coming July to further raise such awareness!

 

A Traditional Way of Brewing Spirits

In the Longgong Village, Ninghai county lives more than 600 families, only ten of which still have the tradition to brew spirits* with sweet potatoes. In spring, two big kitchen ranges were set up out of the old ancestral hall. The villagers started the fire below the ranges with wood and thick bamboo tubes; soon, the mellow scent of spirits crept out of the sky, reaching toward people. They added the white powder into sweet potatoes for the fermentation and mixed them with rice chaff at a specific ratio. When the ingredients were steamed in the kitchen ranges, the steam liquified on the pot cover would flow down to the ceramic jars incessantly. The product was spirits with high concentration of alcohol. The spirits brewed were mainly for themselves, rather than for commercial purposes.

A pot of noodles was placed on the table, which was probably their snacks in the afternoon. The man was so nice that he noticed my hunger and handed me a big steaming bowl of noodles with shredded meat. I ate them all, wiped my mouth, and was about to thank them, noticing the old people had not even picked up their chopsticks yet…

*Spirits: An alcoholic beverage, especially distilled liquor.

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— Translated from dad’s WeChat public account 背影