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Folklore studies should focus on people

LIU KUILI | 2017-11-09
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Stories of Folklore Researchers in Villages
Editor-in-chief: Song Ying and Chen Jinguo
Publisher: Commercial Press



 

 

“Experiencing the seasons” is a key theme of folklore studies related to daily life. Folklore researchers witness stories emerging naturally as they work in the field amid changing seasons, experiencing thunder and storms at times. The book Stories of Folklore Researchers in Villages collects 88 tales and classifies them according to the four seasons, in four chapters. The real, amusing stories contain action, connections and disconnections, as well as delight and worries.


After reading the book, I cannot help thinking of my first time conducting fieldwork in the village. New folklore researchers are still unprepared even if they engage in a great deal of preparation before their first field investigation. But they will be impressed. It can be said that villages, or the countryside, are good places where folklore scholars can develop a “relationship” with the local people. When a folklore researcher begins to understand the local people’s state of mind, they became more connected with “old traditions and rites.”


Now that the conditions for researching villages have become more convenient, the means of investigation are getting increasingly advanced, which is quite different from the past. However, these improvements have not changed the core aspect of these exchanges: feelings.


Researchers come into contact with traditional culture, the true living conditions of local people and real history at the same time during fieldwork. Unfortunately, when we speak of history, we more often than not mean an “event” rather than the “people.” It is inaccurate to say that history is simply the sum of events. Take Chinese history as an example. The Great Wall and the Forbidden City alone would not make sense without all those emperors, social elites and ordinary people. Similarly, when we write about a village, we cannot just describe its environment and record the turbulence it has experienced. People lie at the core of folklore narration. From this perspective, the significance of folklore studies is revealed: It focuses on the part that has often been ignored by history and literature.


In addition, for folklore researchers, be it through fieldwork or theoretical studies, the principle of integrity is essential to observation and analysis. The passage of time and changes in the vicissitudes of environments, views of locals and variations in composition should all be considered.


In recent years, folklore researchers have been particularly concerned with the fate and prospects of traditional villages, which is a physical space for folklore to grow. Traditional villages of all ethnic groups in China truly reflect community life in the era of agricultural civilization, which embodies harmonious coexistence between man and nature.


They are also part of the essence of Chinese architectural culture, and also a space for the display of traditional culture. Traditional villages carry the historical memory of the Chinese nation and embody the nostalgia of all Chinese. Folklore researchers in China closely watch the countryside and rural communities and have seen that they are experiencing great changes. These people are respectable and respected.