DISCOVER CHINESE MINORITIES AND VOLUNTEERING
Discover, through Christian’s testimony, how he discovered a new passion for the ethnic Chinese minorities and how this led him to become a sponsor for Couleurs de Chine.
My experience in the field of school volunteering began in 2003. I was sensitized at the time by a colleague who sponsored the education of a young weaver, through the Tibet Libre association, later renamed SolHimal. Wishing also to help a weaver, I was assigned… a young Tibetan monk living in exile in Kathmandu.
At the end of the same year 2003, I discovered a photo book dedicated to Chinese minority ethnic groups. It was a kind of love at first sight, so I immediately planned a trip in 2004 to southwest China, more precisely to Yunnan and Guizhou. Meanwhile, I read Françoise Grenot-Wang’s remarkable book, “South China – The Mosaic of Minorities”. That’s how I got wind of Couleurs de Chine, Françoise Grenot-Wang being its founder. This first contact with Chinese soil was organized with the French tour operator Tamera and the local Chinese guide, Fu Yangze, a perfect French speaker, quickly became a friend. I then promised to return to China every three years to perfect the encounter with ethnic diversity. Every three years, because I had to keep a few years for the other countries. So, I returned to China in 2007, 2010 and 2013, changing regions on this last occasion to explore Sichuan. These trips were then organized on a freelance basis, directly with Yangze.
In 2013, after ten years of sponsorship with SolHimal, I decided to redirect my support towards my passion for Chinese ethnic groups. It was therefore only natural that I should contact Couleurs de Chine to finance the schooling of a Miao girl from the Danian region. Thus, Yang Jinying came into my life at the age of seven. I then promised her to come and see her on my next trip to China.
The new trip was scheduled for November 2017 and was mainly focused on the richness of the Yao’s various costumes. It was of course piloted by Yangze. My friend Jean-François Bouchet was on the trip, himself the sponsor of Liang Xiaorong, 18 years old. We therefore had two visits to make and Yangze was in charge of relations with the local Couleurs de Chine office. The meetings were scheduled at the end of the trip. After seeing Guilin and the Li River again, under a bright sun this time, after testing the brand new Chinese TGV, after the fabulous Sunday market in Jinping, Yunnan – Yao in Red Cap, Hani and Miao -, after Lingyun – Yao Indigo and Zhuang -, after wandering among the haunting mists of Guangxi without seeing Mulao and Maonan, after a tourist show for the five Yao costumes of Jinxiu, after a brief incursion into Guangdong for the Pai Yao and an unusual embroidery contest, here we were again in Guilin.
It was time to meet Jean-François’ sponsoree. The evening was chilly on the central square of the city and the meeting was a bit slow. Then, three young women came to meet us, Xiaorong and two of herhigh school friends. A glittering restaurant revived our human warmth and provided an opportunity to share our relative lives. We learned that Xiaorong’s great dream was to become a singer. We ended the evening together by discovering the renovated historic district: our new friends invited us to a basketball game the next morning at school. It was with the weight of breakfast that I introduced myself, and with the heaviness of my fifty-seven years I quickly ran out of breath; the girls and their friends, on the other hand, were spinning…
The road lead to Zhaoxing and the Dong regions, before heading towards Danian. Yangze has booked a modest hotel, but we were eating at Pays Miao, an organization also founded by Françoise Grenot-Wang. We had the opportunity to meet Stéphanie Debue, the current correspondent of Couleurs de Chine at Danian. The visit to my sponsoree was scheduled for the next day. Before leaving for Linlang, the village of Jinying, we were welcomed at Couleurs de Chine’s office: it was an opportunity to meet the Chinese team. “Maxime” Liang is the patron saint of the Miao Country and, for a Chinese man, has the stature of a giant; he led us to Linlang. It took us more than an hour of mist and rain to hang all the mountain’s bends and reach the village, the school and its boisterous children. Our coming here was disrupting the classes a little bit and everyone wanted to be in the pictures. Boys were mischievous and heckling, girls were smiling. I joked with all these pretty people, with friendship and emotion. In the meantime, Maxime and Yangze went in search of Jinying. Quickly, they found her in a nearby room. Compared to the picture I had of her at seven, she had grown up well, now eleven years old. The school was not very well heated, which forces her to follow classes with her coat. I shuddered for her when I saw that she was wearing sandals! I must admit that we were only exchanging a few banalities, with a translator, both a little moved; however, I shared my honour to be with her today and the importance of continuing the support I offered her. Then we were caught up in the flow of enthusiastic children again. Lunch break arrived and we were invited to the teachers’ table, with Mr. Ye, the director. Everyone picked up in the big central fondue. The break was not over, and a teacher took us to Jinying’s house.
Jinying is what is called a “forgotten child”, i.e. her parents have gone to work in the city and do not often return to the village. It’s common and it is her grandmother who hosts her. The venerable lady welcomed us into the large room of her wooden house, with the fireplace in the centre. The atmosphere was dark and the fire coloured our faces nicely. The grandmother has started cooking sweet potatoes and we had to eat again; but these potatoes were the most flavoured I have ever eaten. On the balcony with its misty landscape, Jinying had passed his traditional costume: it was predominantly green, which is quite rare for a Miao costume; on her head was a beautiful silver tiara. The circle of tiny stools had formed around the fire again; Jinying, her sister and friends sang the songs of their childhood. Then, the studious afternoon hour reminded the girls of school and we accompanied them for a final goodbye. Later, I realized that I forgot to advise Jinying to try to live her dreams.
Françoise Grenot-Wang is called Fang-Fang in China. She was a person I would have really liked to have known; unfortunately, she died at the end of 2008 in the fire at her wooden house. So, I asked, back to Danian, Maxime to take us for a moment to meditate at the stele of her tomb. Afterwards, we took the road again to Chengyang and its remarkable bridge of Wind and Rain, a Dong structure. We still had to visit the Red Yao of the Longsheng region and the magnificent mountain rice fields of Longji; the fog finally rose, and the mirrors of the sky enchanted us…