Villages along the Nujiang River in Yunnan Province (southwest China) Photo: VCG
Li Jianhua, an ethnic Nu influencer Photo: Courtesy of Li Jianhua
Having no written language, the Nu people have transmitted their folklore, customs and way of life orally for centuries. The ethnic group is one of the few in China to have moved directly from a traditional farming and hunting society to a modern society after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Nearly 10 years ago, they were hidden in villages scattered in the virgin forests. along China’s southwest borders, but there are now many young Nu people stepping into the limelight with a new career: hometown ambassadors/influencers on Chinese social media.
“Here we have a breathtaking view of the galloping Nujiang River and the dense forests. After learning some filming and editing techniques, I opened my own social media account to upload videos of the daily life of the villagers locals,” Li Jianhua, a young man from Shawa Village, a naked village in Yunnan province, told the Global Times.
In addition to raising chickens and weeding his cornfields, Li regularly uploads carefully filmed music videos to China’s Douyin short video platform so his followers can get a glimpse of the completely different way of life in which he lives. his ethnic group adheres for centuries.
The rugged and isolated geographic environment has led to the group’s unique customs, such as their worship of nature.
Their most important festival of the year, roughly translated as the Goodness Festival, falls in April. In one of Li’s videos, locals dressed in colorful hand-woven garments stand in a circle and dance and sing together without musical or instrumental accompaniment as they pray for nature’s blessings.
The same geographical characteristics of the region also determined that the group would be easily affected by Western culture introduced from neighboring Myanmar, which later merged with the Nu’s own culture. Li often shoots videos around his village and the local towering cliffs, where one can appreciate Western-style Catholic churches built by 16th-18th century missionaries and local wooden houses built on stone pillars to avoid the humid environment as well as bear attacks. and leopards.
Like other Shawa villagers, Li was born and raised and lived a simple life. Prior to Li’s social media career as an influencer, he could barely understand Putonghua (Standard Chinese) because the Nujiang River cut the village off from cities in other parts of Yunnan.
In 2017, a film crew moved to the village of Shawa to document the lives of local people for four years. Meanwhile, roads, schools and other basic infrastructure have been built in the village thanks to Chinese poverty alleviation programs. Li was one of the main people the team followed for the documentary, and that experience gave him the skills to handle social media.
After the documentary aired on CCTV, Li’s life changed a lot.
“Now my main daily routine is recording the life we have in Shawa. It may be taken for granted by locals here, but others won’t,” Li said.
“I hope that through my efforts, more people can learn about our group and experience our original way of life. I hope that we can develop ecotourism later,” he said. .
Village official/internet celebrity
Heading north for about 200 kilometers along the Nujiang River next to the border with Myanmar, another Nu village, Qiunatong, which means “peaceful” in the Nu language, has been listed as one of the most beautiful villages rural areas of the country.
Peng Zhizhen, one of 3 million civil servants who have headed to rural villages during China’s nationwide poverty reduction efforts, has been part of the task force helping his hometown since 2018 During his downtime, he often pulls out his phone to show local life to his 21,000 online followers.
Speaking proudly of his work, Peng told the Global Times that since the village was lifted out of extreme poverty, their next task is to develop local tourism based on the unique folk customs of the Nu people and the natural landscape of the region.
“At first I was just recording life, but later more people paid attention to my videos and I felt compelled to promote tourism here,” Peng told the Global Times.
From scenic spots along the Nujiang River to treks through the rainforest, his videos showcase the folk customs of the Nu people and historical sites that bear witness to ancient cultural exchanges.
Outside of Qiunatong is the ancient Tea Horse Road, a traditional trade route that connected Yunnan Province and Xizang Autonomous Region. Walking along the winding paths, one can see both the river and the snow-capped mountains.
“This place is one of our local attractions. But it is not fully developed yet. We want to preserve the original look of the village, not destroy it,” Peng added.
Thanks to its promotional efforts, the local tourist industry has developed slowly but gradually.
“At present, there are more than 300 households in the village, and about 30 have opened guesthouses. In the future, we want more tourists to experience this place and its culture,” said Peng.