Dancing with Lusheng——Kaili

Learning on sustainable living

Mutual help

Lusheng, made from bamboo, is a traditional musical wind instrument of the Guizhou Miao ethnic minority. A gem of Miao culture, lusheng is performed in all festive occasions throughout the year, and plays an important role in social, cultural and economic life.

For more than 400 years, Xinguang Village in Kaili municipality has been the centre of high quality lusheng production and lusheng cultural performances for Miao communities. Through the sale of lusheng alone, Xinguang has earned over 100,000 yuan per year in good times. It is the only village where the craftsmanship exists within the vicinity. But lusheng, as a source of livelihood and as a unique cultural tradition, is disappearing. The village level performance troupe established in 1987 still survives. But it has become more difficult to keep young and enthusiastic talent, because of a lower return on effort when compared to employment in the cities. Worse still, income from lusheng production has been severely affected as a result of the virtual extinction of the bamboo used to make lusheng. The planting of this special species of bamboo in the village ceased during the collectivisation period. The remainder is further dwindling due to extensive commercial exploitation in recent decades.

Lusheng as a way of living

The people in Xinguang have been wanting to grow lusheng bamboo again. They miss the music, the songs and the dances. PCD was introduced to Xinguang in 2004 and a project to revive this unique cultural tradition was initiated to foster community coherence and sustainable development. Villagers participated on a voluntary basis. A community-based organisation, the Lusheng Culture Development Association (LCDA), was formed with villagers and village officials. The group adopted ecological bamboo growing techniques and evaluated and promoted the experience. Training workshops on lusheng production were organised to popularise and improve relevant skills. Participants studied the different materials needed to create the musical instrument to ensure sound quality and aesthetic appearance. Often they would have colorful lusheng performances after these exchanges.

In 2006, the Chairperson of LCDA, Pan Guisheng gave up a 1,000 yuan a month job to return home, and take up the task of preserving and promoting lusheng culture. “My wife has stayed in Shanghai. Many people have left for employment in the cities. I am afraid lusheng culture will die one day. I came back for this project. I dream that one day we will have a lusheng museum in the village…” Pan said.

Two years after the formation of the Lusheng Association, its membership has grown to 80 villagers. Members join different interest groups including bamboo planting, lusheng production lusheng performances, and traditional embroidery for the costumes of performers, A number of villagers have joined not because of livelihood considerations, but simply because they want to learn this tradition to brighten up their lives. They say that they are happy to have this platform to exchange skills and knowledge. Moreover, households that grow the bamboo are usually economically less advantaged. The sale of bamboo within the community hence benefits both the growers and the craftsmen. The Lusheng Association takes the role of coordinating production and sales of lusheng. Key members of the association expect that the profit generated will form a community fund for improving public facilities, such as village roads and irrigation channels.