Our Programme Foci
Traditional Knowledge and Innovation
Where We Work: Guangxi

Stones that speak——Jinxiu

Learning on sustainable living

Mutual help

History records the episode when villagers cast their vote to elect the Chief of the Stone Tablet, and moments when they spent sleepless nights deliberating details of the sacred rules engraved on the tablet. These rules are like the birthmark of the Yao minority people. It is part of their identity, similar to their traditional costumes, medicine and handicrafts.

First established during the mid-Ming dynasty, Jinxiu’s stone tablet bore the rules by which all people in the village should abide. A Stone Tablet organisation was formed to maintain law and order. The Chief of the Stone Tablet, considered to be an honoured and natural leader of the Yao people, would lead in organising activities in festive times.

The Stone Tablet system in Liujia Village in Jinxiu County was banned in 1950 and villagers have always wanted to revive the system. It was restored in 1990 with the assistance of the local village government, but fell into disuse after a while as the rules were no longer attuned to economic development and modern legal values and principles. There were no other clear provisions for village management.

The rebirth of traditional community organisation

PCD supported the villagers’ initiative to revive the Stone Tablet system. In a village meeting Liujia’s villagers decided to form a new Stone Tablet organisation. The new organisation has five members, one of whom has to be a woman. Decisions are made by consensus in a meeting of villagers and through discussion among the five members. The Chief is only an organiser and facilitator.

Villagers are often called on to discuss community affairs. They are mostly the elderly, women and young people who have not left for wage work in the city. Pang Wenxing usually occupies the front row in these meetings. “I understand what we discuss in the meeting. All of us can say what is in our mind… and we can learn a lot, like pig rearing, preventive health care and use of herbal plants. Moreover, women can now speak in the meetings. This did not happen before.”

Chen Fei, chief of the organisaiton, said villagers had a better spirit than before. “They care about things that happen in the village. People come to us even for issues outside the jurisdiction of the Stone Tablet system, such as family disputes, conflicts within the neighbourhood, and disputes related to land etc…”. The Stone Tablet system is a manifestation of the worldview, lifestyle and value system of the Yao people. As such, it is a revival of the Yao culture and identity. “It is the soul of our ethnicity engraved in stone. We cannot do without it!” said Chen.

In recent years, the Stone Tablet organisation has been collaborating with PCD to organise discussions and reflection on issues related to local ecology and agricultural production. As they mull over changes in the natural environment of their community, villagers have become more aware of the close connection between environmental changes and human activities. In this process, they have also begun to discuss ways to improve the environment, such as using biogas and experimenting with eco-agriculture.