Will Things Ever Get Better? – A Discussion between Chen Jiaying and Xiang Jing
Xiang Jing x Chen Jiaying:
because the train was going very slowly. You could’ve kept up just running alongside it.
Xiang: It’s like an old western movie.
Chen: By the end of the "Big Link-up", I’d been to most of the provinces in China. During my time in the rural production brigade, and later in college, we had more opportunities to travel, but that was just travel to the main cities and tourist sites. It’s not like the big travelers I know, who can spend over decades in strange, remote places.
Xiang: My father had a unique experience. He entered college in his teens, and by the time he graduated from the Xiamen University Chinese Department, he was only 20. He was assigned to work in Beijing. He had always lived in Fujian, and that was his first time to the north, to the capital, so he took his luggage – some beat-up old bags – and mailed them ahead to Beijing. He took a mat and a small bag, and took trains all the way from Xiamen to Beijing. It took him a week.
He was assigned to work at the Folk Art Research Society. This was back in the late 50s, and their work was to collect folk songs and unique folk art skills from the various ethnic groups and regions across China, such as folk poetry, storytelling, etc. I bet it was a lot of fun. It was very meaningful work. Even Ashima [an epic poem from the Yi ethnic group], which Huang Yongyu painted the cover for, was the result of their collaborative efforts. They documented a lot of traditions that were on the verge of dying out. Of course, they lost a lot of it during the Cultural Revolution. Since he was young, he volunteered to do those works, so he was able to travel to a lot of places. It’s very interesting.
Chen: That was a rarity back then. It was only people with special jobs or very special personalities. Most people weren’t like that.
Xiang: He was young and very curious, and so he took on a lot of works like that. When he told me about it, I found it very interesting. I can imagine that China felt very different back then. For the individual, it’s very romantic.
Chen: It really was different. For one, all of the places were different from each other. If you went to Xinjiang,