At the time, Guizhou was the second poorest province in China. Today, it is said to be the poorest of all. Our colleagues were interested in researching the Dong language. So were we, but they had first choice, and went first to visit Guiyang. They did not like the city, saying it looked like it had been bombed 鈥�there was so much construction work going on, even in 1994. Those colleagues went instead to study a minority language in Yunnan, making an opening for us in Guizhou.
Our first visit to Guiyang was in January 2005. At that time we had studied Mandarin in Beijing for two years. Beijing was cold in winter, but Guiyang felt freezing. We huddled round a small electric heater at the Guizhou University campus in Huaxi wondering when the drizzle outside would ever stop. We had guessed it would be wet and cold 鈥�after all, 鈥楪uiyang鈥�meant 鈥榥ot much sunshine鈥�鈥�so we grinned and bore it. Anyway, the people seemed kind enough.
Soon afterwards we decided to study Dong language and culture in Guizhou province. There was a definite advantage in going there for academic research, because not many foreigners had gone before us. Guizhou was off the beaten track and there was therefore more left for us to discover. Even the relative poverty in Guizhou attracted us, as we felt we might be able to make a small contribution towards helping the Dong people raise their living standards, through our language and cultural research.
Our first major research result has remained unpublished to this day. It has been a carefully guarded secret, internationally unknown, specially preserved for release on this website: Guiyang enjoys lots of sunshine. The climate is 鈥�contrary to the city鈥檚 name and reputation 鈥�good. There is relatively little rain and lots of sunshine. The reader should perhaps understand that the current author comes from Ireland.
We moved to Guizhou University in August 1995. I was accompanied by my Swiss wife and two young children, aged 3 and 1. First impressions were good. People seemed friendlier than in the big city of Beijing. The food was fine. Unexpectedly, even the climate was kind.
From the beginning, we received a warm welcome from Guizhou University authorities, as represented by the Foreign Affairs Office. Our organization had first established links with the University three years before, and the existing relationships were cordial. In the year 1996, we had the privilege of going to live just outside Rongjiang county town for five months, to learn the Dong language. That proved to be a good basis for our future research.
The next few years saw us involved in much interesting and fruitful cooperation with staff appointed by Guizhou University. We translated a book about Dong language from Chinese into English, co-authored a book in English introducing the Dong culture to non-Chinese readers, and became involved in researching bilingual education through a 9-year Dong/Han bilingual education pilot project, currently in its 6th year.
In 2003, the Guizhou University Southwest Minorities Language and Culture Research Institute was established. This Institute has given us and our foreign colleagues a more formal base from which to conduct our research. It is well-endowed with computer and office facilities to pursue research and development work.
I am currently translating into English an intriguing manuscript about Dong culture in the 1930s and 1940s, written by a retired but active Dong professor. A Han Chinese colleague at Guizhou University is preparing to explore the exodus of farmers from Dong villages to the Han cities and the impact this has on Dong culture. We are still involved in Dong/Han bilingual education research. In addition, together with colleagues, we are examining the effect of bilingual education on learning English, a third language. Some adult literacy training in the Dong script is underway, in tandem with moves to help with Dong community development. We are involved in exploring possibilities for such development: income generation, health improvement, and micro-loans. The Institute has already helped to channel money from American Chinese benefactors to build a fine primary school in a Dong village in Congjiang county. Four more such school buildings are being planned for 2006/07.
Our third child was born in 1997 in Belfast. The children have spent most of their lives in Guizhou, attending the Guizhou University primary school. Chinese school has sometimes been difficult for them, for during these ten years, we have spent two years 鈥榓t home鈥�in Ireland, so their Chinese education has been rudely interrupted. But they have persisted well. Now that the children are aged 13, 11 and 8, we are planning to spend another 18 months here in Guizhou. We have talked about leaving Guizhou after 18 months, to live in Yunnan province, so that the children can attend an English-speaking school. The children object to such plans, however 鈥�even though they love Kunming. They have grown fond of living here, and feel reluctant to leave.
It is a fascinating time to live in Guizhou. Everything is developing fast. After a decade we are often tempted to play the long-in-the-tooth veteran, to preface observations on our lives here with 鈥業n the old days, it was like this and this鈥︹� More often than not, however, we resist, preferring instead to dwell on the amazing potential for the future of the people in the province.