Li Wuwang, 35, a media professional, is taking an unusual route to entertain and educate his online audiences. Yang Yang reports.
Reindeer herders in an Oroqen village in Genhe county of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region are gradually losing their traditional nomadic lifestyle. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
In 1911, an American missionary William Marcus Young arrived in Laodabao, a remote Lahu ethnic village on the border between Southwest China's Yunnan province and Myanmar. From him, villagers learned choral singing and how to play the guitar.
Since 1920, choral singing and playing the guitar have become a tradition in the village, where people have long used music to express their thoughts and emotions. Now about 80 percent of the 473 villagers can sing and play the guitar.
This story is one of the most popular episodes of a short documentary series called Great Tribe broadcasting on the internet since Nov 14, 2017.
Other popular episodes include a story about an Oroqen village in Genhe county of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, in North China, which is gradually losing its traditional nomadic life of raising reindeer, and an episode about a remote hidden Mongolian ethnic village near Kanas Lake in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
Each of the 10 episodes in the first season of Great Tribe lasts about 12 minutes, not long enough even to tell the long history of an ancient village.
But Li Wuwang, 35, the founder of Cicada Modern that made the documentaries, says that with these short videos, he wants to spark curiosity about these remote villages that are almost forgotten by people. "It's just like our slogan says: to see the curious East," he says.
"There are many facets to a village, but we don't want to make encyclopedic documentaries. We want to present them from a specific angle," he says, adding that the aim of the first season is to find elements of the villages that will resonate with audiences.
The forthcoming seasons of the series will focus on themes like special traditions.
Li, a student of traditional Chinese art and advertising planning grounded in Western concepts of design, is interested in representing "brilliant" Chinese traditions in a modern way to attract audiences who are keen on well-presented productions.
The Great Tribe series is not the first one that Li and his team have made.
Before founding Cicada Modern in 2015, Li worked for Hunan Satellite TV, a leading channel, for 10 years, where he was in charge of the publicity of its programs.
An episode in the upcoming Great Shokunin III presents the mentorship of bamboo weavingmaster, Guo Yimin. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
For many years, he was interested in studying traditional crafts like porcelain.
So, in his spare time, he would visit Jingdezhen, China's "porcelain capital" in Jiangxi province in East China, to acquaint himself with the masters there.
"I focused on the masters rather than their skills, but I learned the history of China's porcelain through books," he says.
"China has so many treasures that need digging up. And the deeper I dig, the prouder I feel. That is also my feeling when I make these documentaries," he says.
The first documentary series his team made was The Great Shokunin I, which was released online in June 2016.
It presented shokunin, a Japanese word describing assiduous craftsmen who devote their lives to perfecting their skills.
The shows featured craftsmen from around Asia, including an American Tibetan woman who spent more than 10 years on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau organizing the local people to weave yak wool scarves in the traditional way, which were sought by luxurious brands in Paris such as Louis Vuitton and Hermes; a Tibetan thangka painter who taught people to paint thangka via live-streaming platforms on his smart phone; and the Koizumi family, who made Japanese iron kettles.
There was no theme for The Great Shokunin I, says Li, adding that with the first season they wanted to see how viewers would react to the shows, and they wanted to clear up people's misunderstandings about the lives of craftsmen.
"Many people think that craftsmen lived very hard lives, obscure and unpromising, so they need help or even donations. But in our shows they see that they live decent lives," he says.
For Great Shukunin II, Li set the theme of the beauty of the East. And for the third season which will be released on Jan 18, the theme is mentorship.
For the purpose of the series, East means places in Asia that have been influenced by Chinese Han ethnic culture over the last two thousand years.
"In II, we try to interpret the beauty of the East from 12 artistic perspectives in the 12 episodes", he says.
Laodabao villagers of the Lahu ethnic group are good at choral singing and playing musical instruments like the guitar and their traditional lusheng, a reedpipe wind instrument. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
So, in 15 to 20 minutes, people will see handicrafts from across the country, such as pottery of the Li ethnic group, brocade, copper incense burners, ancient paper, Han Chinese clothing, pine soot ink and Chinese base drums; and there are also natural silk dyeing techniques from Cambodia.
Mentorship is now among the most relationships sought after in Chinese society, Li says.
"What we are doing is to take the things out of a storehouse where treasures are hidden from the public and repackage them and present them to audiences."
In order to the bridge the gap between craftsmanship and modern audiences, they use popular Taiwan model and actress Lin Chi-ling to introduce the stories and do the voiceovers.
"Lin has a childlike voice, very unique but not suitable for traditional documentaries, but we wanted to create a different style," Li says.
Besides tradition, Cicada Modern also aims its cameras at interesting trivia in everyday life.
On Jan 1, they released a series of short documentaries called Light of Life, which captures the unusual lives of ordinary people.
In each 25-minute episode, the length of a meal, people will see the stories unfold over three consecutive days.
For instance, the first episode records the stories of travelers who try to enter Tibet by taking a dangerous path from Yunnan and stop by a place called the Sichuan Hotel.
"We are living a very fast-paced life so people forget their original selves. By watching other people's lives, we get the chance to reflect and rediscover ourselves," says Li.
The director of the first episode of Light of Life, 27-year-old Zhou Xiaomeng, says: "We don't want to teach people lessons through our documentaries. We just want people to see other people's lives over a meal.
"It's a show, but in a documentary style."
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