“As long as there is a seed, I am ready to see a miracle.”
Henry David Thoreau
Zhao Rongjie’s second film in the “Seeds & Seeds” series takes us away from the clamor of modern China to Bangdong, a mountain hamlet of terraced rice paddies clinging to the upland valleys of the Mekong River gorge. Here in the verdant transitional zone between the eastern flank of the Himalaya and the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia we are introduced to Zhu Hong, an ethnic Xiangtang farmer and former Village Head who returned to his rural roots after nearly two decades in the city to farm the land. Zhu Hong’s story illustrates the village’s efforts to preserve the traditions of farming and seed saving that have sustained agricultural productivity in these mountains for more than a thousand years, while cautiously adapting to evolving environmental conditions and technological advancements.
The forces of encroachment have never been closer to Bangdong, nor more determined to modernize this isolated corner of Lincang County, Yunnan. With only around 9 percent of the world’s arable land and roughly 20 percent of the global population, agricultural productivity in China is a national priority that cannot afford to belie illusions of pastoralism. Since the revolution, one of the primary functions of the Communist Party has been to transform rural China into a fertile ocean of industrial agriculture.
Despite Beijing’s most resolute intentions, the villages featured in “Xiangtang”, like other non-Han areas of Yunnan Province, have long maintained a tenuous relationship with the power structure nearly 5,000 kilometers away. Here one encounters a mosaic of staggering landscapes connected only by ancient mountain paths that inspired Yunnan’s oft-repeated mantra: “The mountains are high and the emperor is far away.”
Stay tuned for the next episodes of “Seeds & Seeds” set in the Dai, Tibetan, and Lisu areas of Yunnan.