Having lived in Xiayuan, a centuries-old village some 50 km to the north of Beijing, for more than two decades, Hung Huang, an influential media and fashion figure, admits she never thought of herself being part of it.
Until she decided to shoot Come Along with Xiayuan, a documentary about her neighbors and fellow villagers whom she has had a newfound interest in.
"One day, I suddenly realized that Xiayuan is not an average village you see everywhere in northern China," Hung said at a news briefing on Jan 9 in Beijing. "It is my duty to share with the outsiders the charm and beauty of my village."
Hung also believes Xiayuan might serve as one of the models for villages nationwide. China has about 700,000 villages but many are facing almost the same problem which indicates an uncertain future -- aged villagers dying while young villagers fleeing. "To revitalize Chinese villages through art is a trend that has become ever stronger in China in recent years,” said Hung. "That brings new hope to the village, a fountainhead of culture and civilization.”
The first artists’ village emerged in China in 1990 when artists Ding Fang, Tian Bin, Fang Lijun and Yi Ling came together and lived in rented houses in the Fuyuanmen village near the Old Summer Palace. Now there are reportedly about 3000 artist’s villages or art zones of various sizes and types in China.
Situated in the Xingshou township of Changping district, the Xiayuan village boasts a history dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and is known as a tourist hotspot for its culture and landscape. Since late 1990s, it has attracted over 300 artists and artisans from across the country who opened their studios and settled down, renting houses from local farmers.
"When artists met villagers and learned to live together, their interaction and collaboration have since spawned a new kind of local culture, which is vital for the sustainable development a village," said Wang Wei, founder of A-Lab, a Beijing-based media company, who has teamed up with Hung to start a 90-episode documentary which will be released on social media platforms as video blogs.
With Wang acting as the producer and Hung as the director and narrator, the documentary project will run through May when an arts festival kicks off in Xiayuan, better known as the Xiayuan Artists Village for Tourists.
"Besides my work in the media and fashion industries, I will pay visits to fellow villagers and resident-artists and dig out their interesting stories," Hung said.
The documentary project has got warm support from the villagers and the resident-artists. Some even delivered improvised music at the news briefing while some others sent warm welcome.
"Living in Xiayuan gives one inner peace," said Zhao Gang, one of the resident-artists who attended the news briefing. "Come and become a villager at least for one day and I am sure you will fall in love with our village."
Xiayuan has been welcoming visitors since 2003. Many artists open their studios every day from 2-4:30 pm since May 2003. Tourists may spend their time enjoying art, music, food and culture and talking with local farmers and artists, said Lao La, a resident-artist who creates oil paintings and operates a popular restaurant.