HEARTH & COSMOS
The hearth is the center of Bulang domestic life. Here, meals are prepared, tea is served, and stories are told. Between uses, glowing embers can always be found preserved beneath mounds of gray ash, ready to light old women’s tobacco pipes or ignite the next cooking fire.

HEARTH & COSMOS
The hearth is the center of Bulang domestic life. Here, meals are prepared, tea is served, and stories are told. Between uses, glowing embers can always be found preserved beneath mounds of gray ash, ready to light old women’s tobacco pipes or ignite the next cooking fire.

HEARTH & COSMOS
The hearth is the center of Bulang domestic life. Here, meals are prepared, tea is served, and stories are told. Between uses, glowing embers can always be found preserved beneath mounds of gray ash, ready to light old women’s tobacco pipes or ignite the next cooking fire.

Bulang stories have been passed down orally since time immemorial. They may be shared in a speaking voice or performed to the accompaniment of a four-stringed banjo. While there are standards, known from one village to the next, there is also a rich culture of improvisation. Invoking the gathering at hand, observations are made about those in attendance and the purpose for coming together. Jokes and displays of storytelling prowess feature prominently. The style is often call and response, multiple individuals contributing, content artfully expanding beyond the scope of the occasion. Slowly and deliberately, distant times and places are summoned. A greater sense of purpose is effected through this lively interweaving into the fabric of collective memory and a shared worldview.

This observation from Cosmos & Hearth: a cosmopolite’s viewpoint,
by cultural geographer Yi-fu Tuan, is worth reproducing in its entirety:

“… the life-path of a human being moves naturally from “home” to “world,” from “hearth” to “cosmos.” We grow into a larger world. Not to do so is to lead a stunted life. In all human cultures, one’s stages of maturation are celebrated, because at each stage one enters a larger sphere of activity and responsibility. The judgment against patriarchal societies is that in them women are made to stay at the hearth. The judgment against hierarchical societies is that there members of the lower class are confined to a domestic work sphere (home, village, neighborhood) while the elite move on to enjoy the world. The elite can have both world and home; they can be cosmopolitan and yet return to the hearth for nurturance and renewal. They are privileged. Enlightened societies seek to extend the privilege to more and more people who formerly suffered constraint so that a time will come when none need feel that the edge of their home is the edge of their world.”

Bulang stories have been passed down orally since time immemorial. They may be shared in a speaking voice or performed to the accompaniment of a four-stringed banjo. While there are standards known from one village to the next, there is also a rich culture of improvisation. Invoking the gathering at hand, observances are made about those in attendance and the purpose for coming together. Jokes and displays of storytelling prowess feature prominently. The style is often call and response, multiple individuals contributing, content artfully expanding beyond the scope of the gathering. Slowly and deliberately, increasingly distant times and places are summoned. A greater sense of purpose is effected through this interweaving of the occasion into the fabric of collective memory and a shared worldview.

This explanation from Cosmos & Hearth: a cosmopolite’s viewpoint, by cultural geographer Yi-fu Tuan, is worth reproducing in its entirety:

“… the life-path of a human being moves naturally from “home” to “world,” from “hearth” to “cosmos.” We grow into a larger world. Not to do so is to lead a stunted life. In all human cultures, one’s stages of maturation are celebrated, because at each stage one enters a larger sphere of activity and responsibility. The judgment against patriarchal societies is that in them women are made to stay at the hearth. The judgment against hierarchical societies is that there members of the lower class are confined to a domestic work sphere (home, village, neighborhood) while the elite move on to enjoy the world. The elite can have both world and home; they can be cosmopolitan and yet return to the hearth for nurturance and renewal. They are privileged. Enlightened societies seek to extend the privilege to more and more people who formerly suffered constraint so that a time will come when none need feel that the edge of their home is the edge of their world.”

Manuscript culture arrived with Theravada Buddhism approximately 400-500 years ago. Mangjing Village elder Su Guowen recounts how writing slowly extended beyond the monastery walls and was used to inscribe inherited cultural wisdom, ensuring the legacy of their people. The loss of the vast majority of these texts during the Cultural Revolution had a profound impact on the cultural continuity of the Bulang people. However, since the 1980s, there has been significant effort in restoring this manuscript culture, the ritual protocols and stories contained therein.

Su Guowen, after leaving his mountain home to serve as an educator, eventually returned to continue the work of his father, Bulang headman Su Liya. He devoted himself singularly to seeking out extant copies of manuscripts and, when possible, returning them to Mangjing Village. Inspired by Su Guowen’s efforts, Theasophie initiated our Bulang Manuscript Project, sponsored by Yunnan University’s Museum of Anthropology with seed funding provided by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme (EAP). This digital archive currently contains over 70 manuscripts acquired from several of the oldest Bulang villages in China. The above images are of Su Guowen examining a salvaged bundle of palm leaf manuscripts.

Manuscript culture arrived with Theravada Buddhism approximately 400-500 years ago. Mangjing Village elder Su Guowen recounts how writing slowly extended beyond the monastery walls and was used to inscribe inherited cultural wisdom, ensuring the legacy of their people. The loss of the vast majority of these texts during the Cultural Revolution had a profound impact on the cultural continuity of the Bulang people. However, since the 1980s, there has been significant effort in restoring this manuscript culture, the ritual protocols and stories contained therein.

Su Guowen, after leaving his mountain home to serve as an educator, eventually returned to continue the work of his father, Bulang headman Su Liya. He devoted himself singularly to seeking out extant copies of manuscripts and, when possible, returning them to Mangjing Village. Inspired by Su Guowen’s efforts, Theasophie initiated our Bulang Manuscript Project, sponsored by Yunnan University’s Museum of Anthropology with seed funding provided by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme (EAP). This digital archive currently contains over 70 manuscripts acquired from several of the oldest Bulang villages in China. The above images are of Su Guowen examining a salvaged bundle of palm leaf manuscripts.

Manuscript culture arrived with Theravada Buddhism approximately 400-500 years ago. Mangjing Village elder Su Guowen recounts how writing slowly extended beyond the monastery walls and was used to inscribe inherited cultural wisdom, ensuring the legacy of their people. The loss of the vast majority of these texts during the Cultural Revolution had a profound impact on the cultural continuity of the Bulang people. However, since the 1980s, there has been significant effort in restoring this manuscript culture, the ritual protocols and stories contained therein.

Su Guowen, after leaving his mountain home to serve as an educator, eventually returned to continue the work of his father, Bulang headman Su Liya. He devoted himself singularly to seeking out extant copies of manuscripts and, when possible, returning them to Mangjing Village. Inspired by Su Guowen’s efforts, Theasophie initiated our Bulang Manuscript Project, sponsored by Yunnan University’s Museum of Anthropology with seed funding provided by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme (EAP). This digital archive currently contains over 70 manuscripts acquired from several of the oldest Bulang villages in China. The above images are of Su Guowen examining a salvaged bundle of palm leaf manuscripts.