Feng Kaiping has been the lone night watchman of the Jindeng Temple, located in Pingshun county of North China’s Shanxi province, since 1995. The temple is situated on a cliff of the Taihang Mountain, 1,500 meters above sea level, and was built in the 16th century during the Ming Dynasty. It boasts around 500 Buddha statues carved in grottoes, making it a national cultural relic recognized in 2006.
Despite its historical significance, the temple lacked power supply for two years after its recognition. It wasn’t until 2018 that a new access road was constructed, making living conditions in the temple harsher than what Feng’s stable income provided. In response, he began growing potatoes, as hares and birds ate most other vegetables, and burned firewood he collected. Feng drinks water trickling down from a cliff forming a pool in a hall of the temple. Although the pool is his only source of water, tourists often throw coins into it, which Feng discourages.
The food in the temple consists mainly of steamed buns offered in pilgrimage to the Buddhas, which Feng describes as a godsend. After eating potatoes three times a day for nearly 30 years, the taste of wheat and flour is heavenly. The temple has seen more pilgrims and visitors ever since the new access road came up.
Feng has never seen the “golden lights” some old monks said “illuminated” the temple at night, giving it its name, Golden Lights Temple. He has always found it to be pitch dark and quiet at night, but for the whistling winds. However, the nights became more bearable after Feng bought a radio. Feng seldom goes back home, which is hours away on foot, as he is yet to find someone who can fill in for him while he is away.
Feng learned the importance of his job soon after he joined, as the temple was robbed four times in 1996 and 1997, and several wooden Buddha statues were stolen. Feng tried his best to fight the robbers but was outnumbered and injured; the robbers were armed with knives and sticks. The oldest statues and grottoes at the temple date back to the 6th century and are considered national treasures. Feng says that if the temple were attacked again, his wounds would heal, but the cultural relics would be lost forever, so he will do everything in his power to protect them.
Feng’s wife, Meng Ximei, was initially against him taking up the job at the temple. However, he managed to convince her to agree to his taking up the job, as it meant a stable income for the family. Feng has also won the understanding of his wife and children with his sense of responsibility in protecting the national treasures at the temple.
Meng, Feng’s wife, admires his dedication to his job and the cultural relics he protects. She recognizes that Feng’s post is special, and despite the hardships, he has never shown any regrets. Feng’s commitment to his job is so strong that he cannot sleep well at home, always worried that his temporary replacement may not take good care of the relics he considers his “baby.”
Apart from human threats, weather and natural disasters pose a risk to the relics. In the second half of last year, heavy rains lashed Shanxi for almost a month. Although there was no flooding on the mountain cliff where the temple is located, the moisture and torrential rains gave Feng many sleepless nights. He worked tirelessly to ensure that the cultural relics remained safe from the harsh weather conditions.
Feng’s concern for the relics is not unfounded. The Jindeng Temple contains around 500 Buddha statues carved in grottoes. The oldest statues and grottoes at the temple date back to the 6th century and are considered national treasures. The temple was recognized as a national cultural relic in 2006, but it was not until two years later that it received a power supply. A new access road was built in 2018, making it easier for pilgrims and visitors to access the temple.
Despite the harsh living conditions in the temple, Feng has never wavered in his duties. He began growing potatoes to supplement his diet since other vegetables were eaten by hares and birds. He burns firewood that he collects and drinks water trickling down from a cliff to survive. Feng’s only source of water is a pool in a hall of the temple. Although tourists throw coins into the pool and wash their hands and feet in it, he has given up trying to stop them.
Feng’s sense of responsibility is clear. He learned the importance of his job soon after he joined in 1995. In 1996 and 1997, the temple was robbed four times, and several wooden Buddha statues were stolen. Despite being outnumbered and injured, Feng did his best to fight the robbers, who were armed with knives and sticks. If attacked again, Feng knows that his wounds will eventually heal, but the cultural relics may be lost forever. Therefore, he is determined to do everything possible to protect the relics he is entrusted to safeguard.
In recognition of his significant contribution to preserving cultural relics, Feng Kaiping was awarded the national honorary title of “guardian angel of cultural relics” five years ago. Despite this, Feng remains humble and acknowledges that there are likely hundreds of other cultural relic guards across the province and country who also dedicate themselves to safeguarding the nation’s historical treasures. These unsung heroes ensure that future generations can still appreciate the beauty of these relics.
As someone who has dedicated nearly 30 years of his life to guarding the Jindeng Temple, Feng is pleased to see that living conditions at the temple have improved over time. With the installation of cameras linked to local public security stations, the temple is better equipped to prevent theft and damage to the relics. Feng is set to retire in 2024, and he is comforted by the fact that someone else will take over his post, continuing the important work of safeguarding the cultural and historical heritage of the temple.
Feng sees his role as part of a relay race, where each guard passes the baton to the next, ensuring that the preservation of cultural relics is a never-ending process. He has done his best to fulfill his duty as a cultural relic guard, and he is proud of the work he has accomplished during his time at the temple. His dedication to his job has not gone unnoticed, and he has won the admiration of his colleagues and his family.
As Feng approaches retirement, he can look back on his time as a cultural relic guard with pride, knowing that he has played a vital role in preserving the Jindeng Temple’s cultural and historical heritage. Although he will no longer be the night watchman of the temple, he will always be a guardian angel of cultural relics, committed to ensuring that these treasures are protected for future generations.
Qiao Xiuling, a librarian from Zhangbu village in Shanxi province, became an accidental internet sensation when over 700 short videos she shot of her hometown went viral in October. This led to her being dubbed the “film director” by many. Despite being an amateur, Qiao has a deep love for her village, which has a history dating back 600 years. It was originally established by a tribe fleeing war who built a stronghold to protect themselves against potential attacks.
Qiao’s videos showcased the beauty and charm of Zhangbu village, which is surrounded by mountains and has preserved much of its traditional architecture. Many viewers were impressed by Qiao’s eye for detail and her ability to capture the village’s essence. Her videos also highlighted the village’s unique customs, such as a local delicacy made from wheat flour and cornmeal, and a traditional singing style called “Zhangbu Song.”
Qiao’s newfound fame has brought more attention to her village, which has suffered from a decline in population in recent years. As younger residents move to cities in search of better opportunities, older villagers have struggled to maintain their way of life. However, Qiao hopes that her videos will help to showcase Zhangbu’s beauty and attract more visitors, helping to revitalize the community.
Qiao’s passion for her hometown is not limited to filming. She also volunteers as a tour guide, showing visitors around Zhangbu and introducing them to its history and culture. She believes that promoting cultural heritage is important, not just for preserving the past, but also for building a better future.
Despite her unexpected success, Qiao remains humble, insisting that she is just an amateur who loves her village. She hopes that her videos will inspire others to explore and appreciate their own hometowns, and to find beauty and meaning in the places they call home.
During the late 1990s, Zhangbu village was home to around 5,000 residents. However, with the onset of urbanization, the young people began to migrate to the cities in search of work. Today, only a few dozen elderly farmers remain in the village. Qiao Xiuling, a 53-year-old librarian, was born in the village and has been working at the Yangqu county library since the 1990s. She observed the decline of her hometown every time she visited her parents after 2000. As one of the few people who still visits the village regularly, she has the distance to observe changes in her hometown more objectively.
In 2013, a significant turning point occurred in Zhangbu village when the primary school closed down. This was due to parents taking their children with them to the cities where they had migrated for work. Qiao noticed the changes taking place in the village and realized that the place she called home for so long was slowly disappearing.
However, Qiao’s love for her hometown runs deep. She began shooting short clips of her village, capturing the beauty and history of Zhangbu, with the hope of sharing it with others. Despite being an amateur, her passion for the village has earned her the nickname of “film director” after her more than 700 short clips went viral in October.
Qiao’s footage captures the 600-year history of Zhangbu village, which began when a tribe fleeing war arrived and built a stronghold to protect themselves. Her videos offer a glimpse of the village’s rich cultural heritage, from traditional folk customs to ancient architecture. Through her lens, Qiao seeks to showcase the beauty and essence of her hometown, which she fears will soon be lost forever.
With Qiao’s viral clips, Zhangbu village is gaining newfound attention and recognition. She hopes that her footage will inspire others to visit the village and help preserve its history and culture. Qiao’s love for her hometown has spurred her to become its guardian, sharing its story with the world, and ensuring its legacy endures for generations to come.
Qiao Xiuling, a 53-year-old librarian from Zhangbu village in Shanxi province, began her meaningful journey using cameras after a chance encounter in 2020. One weekend, she saw the fruits on jujube trees in her yard turning red. While her mother was pulling branches of the tree, her father was plucking the fruits, and the warm afternoon sunshine was shining on their faces. Qiao took a video of them and posted it on a short video-sharing platform.
To Qiao’s surprise, the video attracted huge attention, particularly from migrant workers who were missing their hometown. They claimed that their hometown could not accommodate their bodies, while the cities could not hold their souls. After Qiao uploaded more videos from the village and its left-behind inhabitants, her account on the video-sharing platform became like a home for the former residents of Zhangbu village. Her posts feed their nostalgia, and many village residents look up her page to check out what their parents are up to.
Encouraged by her followers, Qiao has been systematically recording every aspect of village life. She is the only one doing this, and the faster the urbanization process, the greater its impact on the countryside, where many old people are poor, she says. The village will disappear one day, along with its old inhabitants and their lifestyle. These things make Qiao feel that her work is helping this large village record its memories.
Viewers also love how farmers have been arranging life in the village according to the seasons, from plowing and planting to weeding, fertilizing, harvesting, drying, and preserving grains for winter. Additionally, photographs of people eating food cooked from crops grown in their own fields mean a lot more to migrant laborers who these days eat things they buy in the supermarkets.
Through her videos, Qiao is highlighting the struggles and resilience of her hometown. In the late 1990s, the village had about 5,000 residents, but urbanization led to the migration of young people in search of work. Today, only dozens of elderly farmers remain. In 2013, the village primary school shut down, another turning point for the village as parents took their children away with them to go to school in the cities they were migrating to.
Qiao, who was born in the village and has been working in Yangqu county library since the 1990s, noticed the decline that was setting in her hometown every time she visited her parents after 2000. She is one of the few people who left the village but still visits it regularly, giving her the distance to observe changes in her hometown more objectively. Her love affair with the village runs deep, and she hopes that her videos will help preserve its memories for future generations.
Qiao Xiuling, a librarian from Zhangbu village in Shanxi province, has become a viral sensation on a short video-sharing platform for her videos documenting daily life in her hometown. Despite being an amateur, her deep love for her village and its people shines through in her work. Qiao’s videos showcase the history of the village dating back 600 years, and her proximity to the people and their lives make her videos unique and authentic. Her account has become a home for former residents, feeding their nostalgia and enabling them to keep in touch with their roots.
Qiao was born in Zhangbu village and has been working in Yangqu county library since the 1990s. As urbanization set in and young people left the village in search of work, Qiao noticed the decline in her hometown every time she visited her parents. She is one of the few people who still visits the village regularly, giving her the distance to observe changes more objectively. In 2013, the village primary school shut down as parents took their children away to school in the cities they were migrating to. Qiao’s videos now serve as a record of village life and memories for future generations.
Qiao’s videos also serve as a reminder of the beauty and simplicity of rural life. She captures the daily activities of the villagers, from farming to cooking, and shares them with her followers. Viewers appreciate the seasonal arrangements of life in the village and the use of crops grown in their fields to cook food, which is a stark contrast to the convenience of city life. Qiao’s voiceover adds to the beauty of the video, as she tells plain stories in simple language, always focusing on the details and supplementing them with background information and trivia.
Qiao has found a mission for her retired life, and that is to collect the folk songs of Yangqu. She plans to record her grandmother’s singing, as there are not many old people left in the village who can sing them. Qiao sees this as a way of protecting the cultural heritage of her village and county. She feels a strong sense of responsibility towards her work, knowing that the village will disappear one day along with its old inhabitants and their lifestyle.
Qiao’s videos are not only a source of entertainment for her followers, but they also serve a higher purpose. They showcase the beauty and simplicity of rural life and record the memories and cultural heritage of Zhangbu village. Qiao’s love for her hometown and its people is evident in her work, and her videos have become a source of comfort for former residents who are missing their roots. As Qiao nears retirement age, she plans to continue her mission of preserving the cultural heritage of her village and county.