- MEDIA CENTER
Long takes a group photo with ethnic Dong singers in Qiandongnan Miao and Dong autonomous prefecture, Guizhou. [Photo provided to China Daily]
One of the videos featured on Long Yan's account on the short-video platform Douyin is a tour through the stunning natural landscape and folk customs of Guizhou province.
The video blogger, who is in his 30s, has produced more than 170 such videos, unveiling the unique charm of destinations in the southwest of the country, such as the elastic azalea blossoms in various shades of red in the ethnic Yi quarter of Bijie city, the otherworldly karst rock forms of Zhijin Cave and the residents of Anshun city, who still wear the ancient, wide-sleeved blue robes of their ancestors.
Long, who was born and bred in the province, is known as Le Tian, or heavenly happiness, in the cyber-world, and is rapidly garnering attention on the platform, both for himself and his native home.
Many of his 1.2 million followers have left comments saying they have developed a longing for what Guizhou has to offer through Long's travelogues.
"It is exciting that good content can draw public attention on its own," Long says.
In his view, Guizhou's stunning natural and cultural landscape featuring mountains, lakes and rivers, diverse ethnic customs and deep, profound history deserve to be better-known by online audiences.
"These are what I want to capture for the public," he says.
Primary school pupils learn about Dixi Opera in Anshun, Guizhou. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Over the past three years, Long's video content has undergone noticeable changes. He initially focused on natural scenery but has increasingly paid more attention to deeper exploration of humanity and cultural heritage.
Since December, Long has dug into his own pocket and launched his own project, which aims to document 100 examples of intangible cultural heritage across the country in three years.
He says he hopes his endeavor can help raise awareness of traditional Chinese culture, contributing to its protection and inheritance.
Long felt the urgency to accelerate his project when he learned that a senior performer of Dixi Opera in Anshun — which features wooden masks and functions to show respect to gods and help dispel evil — passed away last year.
"I could still remember how he was full of energy when he put on the mask, and there seemed to be a glint in his eyes when he shared more about his craft with me," Long recalls of the time when he met the old man during his filming of a travel video in 2020.
"Traditional craftsmanship should not be forgotten, and the dedication and perseverance of inheritors of intangible cultural heritage is worth remembering," he says.
To do his part, Long has decided to highlight stories about them and help more people witness their commitment to their craft.
Video blogger Long Yan poses with a dragon head sculptor in Guizhou. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Back to tradition
Long considered himself fortunate to get off to a good start in his career, graduating from Guizhou Normal University where he studied broadcasting and hosting.
His efforts, including an internship at a local TV station where he learned to work with related equipment and did voice-over work for news broadcasts, earned him a position as a host at the provincial TV station in Guiyang, Guizhou's capital.
Although it was a decent job, Long says that after three years, he started to feel a sense of dissatisfaction.
"On one hand, I had never traveled outside the province since childhood, and I felt like I hadn't seen the world," he says. "On the other hand, the idea that I would end up doing this job until retirement made me feel like I might not be able to explore the possibilities in my life."
In 2016, at the age of 25, Long quit his job, sold his apartment and moved all the way to Beijing without any backup plan.
Stepping out of his comfort zone brought him new benefits. In Beijing, he first worked as a livestreaming sales host, a role he says helped him hone his ability to respond to various situations on the spot.
"As a salesman, I needed to be observant and responsive to various situations. There were no scripts provided, and I had to rely on my improvisation skills," he says.
He then went on to host various programs, including variety shows and live broadcasts for well-known internet companies, allowing him to further build his skill set.
However, his rising income still wasn't bringing him the happiness he wanted.
Long says that he is the kind of person who appears sunny and outgoing on the outside, but is sensitive and anxious on the inside. His smooth career development failed to make him feel settled in the city, especially as he was living away from his family and friends in Guizhou.
He visits a craftswoman making bird cages in Guizhou. [Photo provided to China Daily]
In August 2019, Long returned to his hometown in Guiyang.
"I sat in a park in the neighborhood and felt an overdue sense of peace," he says, adding that it was at that point that he figured out what he really wanted.
Awakened to the city's beautiful surroundings, the idea of expressing his appreciation through short videos about his hometown emerged.
"Guizhou has abundant tourism resources and a diverse culture, including the rich cultural heritage of many ethnic groups, which can be a continual source of high-quality content," Long explains.
His parents, who both have media experience, joined his cause.
Their videos soon proved a hit on Douyin. It didn't take long before one of the first videos on Guiyang's gourmet food from breakfast to dinner broke 1 million views, which then inspired Long to expand the scope to cover the culinary treasures of more regions across the province, such as Qiandongnan Miao and Dong autonomous prefecture and Liupanshui city.
His videos have since expanded to include a variety of subjects, some of which leave a deep impression. For example, he recounted the Basha people's awe toward nature through their close relations with trees (the Basha tribe belongs to the Miao ethnic group).
"Parents will plant a tree when their baby is born, and when the baby becomes an adult, grows old and passes away, the village people will cut the tree down and make it into a coffin, burying it in the depths of the woods," Long explains, adding that, upon the tomb, a new tree will be planted.
"You can't help but feel the impact of the circle of life through them," he says.
Leaf-vein embroidery inheritor Yang Li guides an apprentice at her workshop in Tongren, Guizhou province. [Photo provided to China Daily]
For his efforts to guide his followers to discover the charm of Guizhou, Long was named a rural vitalization tourism ambassador by local authorities in 2020.
As he made inroads into the province's isolated mountain villages, Long was exposed to a variety of fascinating examples of intangible cultural heritage. "It occurred to me that landscape scenery has a better chance of continuing to exist than human cultural forms do," he says. "That heritage would disappear quickly if not recorded and broadcast."
His first intangible cultural heritage video was about the leaf-vein embroidery technique practiced in Tongren city, Guizhou.
Yang Li, an inheritor of the craft, which features vivid needlework patterns on thin leaves, expresses her appreciation for Long's effort in promoting her craft.
"Many people have visited us after watching his video," says Yang. "They wanted to see, learn and experience the craft, as well as purchase related products, such as pendants and keychains."
Long has been recognized by Douyin as a "rural guardian" contributing to village development, and has delivered six videos on intangible cultural heritage so far.
In the process of filming and interacting with traditional artisans and artists, Long has noticed the difficulties they have in carrying on their feats, which he says has reinforced his determination to see his project through to conclusion.
He has already seen positive results from his initial work. Many of his young followers have shown enthusiasm for experiencing what he has posted.
"They really enjoy intangible cultural heritage, and are rooting for the revival of traditional culture, as well as the establishment of national self-confidence," he says.