2023 Volunteer Packet
Manyingtai Summer 2023
Manyingtai (also called Maiyingtai) is a “natural village” located about 25 minutes north of the Hefeng County Seat. Formally speaking, It is the third sub-team of Yanping Village and was once Production Team #3 in Zhongying Commune’s Lianghekou Production Brigade. The village gets its name, “hidden camp terrace,” from its unique topography. From the street some two hundred meters below, Manyingtai is completely invisible. For thousands of years, one hundred acres of fertile sub-tropical soil sat on the mountain side untouched by local peasants, serving only as a temporary get-away destination for bandits and rebels.
The Wang Clan permanently settled the area in the mid-Qing Dynasty. They were escaping famine in Jiangxi Province. When they arrived there, the indigenous Tujia government had only been out of power for a few decades. Corn and tea, two non-native crops, were by then already widely planted, and the Tujia language was being steadily replaced by the variant of Upper Yangtze Mandarin widely spoken there today. The Wang clan’s migration to Manyingtai is just one example of the larger migration of ethnically Han families from the overpopulated flatlands Central China to the undeveloped hills and valleys of the Wuling Mountain Range that were devastated by war and genocide in the Ming-Qing transitional period.
Manyingtai would play an unexpected role in the Chinese civil war. When the bandit turned communist general He Long made his approach on the Hefeng County Seat in January 1929, his detachment of soldiers did so covertly from the north. With just three hundred fighters and two hundred rifles, the saber wielding commander would face and out-maneuver nationalist troops well positioned at Guanyin Ridge. This crucial pass was less than half a day’s march from the Hefeng county seat and was only an hour’s walk from Manyingtai. It was at Manyintai that He Long would set up a temporary base of operations that was undetectable to Nationalist scouts. The Wang Clan largely welcomed the Communist army, and three village children would go onto join the Red Army. With the local villagers’ support and cooperation, He Long won both the battle at Guanyin Ridge and established the Hefeng Soviet days later.
Unfortunately, the Hefeng Soviet would ultimately be crushed. Many locals who aided the communist rebels would find themselves trapped in nearby mountains and driven to mass suicide by the vengeful Sichuan Army. This would not however be the end of socialism in Manyingtai. The village was liberated again in late 1949 and followed the national efforts to build up cooperative and later collective agriculture. Unlike most places in China Proper, Manyingtai had ample land to share among the households. The village indeed flourished during the collective period. Terraces were improved and expanded, new forest land was opened up, a modern well was built, and tea-corn co-cropping covered virtually every inch of arable land. The former leader of the Lianghekou Production Brigade reports that while many Hefeng locals still faced hunger in the early 1960’s, residents of Manyingtai never had a lean year or season.
The successes of the collective period did not come without sacrifices. The local power station, one of the first in the region, was built by locals for virtually no pay. Peasants were busier then they had ever been, but their income scarcely rose. Time spent on this and other infrastructure projects occupied the off season that would traditionally have been reserved for recreation and sideline industries. Holidays were cut short and work days were lengthened. One village youth in 1973 would sacrifice his own life in the construction of a paved road connecting the area to the county seat. The dynamite they were using to blast a level road out of the cliffslide propelled the teenager over a four hundred foot precipice. His brother would go on to become a Hero of Labor for his subsequent work on road construction, and is now the team leader of Manyingtai. Despite the accomplishments of local villagers in that period, neither Team Leader Wang or any other Manyingtai elder would say their lives today are worse off now than they were under collective organization.
The economic and social viability of the village has however suffered greatly in the past thirty years. Almost all crop and forest land in the village was formally divided in 1981. Responsibility for the remaining collective land was further divided among the households. Initially, decollectivization was accompanied by higher state procurement prices and an explosion of private tea production. Mandatory participation in infrastructure projects and political study faded away. Without exception, incomes rose for everyone in the village while working days decreased. By 1990, the villagers in Manyingtai could pick about 1000 pounds of tea in a single day. Now, that figure seldom exceeds 300 pounds. Inflation and the introduction of uncompensated agricultural taxes drove most of the youth out of the village in the 1990’s. Without sufficient subsidies, the average household income derived from farming in Manyingtai dropped from about half of what a city job paid to less than 1/4th. A monthly income of 2000 CNY, which might be possible in a favorable year if a farmer engaged in tea, grain, medicinal herb, and livestock production, is simply not enough to support a family and pay for even a single child’s education. No one born after 1980 lives full time in the village. The elders who do still live in the village are supported almost exclusively by pensions and relatives working in urban areas.
That brings us to the present day. For more than a decade, the local government has attempted to revitalize the village’s economic and social life. A cooperative, Loushuiyuan, was formed to manage crop land and market the village’s tea. So far, it has succeeded in serving as a reliable buyer for villagers in the Spring season, but has not been profitable enough to deliver dividends or favorable prices to cooperative households. Villagers are functionally in the same position they would be if they sold their tea to a private tea factory. Additionally, the chronic lack of labor and investment has meant that much of the tea fields have fallen into disrepair or complete re-wilding. Trash collection, terrace maintenance, land reclamation, trail clearing, boar extermination, and the development of tourist facilities are projects that fail to be adequately addressed year after year.
Our volunteer site is a traditional wooden cabin on the edge of the village. We started renting from a villager who works in the city in 2020 with the help of the local cooperative and the blessing of the village government. Since then, with local help and outside volunteers, we have gradually made the cabin into a livable space. At the same, we have developed the adjoining tea fields into a model of organic management and worked with the village government to address local some of the on-going issues listed above. Two provincial government projects have helped us towards this end. Now, with more amble funding and time to invest, we are calling for friends and comrades worldwide to come and help us improve life in Manyingtai.
Getting To China
If you are living abroad, a travel visa is essential when coming to China. The process is fast and the duration of stay that the travel (L-Type) visa grants is usually no less than 90 days. For residents of most countries, you will need an invitation letter, travel itinerary, passport-sized photos, and of course a valid passport to apply for this travel visa. The application process can be as long as two weeks or as fast as two days depending on the consulate in your area. We will work with each incoming volunteer ahead of time to direct them to the correct consulate and prepare all of their materials such that there is no chance of application rejection. Covid-19 vaccine proof should now be unnecessary for all visa applicants, but we encourage volunteers to consider tropical disease vaccination and traveler's insurance when coming.
When flying into China, be aware of the following points. Customs will have you fill out a form before stamping your passport and may ask you some questions about your stay, some questions may be political in nature in e if you are coming from certain countries. Answer honestly and calmly. You should have nothing to worry about. Be careful not to accidentally have any trace amounts of illegal substances on you or your luggage. Avoid also bringing religious literature or any printed works critical of the Chinese government. When you arrive at your destination airport, you may be unable to connect to public wifi or use roaming data. In the event you cannot find us upon getting out of customs, please go to the information desk and contact us with a public or staff phone.
Getting To Manyingtai
How you get to Manyingtai largely depends on whether or not you currently live in China. If you are coming from abroad, check to see which flights offer you the best value. Manyingtai is reasonably close to a number of local airports. Arrivals at the Enshi International Airport, Yichang’s Sanxia Airport, Wuhan’s Tianhe Airport, or any of Chongqing’s five airports are less than one day’s journey away from Manyingtai. Typically, direct international flights are only available to Wuhan and Chongqing. These cities are however far enough away that travelers will need to additionally take a train to Enshi or Yichang. From Yichang or Enshi, a ride can be arranged directly to the village. We will personally meet travellers coming from abroad and accompany them back to the village. Those living in China should get themselves to the Enshi Train Station. There, a car will be arranged to pick them up and bring them to the village.
Ideally, we would like also to assist travelers in getting a SIM card and temporary phone plan while they stay here. This might be unnecessary for those staying less than two weeks as a roaming plan from your international provider might be a better deal. Volunteers should try to decide as soon as possible which airport they are flying into so we can prepare with drivers and the local China Mobile office in advance.
- Hot Weather Clothing (t-shirts, rash guards, shorts, swim trunks, sandals)
- Rainwear (water proof shoes / boots, thin water-proof jacket)
- Personal Technology (besides the obvious, consider a portable hard drive or flash drive of media you might watch)
- Deodorant & Floss (surprisingly hard to find over here)
- Chinese Currency (exchanging at the airport can be a bit of a rip off)
- Additional Identification (in case you lose your passport)
- Prescription Medication (psychiatric medicine can be hard to acquire in China)
The lighter you pack, the more comfortable your trip will be. Typically, you can get one free checked suitcase on international flights coming into China, but that is no longer guaranteed in the current travel market. Almost anything you might need can be purchased online in China and delivered to the village within a week, if not just a few days. Well fitting clothes, certain toiletries, personal gadgets, and western series / movies are perhaps the only things you will need to bring over.
Accommodations will largely be the same for all participants. There will be three beds and one hammock available in the main cabin, all of which are located in separate rooms. We advise against camping due to the potential hazard of poisonous centipedes and snakes, but two tents are also available. The cabin has one bathroom for our common use, wherein toiletries including a personal towel will be provided for all guests. Clothes can be washed by hand at the cabin when needed, but we advise against it.
Once a week we will go to the base of the mountain to machine wash our clothes. This weekly laundry run will also be when we pick up any and all groceries we need for the next week. Food can be ordered online and delivered to the base of the mountain. Within reason, whatever ingredients and snacks the Woofers’ want will be purchased and delivered the day after ordering. More niche items or non-Chinese food may need purchased a week in advance.
Electricity, food, water, clean bedding, a personal towel, and internet access are the basic comforts we promise any and all guests. This is a hard, semi-frontier environment, but we still want everyone to be able to end their days clean and comfortable.
Staying safe here is mostly common sense. Off trail bushwhacking, free climbing, and swimming after heavy rains are all activities that should be avoided. Crime is virtually non-existent, making the village and nearby county seat safe to visit day or night. That being said, one should still be weary of scams. Do not let anyone use your phone to send SMS messages, register an account for an online service, or download apps onto your phone. Feel free to speak to anyone you want online or offline, but do be careful about making critical comments of the Chinese government on WeChat.
Wild animals are the single biggest danger in the village. It must be said upfront that no villager or past visitor has recently suffered any serious harm. However, there are still a few certain animals that must be avoided. Mangshan pit vipers, centipedes, and wild boars are the three creatures that are most dangerous. To avoid startling a snake, always avoid running, stay out of tall grass, and be very vigilant about sunbathing snakes on concrete surfaces and river stones. To prevent centipede bites, avoid sleeping outside, walking barefoot, or weeding without gloves. You almost certainly won’t encounter a boor, but if you do, your first instinct should be to seek higher ground like a tree or boulder. If you’re charged on a narrow trail, stay on your feet, be loud, and try to hit the attacking boor with whatever is in arm’s reach. To avoid such a potentially fatal encounter, do not travel alone, always walk at night with a light, and stay off forest trails when dark. When outside for a long period, check yourself for ticks or parasitic fly bites, both of which are not dangerous if quickly addressed.
Other animals are more of a nuisance than a potential danger. Carpenter bees, red wasps, fruit bats, field mice, and the ever unsettling Giant Chinese Crab Spider are unwanted but harmless house guests. None of these potentially frightful cohabitants are poisonous or aggressive. Closing your room’s doors at night can keep out mice and bats; wasp nests can be sprayed as needed. There is however little you can do to keep out eight legged critters. Volunteers with particular phobias should consider sleeping in the insect proof hammock. Mosquitoes are most effectively mitigated with mosquito coils, but aroma-sensitive volunteers can alternatively use mosquito nets. Volunteers with bee venom allergies should carry epipens, as ground wasp nests (appropriately called “dog shit bees” in the local dialect) are something that past volunteers and villagers alike step on all too often. They are not particularly venomous, but you should get as much shoe leather as possible between yourself and an agitated nest. Their bite sure does hurt.
In the unlikely event you find yourself injured, contact an English speaking host first, and we will call the hospital and Loushuiyuan in turn. The volunteer site is about 25 minutes away from the County Central Hospital. Unfortunately, neither the hospital nor the local township clinic is equipped with English speaking medical staff. We will accompany you on any hospital visits and help you communicate with doctors in the unlikely event you need to do so.
On and off the mountain, the local people of Hefeng County are an easy-going bunch. You don’t have to worry too much about offending locals. Eat as like, talk as you like, and recreate as you see fit. Sunbathing, taking morning showers, eating finger food without gloves, praying, and meditating are all activities that locals may find curious, but a puzzled stare or laugh are the worst possible reactions you might expect. Avoiding pointing at anyone, don’t be too touchy, clean up after yourself, and show deference for elders when possible. That being said, foreigner visitors get a lot of respect and usually get a pass for whatever would be a violation of decorum for a local resident.
There are some local customs that you might find jarring. You might see dog, bat, snake, and insects on the menu when eating out. Most local folks expect foreigners will dislike local cuisine, and will completely understand if a certain dish just isn’t for you. If you are male or male passing, there is a good chance you will be offered a cigarette by just about any and every smoker. If an older local takes your “no” as a polite “yes,” you can place the cigarette behind your ear to indicate you will smoke it later. If you choose to smoke it then and there however, be aware that they may continue offering cigarettes and you may find it hard to reject their hospitality. Alcohol, which usually takes the form of high proof corn liquor in Hefeng County, is almost exclusively consumed by men. Although local women seldom join in on drinking, it is not taboo for women to do so, and female or female passing volunteers can drink as they please. Guests of any gender however should be careful about drinking with older villagers at lunch or at night-time eateries in town. The alcohol you will be given is considerably stronger than your standard whiskey or vodka in most countries. Be careful. Have fun.
Visitors who are familiar with China may still find a few things unfamiliar about life in Hefeng. Even native Chinese speakers can struggle with the local variant of Southwestern Mandarin spoken in Hefeng County. There are three tones instead of four, “e” become “ou,” “f” becomes “h,” and there are many dialect terms that are completely absent in standard Mandarin. Luckily, literacy has long been universal, and when verbal communication fails, most old timers can still read the characters on your phone screen. The food eaten there is also radically different than the Cantonese cuisine most widely known abroad. No summer meal in Hefeng is complete without a cold bowl of soy broth and boiled pumpkin leaves, a hearty helping of cured pork, rice, and an accompanying quantity of peppers, salt, and oil that concerns cardiologists both here and abroad. Eat as much or as little of such food as you like. Vegetarianism and veganism are both unheard of in Hefeng and local cooks with the best of intentions may fail to understand the full meaning of such diets. Muslim volunteers will be happy to know there is one Halal restaurant in the county, and the boss can hook us up with halal meats to be prepared at the cabin as desired.
Things To See
We do not expect volunteers to work more than 20 hours or week. Indeed, we hope you will take advantage of your free lodging here as a base camp for exploration of nearby tourist destinations. In walking distance, the Lianghekou Swimming Hole and Pingshan Canyon are cheap, fun destinations that are pretty much exactly what they sound like. Volunteers interested in history can take a 30 minutes bus into town and then taxi to Bafeng Village and its industrial ghost town, the Hefeng Museum, and the Rongmei Tusi Ruins. If you have a whole weekend to kill, the Enshi Grand Canyon, Wufeng Mountain, the Stone Forest, and Daughter’s City are all destinations in Enshi City that are well known to domestic tourists. However, you will also likely no doubt have some of your most memorable experiences just hanging out in the village or county seat with locals and other volunteers.
Chen Qionghua (Loushuiyuan): 13886778588
Alex (ORT): 15794417893
Hefeng Central Hospital: 07185282450
Hefeng County Immigration: 07185291420
Enshi State Foreign Hotline: 18671690399
Hubei Province 24 Hour International Hotline: (+86)02787122256
Alex (ORT): KyonxHaruhi96