Guotu A'xian is an independent young woman who runs her own business. [Women of China English Monthly]
Guotu A'xian, an Yi woman, is from Kamo, an ancient mountainous Yi village in Panxian County, in Southwest China's Guizhou Province. She used to be a timid girl, and she didn't learn to speak Mandarin until she was 10. Now, she is an independent young woman who runs her own business. She sells the unique products and promotes the culture of the Yi minority group.
Guotu was born in 1991. Worshipping the sun is part of Yi culture. Her given name, A'xian, means ray of light in the Yi language. Her name is Liu Guangxian in Mandarin. Guangxian also means ray of light.
Guotu's parents worked in the county when she was a little girl, so she lived with her grandparents in the village. "I enjoyed my childhood in the village. I helped my grandmother do farm work after school. I swam in the river with my little friends, and we caught fish together. We also picked mushrooms on the mountain. The scenery in my village was enchanting," Guotu recalls.
At the age of 10, she went to live with her parents in the county, and she studied in a primary school. Initially, she felt ashamed because she could only speak the Yi language. It took her about a year to learn Mandarin, and to be able to communicate with her classmates in Mandarin.
In 2008, Guotu was admitted to a senior middle school. At that time, shopping online was not popular among Chinese. During her first year at the school, she bought various products online and then sold them to her classmates. "I could earn about 100 yuan (US $15.87) a day. It was a lot of money for a senior middle school student. The living expenses of a student were normally dozens of yuan a week," Guotu says.
Drinking rice wine is a habit of the Yi people, and a part of the Yi culture. During her third year at the school, she discovered that no one had registered red rice (a raw material used to produce rice wine) as a trademark. She seized the opportunity and registered two trademarks: Yi Rice Wine and Yuni Red Rice.
Guotu enrolled in Guizhou Normal University in 2011. To spread the Yi culture, she taught her classmates Yi songs and dances, and she usually wore the traditional Yi dresses when she attended various activities at the university. She also made Yi-style accessories, which she sold at the night fair on campus.
In August 2012, she attended the first national conference for ethnic Yi university students. The conference was held in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, in Southwest China's Sichuan Province. Guotu was the only female student among the seven university students from Guizhou Province.
She was inspired by the stories of students who had started their own businesses. That year, she created her own brand, Guotu, and she established Guotu Studio. Several of her classmates joined her studio. They researched many tourist scenic areas, and they found that handmade ethnic accessories were popular with tourists. Hence, they began to design, produce and sell the handmade accessories of various ethnic groups in Guizhou.
Chinese traditionally give presents when they visit relatives and friends during Spring Festival. During winter vacation during her second year of university, Guotu realized that the Spring Festival presents her relatives gave to each other were expensive, and that the packages were not interesting.
She thought about the two trademarks, Yi Rice Wine and Yuni Red Rice, she had previously registered. She began to design the packages for the rice wine and the red rice, both of which were famous in her hometown. She served as the image ambassador of her own products. The products became popular, among both the locals and the tourists.
In early 2013, an Yi-cuisine restaurant in Hongguo, a town in Panxian County, almost went bankrupt. Guotu decided to take over management of the restaurant. "We suffered a deficit in the beginning, and we had to close it for a short time. After redecorating the restaurant, and creating new dishes, (she reopened) the restaurant in September 2013. We hope that customers will experience the Yi culture when they come to eat at our restaurant," Guotu says.
On April 9, 2013, Guotu was named Tourism Image Ambassador of the Yi Ethnic Group during the final competition of the 2013 Miss Tourism International (Guizhou) in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province. "During the competition, I learned how to both promote ethnic culture and show the charm of Guizhou. I've benefited a lot through participating in the event. I feel happy that I won this title. I also feel pressure, because I have the responsibility to promote Yi culture," Guotu says.
The China College Student's Entrepreneurship Competition was held in January 2014. Approximately 100,000 entrepreneurial teams, from more than 2,000 universities, participated. Guotu and her studio won first prize in Guizhou's provincial-level competition. Guotu's team was the only one from Guizhou to compete in the final, national-level competition. In all, 385 entrepreneurial teams, from 209 universities, competed in the final, which was held in November 2014. Guotu's team finished second.
"I think I am a lucky girl. I have received both instructions from my teachers and support from the Yi people in my hometown. I feel more confident with their support. As a member of the Yi minority group, I feel responsible to do my part to promote the Yi culture. I hope more people will feel the power of our culture," Guotu says.
In December 2014, Guotu established Panxian Dabomi Yi Culture Development Company, in Panxian County. She aims to build Dabomi Village into a popular tourist attraction, where visitors can experience the Yi culture. Her plans include building a tourist village, running a restaurant, producing and selling red rice, rice wine and ethnic costumes and developing ecological agriculture and agricultural tourism.
"We have a red rice planting base in Dabomi Village. We make the production process of red rice open to the public through our website and social media platforms, such as WeChat. As such, our customers can monitor our production process, and they can have confidence in our products. Customers can also rent a piece of farmland here. They can either hire farmers to plant red rice for them, or they can plant it by themselves," Guotu says.
In early 2015, China's Ministry of Culture included Guotu's project of building Dabomi Village into an Yi tourist attraction in its database of cultural industry projects. That means Guotu is able to receive the ministry's support as she implements her project. "We were so excited at that time. We are convinced that there is always hope when you work hard. We hope our village can be a better place through our consistent efforts," Guotu recalls.
She has been offered several opportunities to attend training courses to learn how she can best implement the project. "I'm lucky to have received a good education and training … However, many Yi children who live in the mountainous areas have no access to better education. They have little chance to get to know the outside world," she says.
"Many children in my village attend kindergartens, which are far away from their homes. Some kids even pretend to be ill before they go to the kindergartens. I find that is because most of the kids only speak the Yi language, and they feel shy and ashamed. So, I opened a kindergarten for them. I want to teach them that they needn't feel that way. Instead, they should be proud of being Yi children. I hope that our future generations will inherit the Yi culture," Guotu says.
(Source: Women of China English Monthly January 2016 Issue)
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