In the autumn of 2006, I passed through Ninglang and Yongning on my way to visit Khe’ong Monastery (Kangwu) in eastern Muli. I used the opportunity to pay a visit to the hangui school in Chicken Foot Village and look up Hu Jingming and the other retired Premi cadres in Ninglang. I learned that Nima Anji was on his way from Walnut Grove to Ninglang and was distressed that my schedule would make it impossible to await his arrival. Remembering my missed opportunity with one of Yunnan’s last hangui almost twenty years earlier, and my frustration when I arrived just a couple of days too late to participate in the funeral of the oldest anji of Bustling Township, I concluded that either fate or the water deities relished sabotaging my encounters with hangui or anji. Great was my joy, then, when, having arrived in Yongning, I almost literally bumped into Nima Anji on the one and only street. Both he and I were in town for only one night, headed in opposite directions, so I was lucky indeed!
Not only in Chicken Foot Village, but also in Walnut Grove, small and larger changes had taken place during the last two years. At the hangui school, the second of two four-year classes was approaching graduation. Soon, eight more hangui would return to their villages and start practicing. Since their teacher, Nima Anji, was often absent, the second class received most of its instruction from a graduate from the first class. Chicken Foot Village itself counted seven practicing hangui. The activities of the retired cadres were not limited to organizing hangui teaching. They not only organized three large ceremonies every year in Chicken Foot Village but in 2006, with ¥100,000 in funding from the local government, made Ninglang the host town of the “official” Premi New Year celebration. This event attracted more than five hundred guests from all over the region. Hu informed me that they also had plans to start a museum of Premi culture in the tourist spot of Lugu Lake, near Yongning. They would need an investment of US$150,000 and were confident that they would quickly earn the money back by attracting three hundred paying visitors per day. According to Hu, this goal was realistic, considering that the Dongba Museum in Lijiang, dedicated to the traditional culture of the Naxi people, received two thousand visitors per day. Lugu Lake was famous for its Mosuo or Na people, with their matrilineal culture, but, Hu explained, the Mosuo did not have much to show in terms of cultural artifacts, and a museum of Premi culture would fill the gap perfectly.
Nima Anji had not been sitting idle either since I had last met with him in 2004. The work of collecting and translating written and oral tradition continued. Nima Anji had also taken the hangui/anji tradition beyond China’s borders through his participation in two international conferences on Asian minorities in Thailand and Vietnam. In Walnut Grove, the people’s living standard had improved somewhat owing to the government campaign of planting trees on sloping land. For a period of five to eight years, depending on the kind of tree, they were paid ¥200 annually for each mu they planted. Nima Anji himself had planted three mu with walnut trees. The money the villagers received for this work was pooled by two or three families who then bought small power stations and television sets. Even the ostracized families, those considered to be possessed with brö demons, now had access to TV. According to Nima Anji, one of the consequences was an improvement in Chinese-language skills, which might come in handy when young farmers leave Walnut Grove in search of jobs after the tree-planting campaign ends and the price of walnuts does not allow families to maintain a decent standard of living.