Editor’s Note: This article is produced in collaboration with the Chongqing Institute of Foreign Studies, as part of a series of ongoing reports exploring the city’s abundant resources in intangible cultural heritages.
“Get up in the morning and walk along the upward trail, walk along the upward trail, yo he he. Jiao Ayi clears her throat and begins to sing, begins to sing, yo he he. Jiao Ayi…” As the sun comes out, people in the autonomous county of Pengshui, Chongqing welcome a new day in the song of Jiao Ayi. The song’s free and energetic tone and plain lyrics reflect people’s brightness, easiness, diligence, and kindness.
It was said that “Jiao Ayi” had been in love with the son of Chi You (a Chinese mythological warrior engaged in fighting with the Yellow Emperor), and her name’s implication in the Hmong language is “a girl who is beautiful and attractive and will bring us a happy life.” Gradually, for the Hmong in Pengshui, ”Jiao Ayi” is not just the name of a girl, but a symbol of local culture. In the Hmong antiphonal singing, Jiao Ayi is also used to refer to the singer’s rival. In addition, Jiao Ayi is not the name of a certain song, but the name of a certain tune which is the most popular and classic one, with a history of hundreds of years, in the region. As one of the national intangible cultural heritage, the folk song Jiao Ayi demonstrates the Hmong’s longing for a better life and inheritance of their original culture.
If interpreting the differences between Jiao Ayi and other folk songs from a musical aspect professionally, we can easily find that ordinary folk songs use some rules to obtain the regulation and symmetry in lyrics and tune. However, Jiao Ayi breaks the rule. It shortens the seven-word lyrics by using octave intervals and heightens the treble in the whole song, changing the symmetry of the lyrics, thus making the tune more lively, playful, and appealing.
Compared with other folk songs, Jiao Ayi owns brightness as mountains but lacks tenderness as water. With the precipitation and baptism of history, generations of Hmong in Pengshui have put their emotions into the song.
The Hmong’s singing of Jiao Ayi inherited the traditional characteristics of folk songs. They sang their food and labor with singing. Almost all Hmong people can sing casually or even improvise. Therefore, there are many repertoires of Jiao Ayi, and the most popular one is the one mentioned at the beginning of this article, “We can’t laugh without singing, Jiao Ayi; the grinding stone can’t move without being pushed; men can’t get drunk without being persuaded, Jiao Ayi…” The Hmong prefer to sing while tea-picking, embroidering, weeding, and playing in the field… From wild field to fireside, Jiao Ayi was spread everywhere.
However, there is no doubt that the Cai Huashan festival every January is the best opportunity to sing Jiao Ayi. On this grand festive celebration, people from men to women, young to old, gather around a blazing bonfire, singing, dancing, drinking, and chatting. In the singing, young boys can express their admiration to girls, while girls can test boys’ love. They echo each other and gradually increase mutual understanding by singing. In the joyful atmosphere, some can fall in love while some need to keep waiting for love. But all people are deeply immersed in the activity because they always believe “Jiao Ayi” is a symbol of happiness. Sing Jiao Ayi is singing for a bright future.
The wheel of history rolls on year in and year out. The heritage of the Hmong in Pengshui has been passed down from generation to generation in the song. With the beautiful longing for “Jiao Ayi,” they would continue writing the history about their happiness by singing.
(The original article comes with a Chinese version authored by Cao Yinyin, Xiao Yu (advisor/Ran Hongqing)as well as an English version translated by Zhou Jing (advisor/Li Jie, Wei Jingjun), and was later narrated by Chen Qinwen (advisor/Lei Yu), all of whom are students (and teachers) from Chongqing Institute of Foreign Studies.)