While doing a search on myself, which I do once in a while, to see what kind of nefarious plots are being hatched against me I came across a Google book chapter I wrote back in 1992 for Chinese Landscapes: The Village as Place-By Ronald G. Knapp-Published by University of Hawaii Press, 1992.
We simply can't be afforded some well deserved obscurity anymore! Regardless, it is a peculiar reminder to see one's 16 years old words available to the rest of the world....albeit in a truncated version; and especially when the original print run could not have been more than two thousand copies meant for scholarly and academic consumption(we all know what that mean).
Back in 1989, I endeavored to document the whole(!) of Chinese rural architecture and dutifully spent the next fours years traveling across every Chinese province in search of these elusive gems, which I can assure you, were not easy to find nor to get to, but that was the fun part.
To achieve my monumentally obscure event in architectural history I would travel to hub cities in each Chinese province and seek out architecture professors in local universities in the hope of picking their brains.
In so doing, I was often met with suspicion and/or disbelief and/or both (especially after Tiananmen) but invariably someone would direct me to a retired professor in a far off lane in Nanjing, Nanning or Luoyang... where I was once again met with disbelief but never suspicion, as they often shared my love of the Chinese countryside and of its vernacular architecture.
We would have tea or eat a meal together and these men (all men) would vaguely point me to a nebulous spot on a greasy map and casually mention that there used to be a beautiful Ming village somewhere around this or that county town but that he could not remember the name or would need to consult his mildewed notes back at the archives, unless of course they had been burned during the CR... but that's another story...
As far as official China was concerned, those old "Minjus"(peasant homes) should all and would all be torn down to make room for brand new piles of concrete and tiles; three storied peasant rice bunkers.....unreinforced emblems of wealth and new found modernity and prosperity. But to add insult to injury they seem to always be conveniently located in "closed" areas or near Red Army barracks; strategically positioned to no doubt protect said ramshackled villages from wandering village idiots(leading to my many and frequent arrests, usually followed by lavish banquets...sounds odd I know, but just trust me on this one).
Accompanied by such invaluable information, I would then take off on a local or long distance bus(or several dozen) to said county towns and armed with my own greasy map would try to figure out where the hell I was relative to my point of departure and where to tell the bus driver to drop me off; usually a crap shoot of largely comedic proportions. This was once more met with more complete stupefaction by my traveling companions, given the fact that my very presence on any given bus was already marvelously bizarre, in a way a stark naked hermaphrodite might have been out of place in the back seat of a mid century Kansas bound Greyhound. Some lone "Guai Lo"(foreign devil) wants to get off in the middle of nowhere, to look for "Minju", which by then was once again met with either uproarious laughter or stern patriotic reprimands...not unlike casually mentioning the specter of new taxes to newly minted Republican conventioneers.
The door would remain opened for a minute or two as our bus driver, in the hope of silently luring me back inside, would smile pitifully uncomfortably; given the fact that I might have already been standing smack dab in a proverbial pile of pig shit.
Regardless, I have to admit, I get a big kick out of seeing that bus drive off while thinking to myself: "What the FUCK am I doing here?".
So, twenty years on, one thing's for sure, nothing much has changed...... and as they say back in the motherland: "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose", and " Wherever you go, there you are"....
Cut to bus driving off...