The Ziran Way is more than just beautiful clothes and sustainable silk: it's a mentality that applies to every facet of our lives. The meaning of Ziran in Daoist philosophy is to push away outside influence and embrace one's authenticity, while living natural, spontaneous, and free. Ziran is the highest state of being, similar to Nirvana in Buddhism. The Ziran Way is the experience, knowledge, and flow we use to reach that state of Ziran.
On our last trip to China, we visited a unique place called Yunnan.
Yunnan province is the most diverse place in China, from the people to the natural resources. Located in southwest China, Yunnan borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. Yunnan is known as the "Wild Wild West" of China and the laws here regarding religion, individualism, and artistic expression are the most relaxed in the entire country.
It's the most free.
We went to Yunnan to meet and work with ethnic minorities. We want to help preserve and protect their legacies.
Yunnan is home to 25 out of the 56 ethnic minority groups that live in China. Most minority people don't live in the big cities like Shanghai, Beijing, etc. But they do live in pockets of Yunnan.
The huge majority of Chinese people are the Han ethnic group - 91% to be exact. The Han people are the largest ethnic group in the world. 18% of the entire world population is Han. Yes, that's huge.
This means that virtually every Chinese person you've ever met or will meet is Han Chinese. Every. Chinese. Person. You've. Ever. Met.
In addition to being ethnically diverse, Yunnan is rich in natural resources and has the largest diversity of plant life in China. Out of 30,000 species of plants in China, Yunnan has 17,000 of them. The province is known for its' flowers and mushrooms.
Side note: Our friend and local guide named Zhuowei told us that some of the wild mushrooms eaten here are actually poisonous mushrooms. If they aren't cooked properly you'll "go crazy" when you eat them. Needless to say, we were very interested to hear more about these mushrooms. I even asked him where we could get some. Zhuowei flatly responded, "it's illegal, you get high, and you die." Saving that quest for next time :)
Some of the things we did in Yunnan included going to a Bamboo nursery, learning how to tie dye with Bai minority women, visiting a local fashion designer who uses Yi minority embroidery, reflecting at Buddhist temples, and meeting an antiques dealer named Mr. Mao.
Ahhhh, Mr. Mao.
We met Mr. Mao at his antique shop in a tiny forgotten village. Our driver for the day just dropped us off at the village entrance barking, "see you in an hour." We wandered around until we got sight of his shop - ANTIQUES! And real antiques too, not the fake ones.
Mr. Mao is apart of the Hui people, a minority group that practices Islam. The second we entered his shop we were struck by his confidence, warmth, and style. Like he puts all the Venice/LA Arts District "workwear" dudes to shame. We asked him if we could take a picture and he instantly whipped out his huge pipe, and started smoking a cigarette out of it. He thought it was just as funny as we did. We all took photos together and parted ways laughing and smiling. Mr. Mao is a legend.
There's a distinct flavor and pulse in Yunnan that can't be found anywhere else in China.
The world image of China is very narrow, and only includes a specific type of Chinese person, i.e. Han. Yet in reality, China is diverse and there are a lot of different types of people, who look/act/dress/speak uniquely, with their own set of customs and culture. We believe it's important to meet these people, and share their legacy. This is the core of The Ziran Way.
Until next time, Yunnan.
Words and Photos by Kelly Wang Shanahan. Yunnan Province, China. September 2019.