Cassia Forest

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Chilin Shih is spending the summer doing fieldwork in China, and she has started a weblog, Cassia Forest, to document her journey.

There are two posts so far. I've posted a sample of the beginnings below — you should read the whole thing!

Anonymous 無名:

My grandmother has no name.  I once was angry. How can anyone have no name? Then my brother explained that it was not an insult, not a neglect. Just was. There was a place for a culture where people were known as themselves, without a label called a name. That place was not far from Cassia Forest.

My grandmother is a Zhuang, a minority group in China. We know her last name is Ben. Tickets in hand, I am about to start a journey back to Cassia Forest.  I want to find my grandmother’s village. Without a name, how do I do a google search?   Maybe I can walk around villages with her last name, and see if I can see faces that look familiar, like my father, my aunt, brothers, sister and cousins.

Song of Reunion 相見歌:

The book “Customs of Zhuang People” describes a remote village where people feel more comfortable singing to stranger than talking to them. So if you got lost in the mountains, you are better off singing your inquiries if you want to get directions from the locals.  

I’ve just learned simple phrases to ask for directions in Zhuang . Now, I’ll actually have to sing it!?  Better start practicing right now.  So, I wrote this Song of Reunion, following very loosely the poetic template of The Joy of Reunion. The ultimate intention is to be able to sing it in Zhuang when my language skill is more advanced.


  1. Thomas Rees said,

    May 29, 2015 @ 4:42 pm

    Wikipedia says Guilin 桂林 is “Forest of Sweet Osmanthus”. There’s a lot of confusion about common names for these plants and their products; in the US, cassia is sold as cinnamon. But I suppose “Cassia Forest” does sound better.

  2. Terry Hunt said,

    June 1, 2015 @ 9:54 am

    These samples read like extracts from a work by Ursula K. LeGuin, whose parents were both professional anthropologists, hence the themes and styles often evident in her own (very distinguished) fiction.

    On this evidence Chilin Shih's blog will be a pleasure to read, not just for the valuable stories she tells us, but also for the voice in which she does so.

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