Embracing self-sufficiency
Jun 20, 2016 Source: CNTV   Hits:284

China's economic growth over the past few decades has brought many out of poverty and promoted more into middle-class consumers. It seems almost everyone in China is now embracing technology as it extends into the far reaches of the country. But here's a couple who are going against the grain, and are looking for ways to be self-sufficient.


My name is Guanhua, this is my wife Xingzheng. We started the “Anotherland project” six years ago when I was in my 20s. We built the “Sustainable Lab” in 2011.

The “Sustainable Lab” means we study what the bare necessities for our lives are, and how we can produce them ourselves. Like food, clothing, shelter and some basic necessities – all these things we have to try to learn how to make. The lab is experimental. Every item we try to make is a project, such as making a pair of shoes, raising chickens and building a house. Each time I finished making one thing, we completed a project. Not everything we made is going to be applied in real life, but we figure things out and I keep a record of it and then start to study the next item. So we call it “sustainable lab”.

Everyone should have the ability to live independently. If you don’t have this ability, you hardly have the ability to think independently. You rely on lots of things, and the more things you have to rely on, the less freedom you will feel you have. And it is difficult to be independent, so I think I can try to depend less on money and real estate, not be controlled by those things. Some of the basic necessities are made by hand originally; those skills are forgotten, so I want to get them back.

At first, we didn’t make any preparations. We came to this place, and there was a shabby house, even grass grown inside the house. We needed to build a new house and we didn’t know how to build it at first. But I had an idea that we should do everything by ourselves.

We spent two and half years to build this building. We used natural materials or reused some waste to build this lab. About 1,000 volunteers joined in to help. For the external wall, we used handmade concrete. Inside the wall, we put in over 15,000 plastic bottles for insulation. We are trying to make whatever we need for our family life: spoons, bowls and trying use recycled electricity and water. I didn’t know how to do those things at all in the beginning, because I was raised in the city. I am not familiar with life in a village, so I just keep learning and practicing.

This is a bicycle dynamo. I ride this and there is a generator behind me. When I ride the bicycle, I am starting the generator, and we can store electricity for later use.

The idea of self-sufficiency lab is that we have the ability to achieve self-sufficiency, but this doesn’t mean we have to live in this way. We just provide this as a possibility, but if you want to live in this way, it’s your choice. We have to possess this ability.

My way of learning is to find a teacher. The teacher who taught me how to make shoes is 65 years old. And he likes reading books. He knows a lot of things. So he told me what the key is to making shoes, and it only took me 10 days to learn how to make one pair of shoe.

The shoes I made have such thick leather soles, and they have leather inside them. I don’t think machines can do this. The shoe is all handmade. We just use thread to put them together, so it will do no harm to people. It is healthier to wear this kind of shoe. If everyone could do this by themselves, you wouldn’t have to pay a lot of money on shoes. Some handmade shoes are over 2,000-3,000 yuan ($300-500 USD) in the market. Actually you can make a pair every week.

When you make clothes for somebody, they can feel your love when they wear it. It’s like when we were children, we would see my mother knit a sweater for us, and it made us feel warmer. It takes a lot of time to make clothing, so we choose the best materials. We spend the same time for using the ordinary wool or best wool to make a cloth; we certainly will use the best materials. I think I’d be happy to spend my whole life knitting sweaters for my child. Let him say that his mother knit this sweater all by herself from the very beginning: taking wool from the sheep, and all the way to having the sweater. It will have a different feeling than when you spend one month’s salary to buy one. It will make you feel warmer.

The husband: This is the first skill she learned.

My hairdresser is really quite busy, other guests are bored when they have to wait. But I am really happy to watch how he cuts hair for different people while I am waiting. Then he would ask me, ‘Why are you always looking?’ I told him that I was trying to learn how to cut hair. He was supportive. There was one time my husband went with me to have a haircut, and I asked the hairdresser how to cut my husband’s hair. He told me in detail how to cut it step by step. Actually some people like to share these things.

During the first one or two years on the mountains, I still kept my previous job as an advertising designer. Gradually, I gave the job up. I realized that if you want to do something, you have to put 100% of your energy into it, and then you may have a chance to reach your goal. If you want to do one thing and at the same time think about others, you can’t concentrate. So I made up my mind that if I wanted to do this project, I would have to put down the other things and focus.

In these past few years, many of my ideas are stronger. Some ideas were just our thought, but now few years later. It is becoming reality.

We are planning to fix my house this year and do some modifications to make this place more comfortable to live, to make it like a home for us. Before it was just a public area and it was open to everybody. It’s more like an exploration and experiment. And now I want to make this place a comfortable home for us to live.