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Mapping Melodies, Mobility, and Place: Tai Singing Communities Imagined/ing in Guangxi, China

Authors: Matthew Werstler*, Northern Illinois University
Topics: Asia, China
Keywords: Zhuang, Melodies, Intangible Cultural Heritage, and Communities
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Zhuang are Tai peoples located in Southwest China is the largest minority in China. They are known
to sing strophic songs known as shan’ge (mountain songs), single-tune melodies of a given
geographic area. With globalization and urbanization challenging the viability of shan’ge
practices, the efforts to preserve these traditions have come in different forms that can be
represented by two types of communities in Southwest China, in the Baise Prefecture of
Guangxi. The first community is the village of Bulin, which has been heavily influenced by the
Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) movement by the Chinese government in preserving minority
culture. The second community, made up of those who have moved to the urban center of Baise
from smaller villages, regularly gathers and sings in public parks where they actively engage in
singing or listening to shan’ge. Regularly can be gatherings of many different sizes. I use these
two examples to discuss the subtle differences between the concepts of “imagined community”
(Anderson 1996) and “imagining community” (Tanade 2008); the influence of ICH on
recognizing ‘Bulin melody’ can be seen as an effort to represent the “imagined community,”
whereas the singing community in the park can be viewed as an “imagining community.” It is
also the purpose of this paper to consider how geography factors into the continuity of both
communities. In this paper I advocate for a broader application of preservation that needs to
consider the artistic practice in the marginalized communities as well.

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