Producing Ethnicity: The Ethics of Showcasing Culture
The 2014 Folklife Festival has come to a close, but there are still ways to experience it. All discussion sessions from both the China and Kenya programs are archived in either audio or video format. This audio podcast is a narration and analysis of “Producing Ethnicity,” just one of the thought-provoking sessions from China: Tradition and the Art of Living.
Hear how Joanna Lee, activist and advocate for the Dimen Dong Eco Museum; Zhu Zhizhong, manager and producer of the Inner Mongolian musical group Ih Tsetsn; and folk musician Abigail Washburn discuss the potential ethical problems behind the scenes of performing ethnic music.
Changes occur when ethnic music, which is typically passed down from generation to generation within a family in intimate settings, is institutionalized and commercialized in order to appeal to wider audience. China’s recent developments in cultural tourism, accelerated by advances in technology and promotional efforts that generate interest, provide ethnic minorities with a source of living and a sense of political protection, but they might harm the authenticity of an ethnic minority’s cultural heritage in exposing them to destructive outside influences.
Zhu notes that change is not the problem; adaptation and innovation has always been a key element of Inner Mongolian music. However, there should be a balance between “over-producing” and “under-producing” culture—valuing cultural heritage that gives them opportunity to thrive without imposition.
Danielle Wu is a Katzenberger Art History intern with the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage on the China program. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in art history and archaeology from Washington University in St. Louis, with minors in Chinese and art.