The commodification of Tibetan spirituality in contemporary Chinese popular music

Yang, Xi
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [August 2014]
This thesis explores how music constructs spirituality and a sense of belonging in both the physical and spiritual world for young Han Chinese in the post-Mao era. Since the 1980s, a new generation of Chinese youth has grown up in an era when the communist political ideology has been replaced by a new social reality defined by materialism, consumerism, wealth, and affluence. The crumbling of a former politicized social structure and shifting of social values has generated a quest for spirituality in the millennium. Public and private religious institutions, temples, and monasteries have emerged in large numbers throughout the country. The market demand for religious activities such as ritual, meditation, and pilgrimage, and religious paraphernalia such as ritual objects, charms, talisman, and religion-inspired music have sky-rocketed. In this study, I focus on the music produced and consumed in the historical Tibetan region Zhongdian, also known as Shangri-la, in the northwestern mountains of Yunnan Province. Because of Zhongdian's fictional mythical origin and the close association of Tibetan culture with Buddhism, many domestic tourists and in particular the urban youth began to visit Zhongdian as part of their spiritual journey. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Zhongdian of Yunnan Province in the summer of 2013, I focus on the music of Reshi Tsering Tan, the Shangri-la Band, the Mani Stone Band, and musical activity in the area. By analyzing music, musical activities, and the symbolic meaning of music by these Tibetan musicians, I argue that the music produced in Zhongdian and the music's implied religiosity provides a spiritual mooring for the urban Han youth to counteract the increasing societal craving for material life as a result of the post-Mao market reform and economic development. In the process they also rely on the symbolic spiritual world constructed by the Tibetan musicians as the basis for constructing their personal inner harmony. The collective consumption of music by Tibetan musicians in Zhongdian as spiritual practice has become the key ingredient in developing a real and perceived camaraderie and community among diverse China's new generation.
M.A. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2014.
Includes bibliographical references.
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