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The Transformation of Hua'er Songs in 21st Century China

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Item Summary

Title:The Transformation of Hua'er Songs in 21st Century China
Authors:Yang, Man
Keywords:Intangible Cultural Heritage
cultural policy
Date Issued:May 2016
Publisher:[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [May 2016]
Abstract:This study examines the impact of the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) system and policies on a grassroots folksong tradition in Northwestern China called hua'er, which was named as Chinese ICH in 2006 and as UNESCO World ICH in 2009.
While analyzing the new Chinese ICH law, issued in 2011, as well as various cultural projects intended to preserve hua’er, I found that the Chinese national ICH process is a top-down project for the construction of national identity, in which the main goal of ICH recognition and protection is to strengthen a clear Chinese identity and a harmonious society. As a result, hua’er has recently undergone a great deal of reconstruction, modification and canonization.
However, hua’er is also a unique case study in that it was, historically, forbidden and considered as highly shameful to be sung in public because of its explicitly erotic lyrics. In addition, singing hua’er was traditionally often related to seeking and engaging in love affairs outside of a marriage. Singing such folksongs was, thus, generally regarded as a taboo in households and villages, especially among family members of the
opposite sex.
The designation of hua'er as an element of ICH has transformed it from a taboo or “forbidden” song genre, practiced at the margins of rural society, into a respectable element of world and national heritage, now even incorporated into the compulsory public education system.
Singers, scholars and officials in fact utilize the opportunity afforded by ICH recognition to negotiate and “re-imagine” the practice of hua’er and its associated identities. In doing so, singers overcome the social stigmas they have faced in the past. Once seen only as “wild songs” sung by unruly married people who engaged in secret love affairs, hua’er is now being reconstructed as a romantic courtship song genre of “naive” ethnic minority groups as well as an iconic music genre that represents ethnic
solidarity in the Northwestern region.
Description:Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2016.
Includes bibliographical references.
Appears in Collections: Ph.D. - Music

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