China: Tradition and the Art of Living Podcast Series

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In "Producing Ethnicity: The Ethics of Showcasing a Culture," 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 Tsetsen, and Abigail Washburn, folk musician, 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 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.

The full list of episodes that analyze discussion sessions from the 2014 Folklife Festival:


Special thanks to Jim Deutsch and Sojin Kim, curators of China: Tradition and the Art of Living, and Elisa Hough, for their assistance and editorial advice.