Baranovitch_on_Minor - MODERN CHINA VOICES OF MINORITY PEOPLE Baranovitch NEW JULY 2001 Between Alterity and Identity New Voices of Minority People

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MODERN CHINA / JULY 20 1 Baranovitch / NEW VOICES OF MINORITY PEOPLE Between Alterity and Identity New Voices of Minority People in China NIMROD BARANOVITCH Hebrew University of Jerusalem In 1993, a famous Mongolian musician from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) named Teng Ge’er 1 was quoted in Yinxiang shijie (Au- dio and Video World), a popular music magazine published in Beijing and distributed nationwide: I can’t sing anymore the kind of songs that deceive oneself as well as others, like “The Beautiful Grassland Is My Home” (“Meili de caoyuan wo de jia”). My elders and my fellow people will not for- give ....Inmy native land, Ordos grassland, the herding people live year after year in drought and poverty. The lushness of the grassland belongs only to the past. [Qtd. in Zheng Chunhua, 1993: 2] This critical attitude is not new; students of ethnicity in China are well aware that at least among some minorities, people commonly express discontent with their status and how their group is represented in mainstream culture. But in voicing such an attitude publicly and di- rectly in nationally distributed media, Teng Ge’er marked a significant shift in the role that minorities play in general culture in the PRC and particularly in how their ethnic identity is represented in that culture. My purpose in this article is to explore that new role and its complex implications. Recent studies on minority identities in the PRC have recognized, whether explicitly or implicitly, that the Chinese state has a privileged and dominant role in constructing and representing those identities. 359 AUTHOR’S NOTE: I thank Nicole Constable, Stevan Harrell, Bell Yung, and an anonymous reader for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. Research for this article was funded by grants from the University of Pittsburgh and the Pacific Cultural Foundation. MODERN CHINA, Vol. 27 No. 3, July 2001 359-401 © 2001 Sage Publications
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Several studies have demonstrated that the state controls how minority identities are defined and publicly represented (e.g., Clark, 1987a, 1987b; Harrell, 1990; Gladney, 1994). Others have shown how the state influences even the perceptions and practices of some minorities regarding their own ethnic identity (e.g., Diamond, 1995; Harrell, 1996). Yet since scholarly interest in ethnicity in China has revived in the past decade or so, researchers have also repeatedly suggested that minority people have some degree of agency. In particular, several have pointed to the existence among certain minorities of perceptions, narratives, and practices relating to their ethnic identity that do not conform to and sometimes even resist the state’s constructions (e.g., Harrell, 1990; Gladney, 1991; Litzinger, 1995, 1998; Cheung, 1996; Schein, 1997). Recognizing agency in China’s minorities implies that ethnicity in
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This note was uploaded on 06/07/2008 for the course IR 333 taught by Professor Lynch during the Fall '06 term at USC.

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Baranovitch_on_Minor - MODERN CHINA VOICES OF MINORITY PEOPLE Baranovitch NEW JULY 2001 Between Alterity and Identity New Voices of Minority People

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