Lecture: Helen Rees, Professor of Ethnomusicology at UCLA


October 1, 2010 - 12:00pm

Helen Rees, Professor of Ethnomusicology at UCLA, will lecture on

Intangible Cultural Heritage Preservation in China Today: Theory, State Policy, and Practice

This event is cosponsored by the Asian Studies Center and the Department of Music.

During the second half of the twentieth century, the East Asian countries best known for intangible cultural heritage (ICH) preservation were indubitably Japan and South Korea. China, by contrast, generally seemed headed in the opposite direction, especially during the Cultural Revolution. In the last ten years, however, China has developed a series of high-profile national and international initiatives in this area. Most eye-catching have been the country’s participation in all three rounds of UNESCO’s “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” program (2001, 2003, 2005); the establishment in 2006 of the China Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection; and the naming since 2007 of several hundred national-level “representative transmitters” for artistic traditions from every province and region. Similar plans have been enacted at provincial and local levels, while grassroots efforts to document, protect, revive, or sustain individual traditions have also multiplied.

This presentation begins by addressing the reasons underlying China’s rather sudden enthusiasm for ICH, together with the top-down policies implemented to encourage preservation and development in socially desirable ways. It then moves on to three fieldwork-based case-studies that document what is actually happening on the ground. The most renowned and elite tradition among the three is that of the seven-string zither qin (guqin), long the instrument of the literati, which has seen a spectacular flowering of interest since its naming in 2003 as a UNESCO “Masterpiece.” The other two case-studies, of Han village and small-town ritual music, and of performance traditions among the Naxi ethnic minority in Yunnan Province, lie further outside the cultural mainstream and have a more complex relationship with official ICH initiatives. I conclude by considering where China’s very young ICH movement is headed in the next decade, and how it may be compared and contrasted with the more mature situations in South Korea and Japan.

Helen Rees is a professor of ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of Echoes of History: Naxi Music in Modern China (2000) and editor of Lives in Chinese Music (2009). In addition to fieldwork in southwest China and Shanghai, she is also very active as an interpreter, translator, and presenter for Chinese musicians and scholars abroad, most recently for the Amsterdam China Festival (2005), Smithsonian Folklife Festival (2007), and BBC Radio Three (2008).

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