Ethnic Art and Contemporary China
For thousands of years, imperial China found its deepest expression in a tradition of literary art—a tradition so potent that frontier and conquered peoples who learned to use it might, by conventional wisdom of the day, become Chinese. Today, the Chinese nation claims many such groups as “minority ethnicities,” and a tradition of Chinese language and literature remains the crucial conduit through which all residents of the nation must seek education and employment. At the same time, state policies increasingly codify and regulate the “different” artistic practices identified with minority ethnic groups. Running through this history is a common thread: aesthetic production, whether imperial, national, or culturally “other,” has been and remains a site of symbolic struggle over the terms of Chinese-ness. We trace such struggles from two angles, first considering the ways that ethnic art is (mis)interpreted in contemporary mainstream Chinese culture, and second, seeking an understanding of ethnic art practices in their own terms, with attention to how they comment on their popular representations. The course offers an introduction to ethnicity in China and to the sociality and politics of artistic production. Course materials include aesthetic objects, historical documents, ethnographic texts, and texts in social theory.