representations of minorities

representations of minorities
Ethnic minorities are best known to people in China through portrayals in a variety of domains. The most widespread domain is the lower-denomination currency, depicting ethnic groups in stylized clothing and headdresses on bills from ten yuan down to one mao. The next most common representation is in song and dance performances. Each area, and the central government, has a ‘song and dance troupe’ (gewutuan). In the south-west especially, the ‘minority song and dance troupes’ (minzu gewutuan) have frequent performances of songs and dances styled after actual minority ritual (but usually jazzed up and made more homogeneous), usually portraying one after another of the fifty-six ethnic groups. Since the 1980s, minority theme parks—with housing, costumes and other artifacts built to resemble minority areas—have been popular, with the most famous in Shenzhen.
Colourful representations of minorities are found on postage stamps, postcards and murals in some peripheral areas. Minorities are also a favourite theme in film, art and literature. For instance, the film Sacrificed Youth shows Tai culture (see Tai (Dai), culture of) as an appealing natural antidote to the stultifying restrictions of Han (Chinese) culture. The Yunnan school of painting depicts in bright oils certain themes such as graceful minority nude women. In literature there is a romantic view of minorities, as in Bai Hua’s Remote Country of Women. A growing set of folktales and stories written by minorities in Chinese has been published.
The basic ideas portrayed are several-fold: the minorities represent China’s past, with the Han representing the present and future. Minorities are seen as primitive, backward, quaint, in some ways innocent yet in other ways immoral (with ‘free’ sexual encounters).
Depictions often equate minorities with women, with children or with nature. On the evolutionary scale within which all of Chinese social science operates, the minorities are behind the Han.
See also: ethnicity, concepts of; minority pop musicians: the new generation; <
Blum, Susan D. (2001). Portraits of ‘Primitives’: Ordering Human Kinds in the Chinese Nation. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Clark, Paul (1987). ‘Ethnic Minorities in Chinese Films: Cinema and the Exotic’. East—West Film Journal 1.2 (June): 15–31.
Gladney, Dru (1994). ‘Representing Nationality in China: Refiguring Majority/Minority Identities’. Journal of Asian Studies 53.1 (February): 92–123.
Kuoshu, Harry H. (2000). ‘Othering the National Minorities: Exoticism and Self-Reflexivity’. In idem, Lightness of Being in China: Adaptation and Discursive Figuration in Cinema and Theater. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 95–122.
Oakes, Tim (1998). Tourism and Modernity in China. London: Routledge.
Schein, Louisa (2000). Minority Rules: The Miao and the Feminine in China’s Cultural Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Zhang, Yingjin (1997). ‘From “Minority Film” to “Minority Discourse”: Questions of Nationhood and Ethnicity in Chinese Cinema’. In Sheldon Lu (ed.), Transnational Chinese Cinema: Identity, Nationhood, Gender. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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