Regularly characterized in the early 1980s as a wild, poor, and undeveloped backwater on the western periphery of Chinese culture, today Xining, the capital of Qinghai, is marketed as China’s “Summer Capital,” and Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu, as “China’s Cultural Crossroads”. Government officials, entrepreneurs, and academics have made use of changing national programs in order to develop and promote the history, arts, and cultural products of Qinghai and Gansu provinces—and to both tie them more closely to and distinguish them from “Inner China.” This talk will reflect on changes over the last 30 years in the ways that “culture” has been marked and interpreted through performance and spectacle, public discourse, and the physical landscape. And it will explore transformations in the framing of somewhat risqué songs—promoted as unique artistic forms of the two provinces over the last half century—from “products of Northwest China’s working classes” to an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”
Sue Tuohy is a Senior Lecturer in Folklore and Ethnomusicology and an adjunct faculty member in East Asian Languages and Cultures and in International Studies at Indiana University, where she has been teaching since 1994. She began conducting ethnographic research on music and society in China in 1983, focusing particularly on folksongs and festivals in Northwest China. Her research addresses the ways that musical and cultural performance, discourse, and institutions articulate, and articulate with, central issues in contemporary China. She has conducted research on tourism, heritage promotion, and the role of the arts in social-political transformation, and has published articles on topics such as, “Reflexive Cinema: Reflecting on and Representing the Worlds of Chinese Film and Music,” “The Sonic Dimensions of Nationalism in Modern China: Musical Representation and Transformation,” and "The Social Life of Genre: The Dynamics of Folksong in China."