THALEA STOKES : Whose Throat-Singing? UNESCO Awarding Khoomei as a Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage


Whose Throat-Singing? UNESCO Awarding Khoomei as a Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage

Thalea Stokes
Thalea Stokes

Whose Throat-Singing? UNESCO Awarding Khoomei as a Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage

Thalea StokesApril 18, 2015MIDSEM Annual Meeting 2015Urbana, IL
nations must go through an even lengthier, more costly, and more scrupulous application process to inscribe cultural artifacts. While it is admirable that UNESCO recognized a problem and took steps to solve it as it relates to cultural appropriation, the damage had already been done in a certain sense. The
 dispute, unwittingly instigated by UNESCO, exacerbated age-old ÒChina as imperialistÓ sentiments among the Mongolian citizenry that have long held this mistrust, even despite the Mongolia-China normalization process. The question remains as to whether UNESCO awards cultural artifacts to nations based on origination, or who is best able to preserve said artifacts, the latter certainly being the preferred viewpoint of Chinese ofÞcials. Is it truly possible for an international organization to impartially award legitimacy of claim when it comes to cultural artifacts? What does it say when an NGO such as UNESCO, by nature of their actions, seems to play into narratives of predatory and neo-imperialist behavior? The fact that UNESCO has successfully researched, promoted, educated, and preserved many cultural artifacts in danger of being lost should not be understated. However, this controversy of the
 dispute points to a larger problem of Western-based institutions dictating the terms of cultural ownership to the world without sufÞcient input from and agency of those actors who directly experience the culture in question.
When UNESCO awarded China the inscription of
 as a Chinese intangible cultural artifact, it caused a minor disruption in peaceful ongoing negotiations between the two states but a major disruption among the people affected by the decision. The awarding was essentially seen as an affront to Mongolian identity, just another example of Chinese appropriation of Mongolian culture. ChinaÕs motivations for laying claim to Mongolian, and other minority cultural artifacts, lie in its aim to present a wholly uniÞed China to the world. It also increases the prestige of Chinese history, and gives the nation opportunity to further ÒmanageÓ its minority ethnic groups. Mongolia, a nation lacking the capital and inßuence of its southern
Thalea StokesApril 18, 2015MIDSEM Annual Meeting 2015Urbana, IL
neighbor, has great incentive to promote and preserve its cultural artifacts in order to be considered a major player on the world stage. When these cultural artifacts are presented to the world through the auspices of these nation-states, however, the voices of the people often become overshadowed by national and global interests. The preservation of these cultural artifacts might be better served through heavier mediation by and attention given to the lived experiences of the people involved rather than claims made by states. That is, these cultural artifacts, rather than existing as museum pieces that serve as indicators of entire nations, should be rejoined with the people who largely created and actively maintain them, and presented as inseparable elements of a larger, more informed, and more accurate cultural whole.
Thalea StokesApril 18, 2015MIDSEM Annual Meeting 2015Urbana, IL
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Thalea StokesApril 18, 2015MIDSEM Annual Meeting 2015Urbana, IL
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Author: tranquanghai1944

Ethnomusicologist, composer and vietnamese traditional musician

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