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Song and Silence

Song and Silence: Ethnic Revival on China's Southwest Borders

Sara L. M. Davis
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Song and Silence
    Book Description:

    In the sunny, subtropical Sipsongpanna region, Tai Lues perform flirtatious, exoticized dances for an increasingly growing tourist trade. Endorsed by Chinese officials, who view the Tai Lues as a "model minority," these staged performances are part of a carefully sanctioned ethnic policy. However, behind the scenes and away from the eyes and ears of tourists and the Chinese government, a different kind of cultural resurgence is taking place.

    In this vivid and beautifully told ethnography, Sara L. M. Davis reveals how Tai Lues are reviving and reinventing their culture in ways that contest the official state version. Carefully avoiding government repression, Tai Lues have rebuilt Buddhist temples and made them into vital centers for the Tai community to gather, discuss their future, and express discontent. Davis also describes the resurgence of the Tai language evident in a renewed interest in epic storytelling and traditional songs as well as the popularity of Tai pop music and computer publishing projects. Throughout her work, Davis weaves together the voices of monks, singers, and activists to examine issues of cultural authenticity, the status of ethnic minorities in China, and the growing cross-border contacts among Tai Lues in China, Thailand, Burma, and Laos.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50942-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Maps and Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. [Maps]
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Introduction. The Writing on the Wall
    (pp. 1-24)

    The teak pillars that held up the eaves of the high temple roof outside had begun to bend and bow under its weight. Inside, the main hall of the temple was a dark forest of red lacquered pillars and handmade cotton streamers twirling below rafters that let in a few shafts of light and air. This temple, said to be the oldest still standing in the region, sat in an impoverished mountain village about an hour’s drive from China’s border with Burma.¹ The crude wooden Buddha statue seated on the dais, partially hidden between the pillars, was painted a cheap...

  7. 1 Front Stage
    (pp. 25-52)

    The plane dipped and began its descent, sweeping over a sea of green whorls, the tea bushes that curved over Sipsongpanna’s rolling hills. Trails of mist rose off the muddy, turgid Mekong as it snaked between them. The plane flew low, skimming over women in baggy clothes hunched over tea plants with sagging cotton shoulder bags. Our cabin was packed with groups of elated Chinese businessmen, smiling and leaning against the plane’s portholes as they posed for photos. Women qu kaihui, explained the suited man in the next seat: We’re going for a conference.

    Coming out of the plane’s door...

  8. 2 Song and Silence
    (pp. 53-90)

    It was time to get to work. A few mornings after my arrival, with courage drunk from a few cups of strong coffee at Journey to the East, I crammed into a phone booth at the Xishuangbanna Binguan and struggled to shut the glass doors—a symbolic exercise, as the phone booth lacked a ceiling. Nothing could be done without monitoring. A hotel guest wishing to make a telephone call had to come to the business center, give the number to a young woman in a navy suit with a white neck ruffle, and wait while she noted the number...

  9. 3 The Oral Poet Laureate
    (pp. 91-122)

    WITH AYE ZAI GUANG and some of his friends, local Tai Lüe journalists and officials who were fans of changkhap oral poetry, I made a series of trips to Tai Lüe villages around Sipsongpanna. I began gradually to enter the world of oral poets, moving deeper into a “backstage” arena of song and debate.

    This was a mostly oral world, unlike the dominant world of guidebooks and maps. If text and orality have engaged in a massive battle in human history, it is fair to say that text has won. Our contemporary world is inscribed and circumscribed by the written...

  10. 4 The Monks
    (pp. 123-156)

    The weather was growing hotter, and with each passing day the temperature crept further past forty. One day, as I went for a morning jog around the hotel compound, I noticed a Chinese man, a tourist in a yellow baseball cap, hiding behind a tree and photographing the jogging foreign woman. To escape the tourists, I moved out of the government guesthouse and into the home of a German botanist, where I rented a room on the ground floor. There, after morning Tai Lüe classes and lunch with Mat at Journey to the East, I crept into a cool, tiled...

  11. Conclusion. Buddhas on the Borders
    (pp. 157-178)

    A coda to the khuba ceremony in Da Menglong:

    At one point during that festival weekend our van was en route to the temple in Da Menglong to watch another stage in the ceremonies when Aye Zai Guang leaned over the back of his seat and said, casually, “By the way, we’re going to Burma. A famous monk, Khruba Bunchum, is building a reliquary for us Sipsongpanna Tai Lües across the border, and we’re going to pay our respects to him.”

    Tai Lües in Sipsongpanna are continually going over the border into Shan State—for business, for family celebrations, or...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 179-190)
  13. Suggested Readings
    (pp. 191-192)
  14. Index
    (pp. 193-200)