China’s Ethnic Song and Dance

In the New York Times, Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore writes about the role of ethnic minorities in China, and the conflicts between their official image and the realities of life for non-Han Chinese citizens:

Chinese officials like to paint a picture of China as one big happy multicultural family. To that end, the state pushes the stereotype that ethnic are little more than entertainers who sing and dance in bright costumes.

Song-and-dance minority troupes regularly appear on state television — often singing in Mandarin rather than their native tongue. The performances are ramped up for important events. I attended the televised Chinese Communist Party’s 60th anniversary gala in 2009 and watched party leaders in suits listen stiffly to minority singers while pretty young women modeled ethnic hats.

[…] Unsurprisingly, Chinese media are less interested in showcasing genuine ethnic minority culture than in using portrayals of happy, traditional ethnic minorities as entertainment to boost Han rule. As Zang Xiaowei, a professor of Chinese studies at the University of Sheffield, explained to me this week, the state media aim to “strengthen Han ethnicity for nation-building purposes.”

[…] But when minorities attempt to venture outside the zones of tourism and entertainment, many hit a wall, a problem exacerbated in more restive areas like Tibet and Xinjiang. [Source]