Music as Intangible Cultural Heritage: Policy, Ideology, and Practice in the Preservation of East Asian Traditions

By Seeger, Anthony | Yearbook for Traditional Music, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Music as Intangible Cultural Heritage: Policy, Ideology, and Practice in the Preservation of East Asian Traditions


Seeger, Anthony, Yearbook for Traditional Music


Howard, Keith, ed. Music as Intangible Cultural Heritage: Policy, Ideology, and Practice in the Preservation of East Asian Traditions. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2012. xiii, 277 pp., map, figures, transcriptions, references, index. ISBN 9781409439073.

This important collection of essays on cultural policies in several Asian countries addresses some of the core issues at the heart of a good deal of the world's cultural policies today. It provides urgently needed ethnographic studies of the impact of cultural policies on specific genres for a part of the world where some of these policies were developed. The outgrowth of a 2010 conference, the volume opens with a very thoughtful and extensively referenced general introduction by Keith Howard that I recommend to anyone interested in the subject. The subsequent ethnographic essays are arranged by country-four on China, two on Korea, one on Taiwan, and four on Japan-one of them on Okinawa. A short review cannot do justice to the ethnographic richness of each of the contributions, which combine insightful general points as well as subtle ethnographic case studies, but I will mention each.

Helen Rees' chapter, "Intangible cultural heritage in China today: Policy and practice in the early 21st century," was originally the keynote address at the conference and discusses both general issues of cultural policy in China and three specific cases. She sees some successes in both "government-down" and "community-up" initiatives, and thinks there is a role for cultural policy that benefits certain traditions. Catherine Ingraham's "Ee, mang gay dor ga ey (Hey, why don't you sing)? Imagining the future for Kam Big Song" examines the interdependence of village traditions and staged performance formats of Kam vocal music in southwestern China. Olivia Kraef's "Strumming the Tost mouth chord': Discourses of preserving the Nuosu-Yi mouth harp" describes the significance of the mouth harp as a cultural heritage item in Liangshan Prefecture and proposes that the characteristics that make the instrument a successful platform for identity discourse and election to heritage lists may also signal its modification, distortion, or even disappearance due to the effects of safeguarding policies. Lauren Garfinkle's contribution, "From transformation to preservation: Music and multi-ethnic unity on television in China," discusses mass media, an extremely important part of the way local traditions become national icons that in turn return to influence local performances. Although films, radio, and especially television appear in a number of the case studies, this is the only essay to address television programming directly, based on a relatively limited survey of Chinese government channels between 2008 and 2010-a period when commercial as well as political concerns were reflected in the programming.

The two articles on Korean music address somewhat similar issues. Keith Howard's fascinating "Authenticity and authority: Conflicting agendas in the preservation of music and dance at Korea's state sacrificial rituals" draws on documents related to two rituals that spanathousandyears to reveal the difficulties of the Korean cultural policy that declares cultural forms to be immutable in the face of constant alterations introduced by their practitioners. …

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