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Musical Change and Continuity in a Rural Bai Community: an Ethnographic Study of Music-making in Fengyu, Yunnan, China

TAO, SONGZI (2024) Musical Change and Continuity in a Rural Bai Community: an Ethnographic Study of Music-making in Fengyu, Yunnan, China. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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The Bai people are a minority ethnic group mainly inhabiting Northwest Yunnan province, with their own distinctive culture featuring diverse forms of Bai music. Currently, in the 2020s, many Bai rural communities still maintain Bai musical traditions as essential constituent elements in their everyday lives. However, since the end of the 20th century, processes of modernization, urbanization, technological innovation, and migration have accelerated in the Bai heartlands as in much of China, evincing major sociocultural transformations within communities. In line with these broader transformations, the Bai people have been adapting their musical practices in various ways, seeking to ensure the music’s continued relevance and effective functionality in their modern lives. And, more recently, since the 2010s, the use of mobile phones and social-networking platforms has proliferated throughout Bai villages, stimulating further major changes in how people engage with music making. This study explores the key theme of change and continuity in Bai musical culture, focusing on villages situated in the Fengyu basin, in Northwestern Yunnan. For the most part, analysis centres on ethnographic materials gathered during fieldwork in the region, conducted between 2020 and 2022. My exploration of musical change and continuity focuses on three fields of Bai music making in particular, namely local religious music, shawm music and folksong. Drawing from extensive interviews, photographs, and videos, as well as the small body of existing academic studies pertaining to Bai culture, I detail and assess the various contexts in which these musical forms are performed, the musical communities that foster and perform them, and the distinguishing features of the musical arts themselves. I apply systematic qualitative analysis both diachronically and synchronically to reveal areas of change and continuity within Bai culture more generally and within musical practice more specifically. Interpreting and comparing the three musical forms, I find that, when facing social changes, these various genres continue and change in different aspects and to different degrees, although they coexist in the same village in the same era. This finding leads to the topic of the formative processes of music. Interpreting my ethnographical observations in the light of Rice’s model (1987), I propose that the formative processes of Bai folk music in Fengyu are in a complicated and dynamic system, influenced by the ways that the Bai people have historically constructed, socially maintained, and individually created and experienced their music. In identifying both the sustainability-ensuring factors and the transformation-fueling processes that run through this dynamic musical culture, I argue that musical change and continuity are, essentially, two sides of the same coin. In this regard, my study also considers the implications of recently introduced intangible cultural heritage preservation ideas and practices on Bai musical culture.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Bai music, Music change and continuity, Chinese folk music
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Music, Department of
Thesis Date:2024
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:07 Mar 2024 15:54

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