AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 662

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Session 662: Western Musical Instruments in China and Cultural Tibet

Organizer and Chair: James A. Millward, Georgetown University, USA

Discussant: Ricardo D. Trimillos, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

Music is a human universal and one of the most fertile vectors of cultural exchange, yet it is examined surprisingly little by scholars in disciplines other than the specialized fields of musicology and ethnomusicology. Musical instruments themselves fall into an even more rarified subfield—organology. Yet the processes of introduction, adoption, adaptation and transculturation of musical instruments can have cultural, social and even economic effects no less wide-ranging than when the transferred technology is industrial, agricultural or military. Moreover, musical instruments are aesthetic objects as well as tools, enmeshed in webs of semantic associations, often with long historical and wide geographical reach: is a given instrument "high" or "low" culture? Is it "modern" or "traditional"? Is it native or foreign? Do men or women usually play it? Is it fashionable? Is it subversive? And in the case of China, popularity of a given instrument can have global implications, as when Chinese manufacture of harmonicas, accordions or violins seizes an enormous share of the world market and steamrolls competitors, or its mass production of guitars and other wooden instruments strains world stocks of rain-forest tone-woods with political and economic effects in Madagascar and other wood-exporting countries. While work has been done on China's embrace of and excellence in the Western classical music tradition, there has been next to no scholarly consideration of instruments not part of the western orchestral ensemble and the music played on them. The papers in this panel look at three western instruments vastly popular in China from perspectives including ethnomusicology, history, and material culture studies, discuss their introduction to and adaptation to local uses and meanings in China, and from there consider the process of organological transculturation in general.

Amdo Mando: Stories of the Mandolin in the Amdo Region of Cultural Tibet
John Flower, University of Virginia, USA

How did the Western mandolin become the main accompanying instrument for folk and popular music in the Amdo region of Cultural Tibet? Academics, musicians, and fans have different responses to this question. This paper considers those different explanations of the mandolin's origins in Amdo music, exploring some of the possible meanings underlying the varying accounts, and looking at specific people who emerge in the stories as significant figures. The paper also reviews the ways in which the mandolin has been popularized in Tibetan areas through itinerant musicians, recordings, and government sponsored music programs in Amdo, as well as the wider spread of mandolin music through its popularity with truck drivers on the Tibetan plateau. From its origins as a instrument to accompany solo singing of pastoral songs (glu gzhas), to its use in ntbecome an integral part of the construction of a unique "Amdo identity" that in turn plays to the ongoing folklorization of a pan-Tibetan identity-a contested process with many positions. The paper concludes with a comparison of the mandolin's role in Amdo music to that of the dramnyen in U-Tsang, as well as with some reflections on the historical similarities of the mandolin's evolution in Tibetan and Appalachian musical traditions.

Made in China: Domestication of the Accordion in the Maoist Era
Yin Yee Kwan, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong

The accordion, like any other musical instrument, is an artifact of material culture which ‘speaks’ to ‘audiences’ in ways that transcend its physical construction and acoustic production. This paper discusses the keyboard accordion as an ambivalent cultural phenomenon in the twentieth century China. Given the omnipresence of the accordion during the Maoist era, its absence from contemporary Chinese music discourse is bewildering. The accordion was brought to China from Europe in the early twentieth century. Although there is a widespread view that its ancestor was the Chinese mouth organ sheng, its physical construction was unrelated to existing Chinese instruments. The accordion came to be used increasingly by song-and-dance troupes, which only increased general demand for the instrument, but also inspired higher standards of craftsmanship and production as the need for individual repairs soon turned to home manufacture. Discussion of model standardization and manufacturing materials was even put on the agenda of a national meeting of the Light Industry Department in 1957. After a discussion of home manufacture, the paper discusses the challenges faced by accordionists and workers in musical instrument factories. I will examine the establishment of state-owned accordion factories with respect to technology and the materials used for manufacturing the accordion. Finally, I will focus on accordion production in the context of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), and provide plausible explanations for the instrument’s near disappearance from Chinese music history thereafter.

The Guitar in China
James A. Millward, Georgetown University, USA

The guitar is today the world's most numerous, and arguably most popular, instrument. Though guitars emerged from Iberia starting in the sixteenth century, the instrument's popularity in Asia is largely a 20th century phenomenon. In China, due to its relative inexpense and ease with which it can be played to accompany songs, the guitar fit the needs of an era of mass mobilization, nationalism, and explorations with modernity in urban China in the early twentieth century, and appeared frequently as props with images of modern girls in such publications as Ling Long or as accompaniment in the first sound movies. Yet for reasons possibly relating to the guitar's extra-musical associations (with the West, with romanticism, with footloose bohemians—and hence with liu mang) the guitar was banned during the Cultural Revolution, even while three-string "balalaikas" that filled exactly the same niche were produced and played upon, often emblazoned with Mao Zedong's calligraphy. The guitar reappeared as a key accessory to those same bell-bottomed, sun-glasses wearing liumang in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but was soon re-associated to global currents of guitar culture. Chinese rock and classical guitar schools began simultaneously in that era, with increased access to foreign music and instructional materials (many filtered through Japan), but while the semiotics of the guitar in the late 20th century China seem roughly in line with global meanings, there remain subtle differences: both the founder of Chinese classical guitar instruction at the Central Conservatory in Beijing and younger heavy-metal guitarists when interviewed speak of wishing to "raise the level of guitar playing for the good of the nation." As China takes up the baton from Japan and Korea to become the world's foremost industrial producer of guitars, this paper surveys the evolution of the guitar-as-icon in twentieth-century China to explore both how an instruments are more than a mechanical-acoustic devices, and how the guitar has been and continues to be transculturated in a Chinese and global millieu.