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Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit


Tuesday 31 May

Xiaoshi Wei


Hearing the Inner Asian Frontiers of China: Archival Representation for Traditions

Sound archives and their contents provide access to the numerous meanings a society can attach to its cultural materials and artefacts. Identifying these multiple and often competing meanings can tell us a lot about groups of people’s beliefs, needs, and desires. My ongoing research focuses on the creation, provenance, and content of sound collections of the Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic people in China. I will select and play a dozen audio extracts from these institutional and private collections to show their musical and narrative content, and demonstrate the way these collections have been formed. Notable collections include 1) the early expeditions to Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and the Amur River region at the beginning of the 20th century; 2) Uyghur and Kazakh recordings made in the early 1950s under the social order newly established by the PRC; 3) “black cassettes” (qara dey) made from private gatherings since the 1980s; and 4) contemporary ongoing projects within official institutions, e.g., Prof. Yang Yucheng (Buteelt)’s extensive Inner Mongolian recordings. These sound collections are similar to their counterparts elsewhere in the world, which can be explored and researched to reveal the local socio-political order, cultural policy, and the textual and subtextual meanings of the archived materials. My central questions lie in how these collections form the sonic and discursive dimensions of the “Inner Asian Frontiers of China”, how their various meanings compete to represent wider cultural traditions, and what traits these collections share across such vast, different but connected geographic regions in comparison to other parts of China. In the end, I will show how collections can inform research approaches, including strategies for negotiating institutional barriers in accessing archival material.


Xiaoshi Wei holds a PhD degree in ethnomusicology from Indiana University, and is currently a Newton International Fellow at SOAS, University of London. He is also the director of the China Database for Traditional Music in Beijing and a research associate at the Archives of Traditional Music (ATM) at Indiana University. In 2017, Xiaoshi assisted the ATM in initiating “First Recordings from China: The Berthold Laufer Chinese Recordings Project”.

Tuesday, 31 May, 2022 - 13:00 to 14:00
Event location: 
Mond Building Seminar Room