Friday, July 21, 2006

Tai Lue revival in Sipsongpanna (and Thailand)

Tai Lue folk music is truly a wonderful thing.

A new book about Tai Lue music Song and Silence published by Silkworm Books in Chiang Mai is just out. Chinese informal folk songs, similar to these Tai Lue songs, is also the topic of discussion over at Frog In the Well blog.

This music brightens my home in Chiang Rai because my family is Tai Lue, our next-door neighbors are too, as well as our whole neighborhood in Maesai). Tai Lues seem to be found everywhere from Chiang Rai to Chiang Kham, where there is an annual Tai Lue festival, all the way to Chiang Mai.

Sadly there doesn't appear to be much information about the Tai Lues or their history online yet. There is a wikipedia entry on Tai Lue language, but not Tai Lue culture or history it seems, except for this a summary article on the Dai people. The historians Volker Grabowsky and Liew Foon Ming have written extensively on Tai Lue history and have a special research project devoted to Tai Lue history. Liew Foon Ming has published a wonderful bibliographical guide to historical resources in Tai and Chinese in the French journal Aséanie published in Thailand.

Here is the announcement for a talk about the new book in Chiang Mai recently:

Northern Group - Chiang Mai
275th meeting - Thursday, July 6th 2006

Song and Silence : Ethnic Revival on China's Southwest Borders
A talk by Sara L. M. Davis

"An exemplary study of cross-border culture. Davis's original and deeply probing account of state-sponsored musical culture and of the musical practices that both transcend and subvert it deserves, like the music it depicts, to travel widely."
James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology, Yale University

"Song and Silence is a fascinating glimpse at a very interesting part of China that has increasingly become the focus of environmental and minority issues in the ever-evolving multi-ethnic state that is the PRC. Davis presents a well-researched and lucidly written examination of the complex inter-play between Han Chinese and Beijing and the increasingly vulnerable minority communities in the Himalayan foothills of Southern Yunnan whose historic isolation is now being irremediably breached by tourism, commerce and the media." Orville Schell, University of California, Berkeley

In the sunny, subtropical Sipsongpanna region, Tai Lues perform flirtatious, exoticized dances for an increasingly growing tourist trade.

Endorsed by Chinese officials, who view the Tai Lues as a model minority, these staged performances are part of a carefully sanctioned ethnic policy. However, behind the scenes and away from the eyes and ears of tourists and the Chinese government, a different kind of cultural resurgence is taking place.

In this vivid and beautifully told ethnography, Sara L. M. Davis reveals how Tai Lues are reviving and reinventing their culture in ways that contest the official state version. Carefully avoiding government repression, Tai Lues have rebuilt Buddhist temples and made them into vital centers for the Tai community to gather, discuss their future, and express discontent. Davis also describes the resurgence of the Tai language evident in a renewed interest in epic storytelling and traditional songs as well as the popularity of Tai pop music and computer publishing projects.

Throughout her work, Davis weaves together the voices of monks, singers, and activists to examine issues of cultural authenticity, the status of ethnic minorities in China, and the growing cross-border contacts among Tai Lues in China, Thailand, Burma, and Laos.

Sara L.M. Davis earned her Ph.D. at University of Pennsylvania. She was the China researcher at Human Rights Watch for three years. Davis has taught and held postdoctoral fellowships at Yale University and UCLA. She has written for several publications including The Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, and Modern China. She currently lives in New York.

AT THE ALLIANCE FRANCAISE : 138 Charoen Prathet Road - CHIANG MAI - 19:30
Please note: Silkworm Books, the publisher of Song and Silence, will offer snack box and sell the book.