Dissertation Abstract

"Tugging at the Native's Heartstrings: Nostalgia and the Post- Mao 'Revival' of the Xian Shi Yue String Ensemble Music of Chaozhou, South China"

Mercedes M. DuJunco

Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington, August 1994.

Committee chair: Prof. Ter Ellingson

In the post-Mao era, authorities revived the xian shi yue string ensemble music indigenous to the culture-dialect zone of Chaozhou in South China. The renewed practice of this music in a neotraditional style and can be traced to the government's political and economic agenda and the social situation in China in the current period of economic reforms.

Since 1949 until the late 1970s, the communist leadership in Beijing has strictly adhered to a cultural policy geared towards promoting social conformity and eliminating class and regional distinctions among its citizenry. Today, in a complete about-face, it is allowing and even supporting the practice of local and regional cultural traditions such as xian shi yue, which had formerly been labelled "feudal" or "counter-revolutionary" and banned. The reason behind this paradox may be traced to the economic reforms for which support is drummed up, especially from Chinese people overseas, through the use of traditional symbols which inspire nationalist and/or nostalgic sentiments.

The study examines the nature of nostalgia with specific reference to xian shi yue and how the longing for one's native place is evoked in native listeners, particularly potential overseas Chaozhou Chinese investors whom the government is trying to attract, upon the performance of this music. Based on the notion that nostalgia is transmutable into a musically and culturally codified sentiment shared by those who have assimilated the musical code, it is argued that nostalgia is evoked by xian shi yue through the performance of the music in a style approaching the traditional way it used to be performed in pre-socialist times. This style, which is characterized by the intensive use of melodic variation at different levels of the musical structure, holds meaning for many Chaozhou natives who had grown up performing and listening to it before 1949. Thus, its "revival" is logical given the need for xian shi yue to be an effective symbol of Chaozhou regional identity.

Updated 10 Oct 1995