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Sounding Minority Beliefs: The Dialogic Soundscapes of the Guerx Sal Lad Festival of the Bai in Yunnan, Southwest China

Yang, Shuo (2023) Sounding Minority Beliefs: The Dialogic Soundscapes of the Guerx Sal Lad Festival of the Bai in Yunnan, Southwest China. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This project is the first in-depth study to investigate the pluralistic soundscapes of the Guerx Sal Lad, one of the most important religious festivals of the Bai in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan, southwest China. “Guerx Sal Lad” is the name of the festival in the Bai language, which means “visiting three places.” Held annually (from the twenty-second day to the twenty-fifth day of the fourth lunar month), the Guerx Sal Lad encompasses a variety of practices—the worship of tutelary deities, pilgrimage, and antiphonal singing, among others—that are related to people’s religious beliefs, wishes for prosperity, and maintenance of intracommunity relations. As a festive space, the Guerx Sal Lad presents a desired situation by the state regarding China’s religious policy, in which folk beliefs are accessible and even celebrated as cultural heritage but, at the same time, with the strong regulatory presence of the state ideology and policies implemented by local governments. It is within the Guerx Sal Lad that these different interests intersect.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken in Dali city from 2020 to 2022 and analysis of documentary sources including government documents and scholarly writings, I theorize that the soundscape of the Guerx Sal Lad is composed of a polyphony of overlapping and intersecting sub-soundscapes that represent the voices and ideologies of several key actors involved in shaping the festival: rural villagers, local government institutions, and mediators in between (basic-level cadres, representative transmitters, and local scholars). By looking into various sounding events closely related to the Guerx Sal Lad and discourses around them, this dissertation explores the negotiation and contestation between these “voices” with unequal “volumes” at the intersection of minority folk beliefs, China’s minority politics, and state projects of cultural heritagization, especially since China’s engagement with UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in the early 2000s. Informed by ethnomusicology, sound studies, religious studies, and the large body of scholarly research on ethnic minority groups in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), this dissertation offers a new approach to understanding minority politics and religious practices in contemporary southwest China.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Yang, Shuoshy47@pitt.edushy47
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairWeintraub,
Committee MemberAyyagari,
Committee MemberHelbig,
Committee MemberWitzleben, J.
Committee MemberLiang,
Date: 6 September 2023
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 21 April 2023
Approval Date: 6 September 2023
Submission Date: 26 July 2023
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 382
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: ethnic minority in China; Bai; southwest China; soundscape; festival;
Related URLs:
Date Deposited: 07 Sep 2023 01:35
Last Modified: 07 Sep 2023 01:35


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