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09.00  Emergent Heritage: From Sacred to Secular Bronze Drums in Southwest China

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9:00, Monday 6 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

The earliest bronze drums in Asia date back over two thousand years and symbolized great wealth and spiritual power. Of the 2400 bronze drums found throughout the world, the HeChi Red River Basin in Northwest Guangxi, China possesses the largest number, with 1400. The bronze drum is one of thousands of tangible heritage, or “cultural relics,” inscribed on China’s national heritage registry. Launching a massive campaign for nation-wide heritage protection, China has created a three-tier heritage listing management system modeled on global practices. Identified and classified heritage across the country is listed as national (guojia wenwu baohu danwei), provincial (shengji wenwu baohu danwei), or city and county (shiji, xianji wenwu baohu danwei) protected heritage. This vertical scale places cultural and natural heritage in a hierarchical system of value and importance. 

This paper will examine the bronze drum’s incorporation into the politics of scale. Employing a material culture theoretical framework of analysis to follow the trajectory, or social life, of the the bronze drum in China, this study will probe how the bronze drum has become not only a “cultural relic,” but also in recent years, embedded in the intangible cultural heritage discourse through the recognition of its ceremonial significance at the county level among various ethnic minority groups. In such communities, the sacred bronze drum has come to possess a new status of secular heritage under the auspices of China’s heritage management system. This paper will explore the processes of heritage-making that complicate the singularization of the sacred bronze drum and its valuation. As a recognized new cultural asset and symbol of distinct ethnic groups in Guangxi, such as the Baiku Yao, the bronze drum has become an integral part of local cultural economies and of the larger heritage tourism industry. As the bronze drum continues to exist as an important sacred ritual object, its movement across scales of significance and regimes of value imposes new demands on the local ethnic community in the negotiation of the conception, practice, and value of the drum and reorientations of identity and the traditional knowledge system.

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