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Advanced Seminar on Chinese Culture and Arts Program

"Rapping Chinese Folk Songs or Shuochang?: Discussing Sino-African Music Exchange"

The 1st Confucius China studies Program Young Leaders Fellowship Project offered its participants the chance to tour the Yunnan province. While there we observed several cultural shows which glorified the region’s many ethnic minorities through elaborate montage performances. One show in particular, Golden Lin’an Folk and Ethnic Song and Dance Night, in Jianshui, Yunnan advertised Jianshui Rap in its brochure. From the brochure notes I presumed we would be experiencing a neo-traditional performance of traditional folk songs from the region. To my surprise, what was advertised as Jianshui Rap was actually a time honored narrative tradition which exists in various forms throughout most China—Shuochang (speak and sing). My paper investigates why a performance company would categorize a Chinese musical tradition dating back to the Eastern Han Dynasty under the genre of rap, which is deeply couched in African American history and culture. As this discussion forced me to ponder the idea of cultural appropriation in China, I also began to ponder why the discussion of cultural exchange—Chinese immigrants in Africa and African immigrants in China—is seemingly lacking in Academic discourse.

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