Tuesday, August 08, 2006

i spot a national metanarrative

Recently I was in Xian, home to the tomb of Emperor Qin (also known as Shi Huangdi), the first Emperor who unified China. While the tomb is most famous for its terracotta soldiers the Emperor was also buried with a whole range of other figures and belongings, including figurines of the ethnic minorities who live in the outlying regions of China. These were included in the tomb to illustrate the extent of his domain and the variety of peoples he had unified (and would rule again in the afterlife). Two thousand years later minority figures are still appearing as part of the iconography of the wide reaching united Chinese nation, employed in diverse materials such as revolutionary communist artwork and a even recent Wrigley's brand ad:

In this ad they are used to illustrate that all sorts of people, all across China love a bit of western chewing gum. (Does this make China's ethnic minorities the oldest advertising property ever?) This is also a small illustration of the immense continuity in Chinese culture. Confucianism, Taoism and traditional medicine are all part of this same continuity and it creates a sense of innate heritage and wisdom that the Chinese understandably see as a unique national strength.


nien said...

cool stuff. can you find anymore examples? i wonder if the minorities in the ads are being exoticized.

i see what you mean said...

china mobile loves a enthic minority or two as well but its a national day/brand ad favourite so i ll keep my eye out for more examples. as for being exoticised I think there's an air of the 'noble savage' around the minorities here in the popular imagination. Their homelands are also increasingly popular tourist destinations (for local tourists in particular) and that's having a negative impact on their environment and cultural heritage.

nien said...

i thought about this some more, do they just use one type of minority people or are they all sort of just lumped together? do they use also have Hui (Muslim) and Mongolians?

nien said...

oops, another thought: how local tourism having a negative impact on their cultural heritage?

as i understand it, chinese society puts a lot of pressure for minorities to assimilate and there doesn't seem to be a lot of respect for minorities. local tourism, in my mind, is the one of the major reasons why some minorities still hang on to their heritage- because it makes money.