Doing Ethnicity: Multi-layered Ethnic Scripts in Contemporary China
Jingyu Mao – 2023
Drawing on lengthy ethnographic fieldwork with ethnic performers in South-West China, this article seeks to explore the multi-layered ethnic scripts in contemporary China. Ethnic performers are people who perform ethnic songs and dances in restaurants or tourist sites, most of whom are rural–urban migrants from ethnic minority backgrounds. Ethnic performers’ ambivalences regarding whether they are “authentic minorities” points to the inadequacy of attempting to understand ethnicity in an essentialized way. Understanding ethnicity as something people do rather than who they are, the concept of “ethnic scripts” is proposed as a conceptual tool to illuminate the cultural and social repertoires which deeply shape people’s understanding of and ways of doing ethnicity. By exploring the multi-layered meaning of ethnic scripts in contemporary China, this article highlights the ways that ethnic scripts are closely related to migrant performers’ emotions and sense of self, and addresses the fact that ethnic scripts are inherently gendered.