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Diaspora 3:3 1994 Music Making in Cultural Displacement: The Chinese-American Odyssey Su Zheng Wesleyan University Ten years already, singing at the far away corner of the earth, Presuming that all the happiness and grudge in this world Has converged into the sound ofthe string and the flute. Forming a club to embody our sentiments, Exploring the tunes, writing the notations, Perpetually, there is a nostalgic soul. What a regret that so far away is the Guan Mountain! Let us rely on the fairy sound, The star-studded sky will take our sorrows. Beautiful theater, lovely night, Please do not let the sound of the string be dissolved. Alpha Chiang, 1961 [to the song title] Qi Tian Le (The Universal Happiness) Alpha Chiang was one of the four stranded Chinese students1 who cofounded the first Chinese-American Peking opera club in 1951. In 1961, for the occasion ofthe club's 10th anniversary performance , Chiang wrote the above poem in Chinese traditional style, describing the close connection between the music of Peking opera and his own deep sorrow as a displaced person. In Chiang's imagination , the fairy sound of music had the magic power to transcend the cultural displacement and to transmit the sentiments of the Chinese diaspora to the homeland. Chinese music has been present in America for more than 140 years.2 From the early Cantonese opera theater to today's heterogeneous musical activities, the formation of Chinese-American music culture has been shaped by the history of Chinese immigration in America. The importance of Chinese-American music culture therefore lies not solely in the recognition of a group of people and their cultural expressions. It rests also in the ambiguities and dilemmas faced by Chinese-American musicians, reflecting the experience of Diaspora 3:3 1994 a sizeable population living between two or more worlds. Significant changes have taken place for such musicians since the 1960s and especially in the last decade. The unbearable experience of the trans-Pacific journeys taken on steamships by the nineteenth century Chinese laborers from Guangdong to San Francisco, as recorded in the traditional Southern China narrative song muyu (Zheng, "From Toisan"), has already become a distant memory. Recent advertisements about performances of Chinese music in New York often indicate that the casts include performers flown in from Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China, in addition to local New York musicians. At a time when musics are being disseminated globally and musicians travel more freely between continents, as the world moves further into an age of information characterized by decentralization, fragmentation, and compression (Harvey), we need to ask again what it means to be a displaced musician in America? What kinds of practices are employed in creating a complex yet flexible displaced musical world? What are the relationships between discourses taking place on the one hand cross-culturally within the boundaries of a nation-state (the United States) and, on the other hand, transnationally , across geopolitical boundaries within the cultural realm of the Chinese diaspora? These are the major questions addressed in this essay. Scholars of the social sciences have become increasingly aware that people around the world "are no longer tightly territorialized, spatially bounded, historically unselfconscious, or culturally homogeneous " (Appadurai, "Global" 191). Responding to the challenge of an expanding cosmopolitan world on the one hand, and the decrease of cultural coherence on the other, a growing body of contemporary anthropological scholarship supports exploration ofthe increasingly tenuous links between people and place (Clifford). Recent publications have reevaluated the traditional concepts of"incarcerated" natives or "localized" cultures (Appadurai "Putting"); global cultural interrelatedness (Featherstone); and the rise of cosmopolitanism (Hannerz). In an article discussing renewed interest in theorizing space in postmodernist and feminist anthropological theory, Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson argue that there is a need to rethink some central analytical concepts. These include concepts of "culture" and "cultural difference," which are largely dependent on the notions that each country embodies its own distinctive culture, while world culture occupies the discontinuous spaces of nation-states ruptured by borderlines. In questioning this isomorphism of space, place, and culture, Gupta and Ferguson identify a series of significant problems , including the displacement of cultures...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 273-288
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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