Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- Chapter One: Overview of Ethnic Oral Materials
- A Preliminary Discussion on Ethnic Oral Materials
- Need to Conserve Ethnic Oral Materials in Yunnan
- Chapter Two: Case Study on Ethnic Oral History Materials and Archives
- Bai and Hani Oral History Materials
- Lisu and Wa Oral History Materials
- Zhuang and Qiang Oral History Materials
- Chapter Three: Studies of Ethnic Oral History Materials and Archives
- Research Accomplishments So Far
- Establishing “Ethnic Oral Archival Science” as an Academic Discipline
- Conceptualizations of Ethnic Oral History Archival Research in Yunnan
- Chapter Four: Management of Ethnic Oral History Archives
- Management of Ethnic Oral History Materials and Archives
- Approaches to Consolidating Ethnic Oral Archival Resources
- Chapter Five: History and Current State of Ethnic Oral Materials
- Past Efforts to Preserve Ethnic Oral Literary Heritage
- Case Studies in the Conservation of Ethnic Oral History and Culture
- Problems in Work Related to Ethnic Oral Archives
- Chapter Six: Conservation of Ethnic Oral History Materials and International Cooperation
- Trials in the Conservation of Ethnic Oral History Materials
- International Collaboration in Conserving Ethnic Oral History Materials
- Chapter Seven: Development of Ethnic Oral History Resources
- Accelerating the Development of Ethnic Oral History Resources
- Establishing Archival Resource Systems in Multi-ethnic Border Regions
- About the Author
Through case studies of pilot conservation projects launched by the Yunnan Provincial Archives in recent years, this book comprehensively and systematically discusses issues in the conservation of ethnic oral history materials and the development of ethnic oral history resources. After an overview of ethnic oral history materials in general, the book gives an introduction to the oral history material of the Bai, Hani, Lisu, Wa, Zhuang, and Qiang ethnic groups; discusses theoretical research and work practices related to ethnic oral history; elaborates upon the methods for managing and integrating ethnic oral history archives; reviews the history, current state, and existing issues of work related to ethnic oral materials; summarizes experiences gained from international collaboration in the conservation of ethnic oral materials; and reflects upon issues such as the development of ethnic oral history resources and the establishment of oral history resource systems in multi-ethnic border regions.
As the result of research on the management of specialized archives and work related to oral archives, this book contributes towards the establishment of ethnic oral archival science as an academic discipline and enriches the knowledge structure of oral history and the science of managing oral archives.
Overview of Ethnic Oral Materials
A Preliminary Discussion on Ethnic Oral Materials
The oral traditions of the human race are far older than its recorded history. Before the invention of writing systems, oral transmission was the only way to preserve and pass down social memories. Oral narratives have persisted for millennia and continue to flourish. Even in modern times, it remains common for oral traditions to be verbally transmitted by older to younger generations. Historically, the many ethnic minorities that lacked writing systems of their own had to either borrow the writing systems of other ethnic groups or rely on oral recounting to ensure that important historical events and historical figures are not lost to history. Oral accounts passed on through the generations by inheritors proficient in their ethnic cultures also ensure the continuity of their oral, intangible, and living ethnic cultural heritage. Tangible records that crystallize the oral traditions of ethnic minorities are known as ethnic oral materials.
With reference to the views of professional archivists, we argue that the “oral materials of ethnic minorities,” or “ethnic oral materials” for short, refer to those original “oral historical records” of ethnic minorities worthy of conservation. Ethnic oral materials reflect the tribal origins and migrations of ethnic groups and their modes of production, lifestyles, languages, music, dance, religious rituals, ←1 | 2→ethics, morals, folk customs, and taboos that have been orally transmitted from generation to generation.
Much akin to the debate over whether ancient inscriptions on bronzes and stone tablets are cultural relics or historical records, there is much controversy among the archival community as to whether oral materials are, in fact, “archival material” in the traditional sense of the word. Some believe that they are literary creations and should rightly be classified as oral or folk literature. Some argue that they are only records of anecdotes and are merely literary works. There are yet others who hold that they are historical records in their own right, on the same standing as archival collections and historical artifacts.
In reality, only 17 of the 55 ethnic minorities in China have ever developed writing systems. However, the lack of a writing system did not prevent the other ethnic groups from creating vibrant cultures of their own. Despite the lack of written historical records, they have managed to hand down their histories and cultures from generation to generation by word of mouth, allowing their heritage to survive to the present day. Regardless of whether they had a written language, all ethnic groups have used oral recounting as a way to preserve their historical and cultural heritage, which have now become a valuable repository of oral materials.1 For ethnic minorities, these oral accounts bear even more extensive, profound cultural substance and value as they crystallize and preserve the collective wisdom and experiences of regional ethnic groups.
Because they have few classical literary works, ethnic minorities have been developing various genres of folksongs to express emotions and love since ancient times, such as the Urtin Duu (“Long Tune”) of the Mongolian ethnic group, the songs of the Zhuang people in Guangxi, and the Hua’er folksong widely known in northwestern China. There are countless representative folksongs, such as “Yimakan” of the Hezhen people, “Arirang” of the Korean ethnic group, and “Nishan Shaman” of the Manchurian people. The ethnic cultures of some ethnic minorities are conveyed and spread through folk ballads. For instance, the philosophy and culture of the Kazak ethnic group have been inherited and spread through the storytelling ballads sung by Aken (folk singers) across generations. The Song Festival of the Zhuang people, the Grand Songs of the Dong people, the Tage Performance of the Bai people, the Wedding Songs of the Jin people, and other forms of ethnic song performances are some of the most important ways whereby members of these ethnic groups communicate, exchange ideas, convey their feelings, and enhance ethnic cohesion.2
Take the epics of ethnic minorities living in Yunnan as examples. The Yi have Ashma and four other great epics – Nherghor Ter-yy, Axi’s Songs, Meige, and Chamu. The Naxi have Ancient Songs for Worshipping Heaven and three epics – Chongbantu, ←2 | 3→War between Black and White, and Luban Lurao. The Dai have Zhaoshutun and three folk narrative poems – Ebing and Sangluo, Yehanzuo and Maonongyang, and Xianxiu. The Lisu have three narrative poems – Classic of Akao Poetry, Classic of Sacrifice, and Pan Ballad. The Hani have Hani Apei Congpopo, an epic about their ancestral migration from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to southern Yunnan many centuries ago. The Lahu have their creation epic Dupamipa. The Achang have their mythic creation epic Zhepama and Zhemima. The De’ang have their mythic epic Dagu Daleng Gelaibiao. The Wa have Sigangli. The Jingpo have Mulongmaotao. The Jino have Creation of Heaven and Earth by Amo Yaobai. The Miao have The Flood. All of these epics are valuable forms of oral heritage that these ethnic groups have passed down from generation to generation over the centuries. Through various ways, these epics recount the economic activities, lifestyles, religions, literature, and art of these ethnic groups across different historical periods.
In terms of content, these epics cover “various aspects of the social lives of these ethnic minorities, ranging from their agrarian culture, folk customs, narrative poems, ethnic festivals, traditional dress, silver jewelry, embroidery, paper-cutting craft, songs and dances, instrumental music, and traditional operas, hence their reputation as the 'encyclopedias' of ethnic minorities in Yunnan. These epics reflect the evolution and development of Yunnan’s ethnic groups and their distinctive cultures. Through their essence, style, and resilience, these epics also demonstrate the spirit of an ethnic group”.3
Scholars have long recognized that these oral traditions are essential materials for the study of the history and culture of ethnic groups in southwestern China. It is apparent that, if we were to consider only written records as valid historical sources and refused to acknowledge that generations-old oral texts are oral materials, the history and culture of many ethnic minorities would be erased, rendering the culture of the Chinese nation incomplete. After all, these oral texts, including epics, ballads, storytelling literature, mythologies, legends, and folklores, preserve strong ethnic sentiments and the characteristics of their respective historical periods. In fact, even for ethnic groups that have a recorded history, oral transmission remains an important means by which they preserve their culture. After all, their recorded histories were not the creation of their historians, who merely put onto paper content that had been passed down through word of mouth. For instance, the legends recorded in the Classic of Mountains and Seas, a collection of ancient myths4 compiled by the Han Chinese, were initially oral lore before they were later compiled into book form. Given the nature of how the culture of ethnic minorities in China is transmitted across generations, when submitting proposals for preserving and archiving ethnic history, relevant regional government authorities should consider oral materials as an essential part of archival ←3 | 4→work. It is part of the duty of an archivist to include oral materials into ethnic archives and move quickly to collate those that are highly vulnerable before they are lost to history.5
There are important reasons why ethnic archival science considers the discovery, documentation, collation, and study of oral materials from ethnic minorities to be a highly significant resource for the development of national archives:
First, oral heritage is a significant source of ethnic memories. Most ethnic minorities in China have their own language systems. However, due to various historical reasons, an overwhelming majority of ethnic minorities either lack a written script or have precious little to no surviving historical records. Prior to the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, there were a total of thirty-six ethnic minorities that lacked a writing system and relied solely on oral accounts to pass down their histories. Furthermore, most of the nineteen ethnic minorities that had their own writing system did not maintain formal historical records, choosing instead to pass on their histories by word of mouth. After 1950, alphabetic scripts, based on the Latin alphabet, were created for fifteen ethnic languages. However, these writing systems have not been widely popularized. Even today, only a small proportion of ethnic minorities continue to use their own scripts. In reality, even the many ethnic minorities that have their own written language either have little opportunity or opt not to use them. In addition, a significant proportion of ethnic minorities have never borrowed the writing systems of other ethnic groups, making it impossible for them to leave behind historical records.6 Yet, it is undoubtable that their collective memories and cultural heritage have been passed on through word of mouth, allowing many remarkable historical episodes to remain alive in their collective memory. From generation to generation, these ethnic minorities have preserved and inherited their origins, names, histories, traditional modes of production, lifestyles and habits, religious beliefs, folk customs, and taboos by word of mouth.
Second, oral materials are a form of archival material. Archival materials can be roughly categorized into two types: written and oral. Therefore, we should not overlook the existence of oral materials when collating and studying archival materials. Likewise, the development and utilization of oral materials are an integral part of the development and utilization of historical archives. In his book The Archives of Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Management, Yang Zhongyi explains, “Because they lacked their own writing systems, some ethnic minorities were unable to record their histories in writing. [The history of] their migrations, fortress building, wars, and village laws and customs could only be passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. This was how they preserved their cultural heritage. Later on, relevant authorities and scholars compiled written ←4 | 5→records on their cultural heritage. Given their historical significance, these records should also be preserved as archival material.”7 Whether from the perspective of how oral traditions are inherited, or from the perspective of how they were recorded, ethnic archives should include oral materials instead of being limited to written records.
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- ISBN (Hardcover)
- Publication date
- 2022 (May)
- Ethnic Oral History Materials in Yunnan Chen Zidan Yunnan ethnic minorities oral history materials theoretical discussion discipline construction management methods resource construction rescue and protection international cooperation
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. VIII, 244 pp., 6 tables.