Discover the secret of the dances of Chinese minorities

ethnic china

Li Beida. Dances of the Chinese minorities. Beijing, China Intercontinental Press, 2006

Though readers fond of Chinese ethnic groups will welcome the publishing of this new book about the minorities’ dances, many will feel disappointed after its reading.

This is because the book depicts in an uneven way some traditional dances of several Chinese minorities. The book is roughly divided into an introduction, and two parts dealing respectively with the dances of the northern and southern minorities. The introduction, with only 4 pages, explains some generalities about the origin or the meaning of the minorities’ dances:

«Among the dances of the minorities in China, there are those originating in the labor of primitive society, wars between different tribes, and primitive religious activities, as well as those manifesting productive activities and social life in different development stages.»

The book then displays the rich tradition of dances of the Chinese nation, explaining some of the regional differences.

The second and third chapters introduce the readers with a summary depiction of two dozen of the most well-known dances of the Chinese minorities. Some of these dances are part of their most important celebrations. But ¿It is possible to talk of the shaman dances as part of a book dealing with dances? ¿It will not be necessary to define clearly the differences between these kinds of activities and others of a more trivial nature?

The only theses, summarily developed during the short pages of the first chapter is that: «influenced by their own historical traditions and objective environment, dances of various ethnic groups have their distinctive features».

So the «restrained and non-exaggerated movements» of the Korean dances are the product of «having been influenced by the strict rules of Confucianism.» «The combination of prudence, vigor and sturdiness» of the Mongolian people dances is a product of their «vast environment» that «endows them with a rough and frank personality and broad mind» Or the «dance movements mainly focused in the waist» of the Tibetan people are a product of their need to bend forward to balance «when climbing while carrying a heavy load.»

It is difficult to accept such a theory with so little evidence. The book, however, like others in this collection, presents a significant number of dances of many of China’s minorities, devoting two or three pages to each minority. It also has numerous illustrations which, while giving an idea of what these dances are like, show at the same time that they have almost disappeared from the annual cycle of the people, being danced only at festivals and shows.

The effort to introduce the general reader to the dances of Chinese Minorities is blurred by the attempt to treat all the dances in a similar level of activity. All the important religious ceremonies included in the book, are, after the reading, only a kind of the broader activity designed as «dance». But depriving them of their real and traditional sense is not good. It is as to summarize the complex cultural system that defines a society as a set of exotic customs suitable for the reader.

Other books about dances in China:

Dances of China: Wang Kefen. The history of Chinese Dance. Foreign Languages Press. 1985.

Dances of the Chinese minorities: Chen Weiye, Ji Lanwei y Ma Wei. Flying Dragon and Dancing Phoenix. An Introduction to selected Chinese minority Folk Dances. New World Press. 1987.

Dances of the Yi: Thrasher, Alan R. La-li-luo Dance-Songs of the Chuxiong Yi, Word Music Press. 1990.

Dances of the Dai: Dance Art of Dai Nationality. Yunnan Art Publishing House.

Leer este post en español

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "Discover the secret of the dances of Chinese minorities," in Ethnic China, 18 junio 2021,
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