Session title: Consuming Culture, Reforming Place, and Personifying Value in China
Organized by Lara Kusnetzky
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Organized Chaos: Bullfights As Cultural Production and Ethnic Practice in Guizhou
Bullfights in southeastern Guizhou index Miao cultural vitality and ethnic identity in regional and national tourism campaigns, rural development efforts, and heritage preservation programs. To be clear, while the Chinese phrase for bullfighting is douniu, according to some Miao scholars, bullfighting should be called niudajia to emphasize that two water buffalo fight each other. As events, bullfights are tightly organized competitions, yet often erupt into chaos when the bulls charge their handlers or into the crowds. This paper explores how the organization of bullfights and the enjoyment of them have become ways in which contemporary Miao use local resources, including funds from private entrepreneurs, and local government agencies (such as regional bullfighting associations and cultural bureaus) to assert an ethnic, minority cultural identity within the context, or chaos, of ever-evolving state policies of cultural preservation and rural urbanization. Unlike the many tourism projects in this region, into which bullfighting (or images of) are often incorporated, bullfights remain largely produced for local audiences. By interrogating the politics of bullfights as cultural production and ethnic practice, this paper argues that the shared experience of watching, and enjoying, bullfights reflect and refract contemporary Miao identities in a region and era where distinctive forms of ethnic-ness and cultural-ness are increasingly marketed, promoted, and celebrated. Thus, from their organization, participants, and their ubiquity as video-recordings, bullfights engender what can be called “productive pleasures” and speak to ways in which culture and ethnicity are governed within current state projects to modernize, and urbanize, rural China.