Our very first EthNoise! of the Winter Quarter has been postponed until Thursday, February 7 (we will meet in Rosenwald 301 from 5-6:20 pm as usual). The presenter (as originally scheduled) will be Thalea Stokes, PhD student in Ethnomusicology here at UChicago. Thalea has just returned from an extended period of fieldwork in Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, and they will be presenting a paper titled, “Mongolian Hip Hop in China: A Unique Political Balancing Act.” I’ve included the paper’s abstract below; please do not cite or circulate without Thalea’s permission. I look forward to seeing you then!
In the grand scheme of globalized hip hop culture, Chinese hip hop is a relative newcomer. Beginning in late 90s Hong Kong, this network of cultural forms—rapping, DJing, breakdancing, graffiti, fashion, and explicit language—spread to mainland China by 2004. Some elements met with immediate approval from the government, while others circumvented state censorship via black market channels. Heavy borrowings from 90s-era gangsta rap were increasingly mediated by traditional and contemporary Chinese musical influences, creating an indigenized Chinese hip hop culture.
The majority Han population soon adopted Chinese hip hop culture as a characteristic mode of youthful artistic expression. But not only Han—youth in certain ethnic minority groups also gravitated toward it and, no less, from an experiential worldview considerably more relatable to Black American experience as typically portrayed in hip hop: historical and contemporary systemic oppression at the hands of the national ethnic majority. One such group was ethnic Mongolians, whose artistic cultural expressions are intricately woven into a millennium’s worth of macro-political history. For Mongolian youth in China, hip hop has become a dangerous but exciting and critically important project: combining subversive expression and brazenly-voiced political grievances in an emphatic assertion of Mongolian identity. The stakes are high in a nation notorious for its heavy-handed treatment of political dissent, especially in the arts and as voiced by ethnic minorities.
Drawn from past and current ethnographic research in Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, my talk examines Mongolian hip hop culture in China and how Mongols navigate the delicate internal and international political intricacies of Chinese governmental policies towards ethnic minorities and political speech. As Mongolian hip hop artists encounter Chinese state censorship—and struggle with internalized self-censorship—they give us new insight into the overarching relationship between Mongolian identity and the Chinese state.