Knowledge topics : Main cultural characteristics of a group, a community
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Through her research in China, Sabine Trebinjac discovered that music is intrinsically linked to the State apparatus. Her collections of Chinese music were the subject of her first book called Le pouvoir en chantant (Power Through Song) in which she dissects the complex process of traditionalization the State exerts on music in China.
Music, along with rituals, forms the very basis of political legitimacy: rituals for the coercion aspect and music for the aspects related to harmony, happiness, etc.
All the dynasties felt the need to create State institutions for regulating musical expression. Accordingly, the Office of Music was the first State institution created in Ancient China (2nd century) and comprised 829 civil servants.
Throughout my research on contemporary China, I learned that this Office still exists. Today, however, it contains 10,000 civil servants, although this figure is not published.
This Office of Music answers directly to the Council of State and it is located within the Ministry of the Armed Forces whose only superior is the Communist Party itself.
Originally, I performed a functional analysis of musical institutions, which led me to delve into the organization of the Chinese State. It is worth nothing that the overall organization of musical institutions is identical to the territorial breakdown of China, which includes a national level, provincial level, and a local level.
Amassing musical collections is, dare I say, a Chinese habit that is rather complex. In dissecting it, I was able to determine that it has three levels. Beijing decides to collect songs and passes the order on to the provincial level who in turn issues the order to civil servants on the local level who go into the “field” to collect the music. The fruits of their labor are then sent back to the provincial level where the songs are processed and filtered.
After this filtering process on both the local and regional levels, the entire collection is sent to Beijing where it will be rewritten. This is the first phase.
During the second phase, the rewritten collection is resent to the provincial level and then the local level where it will be diffused.
This is the basis of my expression “State traditionalism.” It is not difficult to see that in this case the musical tradition as such and according to the Occidental perception of the term “tradition” does not exist. Rather, it has been replaced by State traditionalism, which means that traditions are “sanitized,” cleaned, and completely dictated by the State.