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China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project

The China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project: An Overview, 2007-2020

China and the United States both possess large and energetic folklore studies communities. In both nations, folklorists work in universities, research institutions, ethnographic museums, government, and cultural archives. In the early 2000s, folklore studies leaders in both nations realized that there was too little contact between scholars in the two countries and set out to strengthen ties between them. Informal discussions and exchanges (2007-2010) between leaders of the AFS and the China Folklore Society (CFS) provided the basis for three phases of work that were supported by the Henry Luce Foundation and by a wide range of additional funders in both countries. The relationship between intangible cultural heritage practices and policies and the work of folklore studies has provided an overarching theme throughout the time of the joint collaboration and this theme remains central to the ongoing work of the partnership and its projects up to the present.

In its first Luce Foundation-funded phase (2011-2012), the “China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project” centered on a program of professional exchange travel by US and China-based scholars and on the first four in a series of binational forums. In the project’s second funded phase (2013-2016), two additional forum events were held and professional exchanges were continued, both with a specific focus on the heritage-related work of ethnographic museums in the two countries. The museum-based participants of the project also co-produced the traveling exhibition Quilts of Southwest China, and a bilingual companion catalogue. A range of additional publications, exhibitions, and convenings also derived from this phase of work. Concurrent with this museums-centered work, the second phase of the project also included work developing online and print resources for sharing best practices knowledge on the work of folklore studies in both counties. Upon the invitation of the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities, the project’s third funded phase (2017-2019) included a second museums-based sub-project. This effort prioritized new ethnographic field research about heritage practices and textile traditions found in two counties in the northern part of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The museums-based sub-project participants also co-organized a seventh binational forum in 2019 as well as a large workshop on museum research methods in 2017. Running in parallel to this second museums-based subproject was a new set of collaborations focused on co-hosted summer institutes bringing together senior, emerging, and student scholars from both nations for extended, informal discussions. Piloted with a trial gathering in 2016, three more such summer institutes were held during the third funded phase in 2017, 2018, and 2019. In the summer institutes sub-project, the AFS and CFS have been joined by the Folklore Society of Japan.
In 2020, the AFS and CFS have initiated a fourth phase of work. Beginning what can be seen as an interim phase, this new period includes a number of elements, some of which look back to earlier phases of the joint work while others look ahead to new efforts. Participants in the two earlier museums-focused sub-projects are now working to write about, and produce documentary films arising from, their joint research in Guangxi and in Southwest China more broadly. Building on research presentations made at the annual meetings of the AFS and at the fifth, sixth, and seventh forum events, museum sub-project participants are developing a joint edited volume and other peer-reviewed publications. In this current interim phase, AFS and CFS leaders are also developing plans for a folklore studies translation and publication program, exploring the possibilities of online convenings, and planning for additional summer institutes.

Hundreds of Chinese and North American scholars and practitioners in folklore studies have benefited from this longstanding program of cooperation and collaboration. While Chinese scholars with research involvements in the US and US-based scholars of Chinese cultural life have been involved in some parts of the larger collaboration, it is fundamental to the larger effort that the vast majority of participants in the China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project are not area specialists. In this, the larger effort has provided abundant opportunities for relationship building and for the fostering of new partnerships and scholarly perspectives. In this, the initial goals of the project have succeeded far beyond the expectations of those folklore studies leaders who initiated the work.

For a partial listing of project publications see this link. (forthcoming)

For a listing of project funders and institutional collaborators, see this link. (forthcoming)

Follow these links to download the bilingual program books from the seven Forums on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage (2011-2019):

Conference 1, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, November 2011

Conference 2, Nashville, Tennessee, April-May 2012

Conference 3, Wuhan, Hubei Province, November 2012

Conference 4, Washington, DC, May 2013

Conference 5, Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 2014

Conference 6, Guiyang, Guizhou Province, April 2015

Conference 7, Beijing, May 2019

Follow this link to download the program book for the 2017 Summer Institute. (Other Institute programs are forthcoming):

Summer Folklore Institute, Hailar, Inner Mongolia, July 2017

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