Dressing up, Dressing Down: Ethnic Identity Among the Tongren Tu of Northwest China. 2009. By Fried, Mary Heather Yazak, Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 2009, 251 pages; AAT 3356120

Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation explores ways in which ethnic identity is constructed and takes on cultural content and is in turn enacted and manipulated by the Tu living in Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province. Because of its polyvalence, clothing serves as a potent symbol of ethnic identity for China's minorities. The present-day situation of Tu dress exemplifies some of the complicated and flexible options available; responses to a stimulus kit illustrate prototypical notions of dress and Tu identity. But people's conceptions of self are not formed in a vacuum; they make and transform the world in which they live. Political and economic events since 1949 have converged in such a way as to provide the Tongren Tu with social and cultural space to express an alternative identity. The temporary disappearance of the monastic system as well as the attrition of arable land has particularly influenced Tu production of religious art. A recent resurgence of Tibetan Buddhism in China has created great demand for Regong yishu, the brand name of this art movement. Tourists making the pilgrimage to Huangnan desire to consume "authentic" Tibetan life and art, and the Tongren Tu are learning that tourists come to buy Tibetan (not Tu) art. Performance provides an arena in which these identity choices are enacted. The Tu become signs of themselves, or more accurately, they become signs of what the tourist audience believes them to be. The kind of sign, though, varies with how these beliefs influence the nature of the performance. This study of Tu identity is intended to show how prototypes are related to action. By wedding together prototype theory to Bourdieu's conception of habitus which mediates between structure and agency, I propose a mechanism that allows for the interference of external forces on mental processes. This dissertation also points to the need to expand current understanding of Han-minority nationality relations. Focusing solely on the Han-minority opposition overlooks how power is distributed throughout the entire system; this study of the Tongren Tu shows how certain labels are invested with more symbolic capital than others.