“10,000 singing Manas”

It’s like when you learn a new word, and then start noticing it everywhere. Just one day after posting about the Kyrgyz minority living in Xinjiang, Autonomous Region has a post about them as well. It turns out China has organized a large-scale performance of one of their epic songs, which turns out to have been a little ironic:

After Ten Thousand Dombra for the Kazakh, now we have something for the Kyrgyz: ten thousand people singing Manas, the legendary Kyrgyz epic, for the opening ceremony of the Fourth International Manas Tourist Festival in Ulughchat (Chinese: Wuqia) county of the Qizilsu Kyrgyz autonomous prefecture, in westmost Xinjiang. If you’ve seen an authentic performance of Manas, a narrative form almost always performed by a solo narrator known as Manaschi, you would know how awkward it is to see the traditional genre performed by ten thousand people in the grand North Korean style (watch the video here). Things like this seem to be still very much alive in Xinjiang— I can’t imagine officials in Suzhou today dare to gather ten thousand musicians to sing the traditional narrative singing tanci and put it on the news.

The report, following official sources, describes the epic as a “story of a famous Kirgiz hero named Manas and his seven generations of descendants who led their people in fighting bravely against cruel rulers from other races, eventually winning their freedom.” The Chinese must have conveniently forgotten that one of the “cruel rulers from other races”—the major one—was the Chinese themselves. Indeed, in late 2009 when the UNESCO listed Manas as a Chinese intangible cultural heritage, Kyrgyzstan boldly protested it. As the Kyrgyz Manaschi Samat Kochorbayev said, “Manas rallied his scattered people and defeated the people’s principal enemy, the Chinese. Only the Kyrgyz can understand the essence and idea of Manas. Now I fear that the Chinese … will start making cartoons and movies about the Epic of Manas.”

Perhaps we should pretend to read this performance as a protest: ten thousand Kyrgyz in China singing about how their brave ancestors defeated the Chinese.

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