By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley) — When most think of China, a monolithic nation comes to mind. Yet China has always been culturally diverse.
That diversity is the focus of “Silver and Silk: Diversity and Resilience Among China’s Ethnic Minorities,” a new exhibit at the Cal State San Bernardino Anthropology Museum that goes on display beginning Thursday, June 4 starting with an opening reception from 5-7 p.m. The museum is located in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences building, room SB-307.
The People’s Republic of China officially recognizes 56 ethnic nationalities (minzu). These include 55 ethnic minorities (shaoshu minzu) and the majority Han Chinese people. The Han make up approximately 90 percent of the PRC’s 1.3 billion people, and the 55 ethnic minorities combine to make up the remaining 10 percent.
With that cultural backdrop, guest curator William Pink has visited China countless times to meet and share in the daily life of China’s ethnic minorities.
“The very first and most common question regarding my work is ‘Why?’ What is so important about photographing the minorities of China?” Pink said.
During his first visits to the villages of China’s ethnic minorities, Pink said he “felt the spirit” of American ethnologist and photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis, who chronicled the lives of Native Americans, as if Curtis was looking over his shoulder.
“I was seeing what he saw when he set out to capture the images of the American Indian before they were driven into oblivion,” Pink said. “I was seeing where we, as Native Americans, would have been if we had been allowed to just simply live and blend our traditions with changing times.”
From China’s geographical corners of Tibet in the southwest, to Xinjiang in the northwest, Heilongjiang in the northeast, and Hainan island in the southeast, ethnic minority peoples make up an extremely important part of China’s rich cultural world. China’s southwestern regions of Guangxi and Yunnan are among the most culturally diverse regions in the world. The Han Chinese heartland is in the central provinces and on the east coast.
Though the diversity is longstanding, it also has had, and still experiences, conflicts, as recent events between the Han and ethnic groups in Tibet and Xinjiang have shown.
Amidst this tension, China’s regional and ethnic diversity continues to flourish. In a rapidly changing country, the many ethnic minority groups of China preserve their traditions in their clothing and handicrafts, and in their music and rituals. As China transforms, these traditions are renegotiated and reinterpreted by new generations, but always with a resilience and dynamism that promises a future as rich in cultural diversity as China’s past.
“Yes, the times are changing for many of the minorities of China, but they are far from disappearing,” Pink said. “As I have learned, they are resilient and fully aware of their culture and its place in China. They are quite settled in the fact that whatever happens to them and whatever changes come their way they are the final deciders in determining their future. Still there is history to be recorded and images to capture that will serve as the evidence of fading tribal systems and the merging of technology and tradition.”
“Silver and Silk: Diversity and Resilience Among China’s Ethnic Minorities” will be on display through the fall.
The museum is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, and its hours are adjusted to the university’s schedule during the summer, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday. There is no admission fee to the museum; parking at the university is $6.
For more information on the exhibit, contact Brent Hunter at (909) 537-7363 or firstname.lastname@example.org.