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Folklore studies to focus on daily life

MING HAIYING | 2018-08-16
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The Qixi Festival, also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day, is a traditional festival  celebrating the annual meeting of the cowherd and weaver girl in mythology. It falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, and this year it is on August 17. Photo: FILE


Folklore studies is the discipline of cultural relics, tradition and social memory. The “past” is its  focal point. As the modernization of society advances, some scholars have begun to explore the transformation of the academic paradigm of folklore studies and its shift of focus to daily life.


Chinese society has experienced accelerating modernization since the nation’s reform and opening up, and this reality prompts scholars of folklore studies to constantly reflect on and renew their academic tradition. Wang Jiewen, a professor from the Institute of Art at the Communication University of China, said there is a general consensus among folklore scholars that folklore should be guided toward studies of “practices of daily life” through various academic approaches.


This shift is necessitated both by the times and by the fact that folklore is a discipline combining history and reality, said Xiao Fang, a professor of sociology from Beijing Normal University. Scholars should pay attention not only to folklore culture throughout history, but also its current situation and state, he said. Folklore should take into consideration people’s material life and their social and spiritual life, such as festivals and life ceremonies, he added.


Gao Bingzhong, a professor from Peking University, suggested that the living world provides folklore studies with a philosophical basis and a larger space for empirical research. The orientation of folklore studies combines the philosophical dimension of reflection, the empirical dimension of investigation and research, the cultural dimension of vulgarity, the social dimension of being related to the masses and a political dimension, Gao said. All these are integrated through studies of daily life, he added.


Some folklore scholars proposed the issue of folklore and modernization when the foundation of this discipline was established in the late 1980s, Wang said. In face of rapidly changing modern life, folklore studies integrates the past and the present by investigating the significance that history and tradition have on present life and the strategies to address this connection, he suggested. Scholars should answer and tackle the problems that arise in the process of developing a modern society by applying folklore studies to these problems, he said. Consciously participating in the discussion of the humanities and social sciences, folklore scholars may make breakthroughs in developing the discipline, he added.


Chinese folklore studies has shifted its focus from the relics of the past to the living culture of the present. For Gao, this shift is not enough. He suggested that scholars should rebuild the time consciousness of folklore through the concept of “daily life” and the protection of intangible cultural heritage. Thus, folklore could become a discipline with a thread connecting the past, the present and the future running through the entire study, he said.


This inherent evolution of the discipline along with broader social-cultural practices, particularly the Chinese practice of protecting intangible cultural heritage, is part of the external driving force for the establishment of a basic consciousness of Chinese folklore, Gao suggested. The protection of intangible cultural heritage defines folklore culture as the public culture of the nation, he said, adding that protecting the living aspects of folklore secures the future. Meanwhile, the antagonism between the past and the present in public culture is also relieved, he said.


Gao suggested that through academic integration, scholars may define their basic work as investigating and presenting the daily culture of a community while analyzing the historical inheritance, cross-regional and cross-cultural dissemination of specific folklore culture, he said.


New generations of scholars in folklore culture are exploring multiple methods of research. Gao said that some scholars are trying to develop a new paradigm through combining analysis of the context of traditional folklore records with field research. Rather than focusing field research on a specific village, these scholars broaden their research scope to villages influenced by a specific folklore phenomenon, he said. Individual research on intangible cultural heritage programs becomes a way to demonstrate their methods, ideas, and field research training, he added.

 

(edited by CHEN ALONG)