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An Epic Transformation: The Transition of the Oirat Oral Epic Jangar from ‘Culture’ to ‘Cultural Resource’

Lecture | December 7 | 4 p.m. | 180 Doe Library


Michael Long, Cambridge University

Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS), UC Berkeley Mongolia Initiative


This fieldwork program attempted to follow the conceptual transformation of the Epic of Jangar—a traditional oral epic of the Oirat Mongols of XUAR—as a social phenomenon in Hoboksar Mongolian Autonomous County from the end of the Cultural Revolution to present, particularly from the mid-2000s onward. In this time, Jangar transformed from a curious cultural artifact of ‘folk culture’ with near ‘religious’ properties to a ‘cultural resource’ of ‘immaterial cultural heritage’ and ultimately incorporated into political development discourse. State-centered preservation policies transformed the epic from an important and complex ritualized social performance that required from hours to days to complete, to a standardized stage performance of mere minutes. State-centered approaches to cultural preservation, transmission, and diffusion through policies of ‘cultural development/construction’ have resulted in Jangar being simultaneously ‘protected’, but also appropriated by the state as a tool of nation building, economic development, and ideological education. While the literary content of Jangar remains intact, its social content, context, and complexity remain at risk, effectively having been replaced by the language and interests of the state. Moderated by Franck Bille, Program Director, Tang Center for Silk Road Studies.

Michael Long is a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge Division of Social Anthropology with a Xinjiang (PRC) and Central Asian regional focus, and is a Confucius China Studies Plan Fellow (2016-2017). Michael received his LL.M. in International Politics from Fudan University (2013) concentrating in Sino-Central Asian relations, and MPhil in Anthropology from the Cambridge (2015) with a Xinjiang regional focus.


ieas@berkeley.edu, 510-643-6492