Moved to Distraction: The Ritual Theatre of the Fire Festival in Southwest China

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What does it mean to be ‘moved to distraction’ by ritual theatre? Each year the Nuosu, a Tibeto-Burman group of Southwest China, may be moved by their Fire Festival competitions, pageantries, and ‘extravaganzas’, but not necessarily by the Chinese nationalist elements within them. Simulating the pageants of Chinese megacities, Fire Festival extravaganzas meld Nuosu myth-history, animistic imagery, and ‘minority culture’ with the Chinese Dream of prosperity, the party-state’s efforts at generating cohesion, and the soft power of stadium rock concerts. Many Nuosu are abducted into the mood of performances that evoke what is archetypically human for them, including their myth-historical relationships to Tibetans and Han Chinese. But while some Nuosu may experience frisson and the giddy sense of being moved to distraction by spectacles that celebrate China as a socialist superpower, many turn away from ritual theatre that challenges their cosmopolitics and their sense of what it means to be human.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-455
Number of pages25
Issue number3
Early online date29 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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