During a conference in Meixian, I met (okay, more like repeatedly saw from a distance) Wendy, a Hakka model and singer from the mainland. Something that seemed to disturb me during the conference was what she was striving to market in the midst of Hakka Studies researchers, professors, grad students and geeks (i.e. undergrads like me who happen to obsess over Hakka culture).
Wendy likes to sing traditional Hakka san-ge, or hill songs, and finds the style beautiful, but moreover, marketable. She realizes that singing these hill songs in Hakka will only keep the music circulating around the Hakka community. According to Wendy, the only way to popularize would be through singing san-ge in Mandarin, the national language of the PROC and the language that has become increasingly globalized among the overseas Chinese community and the international business sector.
While everyone politely listened and clapped for her, I can imagine that many were perturbed by the thought of essentially allowing someone to market Hakka culture for their personal gain. However, there is something to be said about strategic inauthenticity and the sincere struggle to make the larger community (and in Wendy’s case, the larger, international Chinese-speaking community) see the value and promise of one’s culture.
A common phenomena that tends to come with globalization is deterritorialization of culture. As globalization causes culture to expand beyond ideological and political boundaries, it seems that questions of authenticity, or in-authenticity rather, are raised. Controversy erupts between those who claim to maintain what they perceive as “authentic” culture and those who choose to preserve culture through adapting to the inevitability of globalization.
But for those who remain within their political or geographic boundaries and claim to be the “preservers” of authentic culture, I do think that it is worth noting the simultaneous processes of globalization, deterritorialization and reterritorialization. While culture is dynamic and changing, it is seldom lost—and more often than not, it can be found existing, and possibly modified or globalized, in another space.
I don’t know anything about Wendy’s character or whether or not she chooses to market Hakka san-ge for personal gain or to sincerely preserve a facet of Hakka culture. However, after some reconsideration and contemplation over the concept of strategic inauthenticity, I might refrain from passing too much judgment.
For those of you interested in hearing Hakka san-ge. In Hakka tradition, hill songs were improvised and typically used as a means of courting for men and women and was enjoyed as a pastime. The two men in the video are supposedly improvising the entire 10 minutes of the song.