skip to content


‘Dancing Mongols: Socialist Embodiment Practices in Inner Mongolia’

My ethnographic study investigates dance practices in Inner Mongolia, a Chinese ethnic autonomous region adjacent to Russia and Mongolia. From ancient petroglyphs to the 13th-century Mongol Empire's dances, rhythmic movement is familiar to Mongols. Yet, perceptions shifted with the introduction of 'theatre dance,' which brought a new lens to view traditional movements. This evolution of dance prompts Inner Mongolia's art circles to debate the existence of a distinct Mongolian dance, perplexing both locals and observers. Such discussions are not just artistic; they are tied to how anthropologists perceive Mongolian dance as a metaphor for China's ethnic relations. Within this framework, minorities are often objectified as 'primitive' or 'exotic'—images to be discarded by the Han majority in their self-understanding. Nonetheless, the Mongols' own view of their 'musically inclined' identity is mixed. My Fieldwork uncovers contrasting attitudes: some minorities ridicule Han Chinese for an alleged lack of artistic talent, while others argue that 'minority art' is an 'invented tradition,' positioning Mongolian dance as a vessel carrying ancient heritage rather than merely a 'socialist legacy.' These dynamics raise critical questions about the cultural significance and evolution of dance traditions.


‘The Cham Ceremony of Hohhot’

Tibetan Buddhist Cham ceremonies deeply influence Mongolian dance, shaping its journey from tradition to modernity. Specifically, the Cham has left its mark on the Ordos Dance (1954), infusing it with both structure and spirit. This legacy has spurred Mongolian dancers to innovate new choreography and enhance stagecraft. The Cham's significant cultural and religious impact is evident during Ikh-Zuu Temple's annual rites in Hohhot, where it brings Buddhist teachings to life and reinforces the concept of karma. Yet, the Cham’s role is shifting, as it becomes more of an attraction in Inner Mongolia’s tourism landscape, potentially diluting its sacred essence. This evolution prompts reflection: does it represent a cultural shift or a synergistic adaptation, influencing Mongolian self-expression and identity?


‘Graduation Performances of Mongolian Dance Students’

On a day in December 2023, graduates from the Inner Mongolia Arts College showcased excerpts from a classic drama during their graduation performance. Compared to the Cham in Figure 1, this dance drama — transmitted to Inner Mongolia from the Soviet Union as Wagnerian ‘total art’ — marks a stark contrast with Mongolian tradition. The theatre, unlike ritual spaces, became the critical venue for Mongolian dance in the 20th century, increasingly relying on technology like lighting, sound effects, and elaborate costumes for its narratives. Meanwhile, the dance drama maintained a functional continuity with religious ceremonies, reflecting a shift from Buddhist doctrinal obedience to embracing the construction of a socialist ‘paradise on earth’.


‘The Forbidden Practices of Tantric Buddhist Dance’

During the White Moon Festival (Mongolian New Year) in Inner Mongolia, I witnessed a lama lighting a butter lamp in front of a Tantric temple. Eager to document the upcoming religious dance ceremony, I requested permission to film but was gently denied by the lama. This denial, in the absence of any visual record, led me to a profound introspection on the ceremony itself. It dawned on me that the very essence of my ethnographic research or photography might clash with the intrinsic practices of Mongolian dance. Contemplating over my device brimming with images, I pondered the anthropologist’s dilemma: are we too covetous in our desire to capture and preserve? Each time I recall the photograph I couldn’t take, a thought echoes: the attempt to capture dance or to reconstruct a Benjaminian ‘aura’ is perhaps doomed to fail because dance, by its nature, is an art of the ephemeral, meant to be experienced, not captured.