Images of the Dai : the aesthetics of gender and identity in Xishuangbanna
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This thesis is based on fieldwork carried out m Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, China. The main focus of the work is the Dai people, one of China's fifty-five so called 'Minority Nationalities'. I aim to paint a picture of the complex processes through which Dai ways of being and images of them are created and recreated. This is not to suggest that the Dai constitute a bounded group. Although Chinese official discourse presents a static, rigid picture of the so-called 'Minority Nationalities', I hope to have demonstrated that the everyday experiences of those in Banna are governed by a fluid and dynamic relationality. Images of 'Minority Nationalities' abound in China, these images are multiple and often contradictory. The Dai are known throughout China for their beauty, a beauty often portrayed as highly erotic. In this thesis I explore the implications of this image and the role of the Dai in its formation and continuity. With this in mind I examine the ways that the striking Dai aesthetic is used in the intricate power plays of Xishuangbanna. This work examines aspects of the Dai lived aesthetic and as such it has chapters on tattoo, architecture and feminine beauty. Dai aesthetic knowledge is interlaced with strands of moral, philosophical and cosmological insight, thus this work also includes a chapter on morality, autonomy and cooperation. The penultimate chapter uses vivid ethnography of the Water Splashing festival as a example of play of identities in Xishuangbanna. The Conclusion reiterates that the processes by which images, identities and aesthetic understandings are generated, and by which limits are explored and transgressed in Xishuangbanna are dialogic in character.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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