As the scope for debate in China shrinks, the recent sentencing of human rights lawyers Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi for “subversion of state power” has drawn much media attention (e.g. here; for Xu, see translations and interviews by David Ownby, Geremie Barmé, and Ian Johnson—note also this interview).
I gave some links to the work of other righteous dissenting scholars in my lengthy post on Guo Yuhua, who gave me such a valuable education in rural Shaanbei as she collected material for her brilliant book Shoukurende jiangshu [Narratives of the sufferers].
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In that post I also led on to reflections on expressive culture—the blind bards and shawm players who survived the Maoist era to adapt since the 1980s’ reforms. See also China: commemorating trauma, and China: memory, music, society.
As I suggested, one might expect that exposure to the lives and cultures of poor rural dwellers would prompt us to ponder their situation and stimulate a social conscience. Even if it rarely surfaces clearly in fieldwork on China, perhaps that’s why authoritarian governments are likely to be wary not just of human rights lawyers but of anthropologists and “experts” in general.
The twin disciplines of anthropology and ethnomusicology (see Society and soundscape, and the canonical work of Clifford Geertz and Bruno Nettl, with a roundup of posts on the latter here) seek to study all of human behaviour (not only elites, but including them too, as well as popular genres such as karaoke and Eurovision); still, the lives of the under-represented subaltern poor, women, and minorities emerge as major themes (see also The reinvention of humanity). So perhaps ethnographers make natural allies with the righteous activists.
Thus “world music” should be more than just a fashion accessory. Even Songlines features articles on groups promoting the cause of liberation from oppressive regimes.