Books From the Field: Juwen Zhang’s Oral Traditions in Contemporary China

AFS News, Featured Folklorist, Prizes
cover of zhang's book, which has a red background with orange and white lettering

Oral Traditions in Contemporary China: Healing a Nation (2021, Lexington Books). Second place (along with Christy Williams) for the 2022 AFS Chicago Folklore Prize.

Juwen Zhang’s unprecedented survey of folklore and folkloristics in China converses with Euro-American folklore studies, but is also grounded in Chinese culture, cultural history, identity, and scholarly theory. With remarkable scope and knowledge, Oral Traditions in Contemporary China: Healing a Nation explores the current folklore traditions in China, laying out the groundwork for the field in terms of the concept of “core identity markers.” Zhang then offers a framework to understand why those traditions have persisted over millennia: they are “self-healing traditions” that have emerged as a response to “traumatic experiences” of the Han people, whether pressures from the West or invasions of other groups, such as the Mongols. Zhang successfully ties the concept of “self-healing traditions” to all the genres he discusses and weaves it into the history of the China as well as the field. Zhang engages with core folklore theories and concepts and expands them in order to explain current practices in the Chinese diaspora.

Oral Traditions in Contemporary China is eye-opening for Euro-American-trained scholars, not only because it shows how Chinese traditions reflect and affect China’s identity and stability while wracked by centuries of political and cultural upheaval. This study also ushers readers into viewing the material with emic Chinese theoretical approaches. Of particular note is Zhang’s discussion of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), a term commonly used in the field of historic preservation in the United States, but with farther reach in China, where governmental actors are more aware of and involved in culture as process and product. Zhang’s example urges folklorists to join the ICH discussion and work, an arena that could benefit from folklorists’ knowledge and skill.

We sometimes make mistakes, and we are happy to correct any errors that you may come across on our site. If you find an error, please let us know using the “submit a correction” link.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Share your news

Have some important news to share? We can help you get it out there! Fill out the submission form and send it our way.