Meshrep Under the Moon has Morphed into Variety Shows under the Klieg Lights

In Historic Uyghur Culture is under Existential Threat, co-authored by Rian Thum and Musapir,  we learn how the traditional meshrep has been transmogrified into a large-scale tourist spectacle rather than a community event: 

In Emet’s village of Tashmiliq, a typical meshrep began under the guidance of a local notable. Guests danced to an orchestra of two-stringed lutes, the banjo-like rabap, frame drums and other instruments. A mock legal court, staffed in part by the comedians, sentenced certain guests to show off their talents or participate in farcical games. Young lovers traded glances while the storytellers improvised on classic tales of war and romance. An auction might have been held to benefit a local family fallen on hard times. If laughter and song stretched late into the night, the host knew his meshrep was a success.

The Chinese state has taken an interest in the meshrep, which is now central to its cultural industry in the Uyghur region. In 2010 the Chinese government won recognition for it on Unesco’s “List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding”. The Chinese state supports lavish staged performances in the regional capital Ürümqi and tourist destinations such as Kashgar, and it trains musicians in official, scripted versions of the meshrep at the Xinjiang Arts Institute.

These performances pry the meshrep out of its community context in favour of large theatres. The audience is composed of strangers, who spectate rather than participate. Community aid, social interaction and any lyrics deemed “religious” are all gone. “The time of meshrep” under the moon has become the time of variety shows under the klieg lights.

Today, restrictions on gatherings of more than a few Uyghurs in private settings have made the meshrep almost impossible. The loss for Uyghurs accustomed to the interweaving of art, life and cultural transmission in the domestic heart of their local communities is expressed in a folk poem, recorded by the Uyghur ethnographer Rahile Dawut:

I’ll take my day of meshrep over your royal throne
I’ll take my songs and melodies over your comforts and ease

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