Mongolian throat singers defend tradition against China

Thu Feb 11, 2010 5:06am EST
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By Jargal Byambasuren

ULAN BATOR (Reuters Life!) - Bitonal humming is not a common form of patriotic protest, but for traditional Mongolian singers, it was the best way to lay claim to an art form they say has been usurped by China.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, in November listed Mongolian throat singing as an art native to China, outraging Mongolian performers and fans who proudly remember that Genghis Khan conquered China 800 years ago.

Sandwiched between Russia and China, Mongolians fear China's growing economic and diplomatic power will overwhelm their landlocked country.

"Mongolians have neither lost nor forgotten the heritage passed down to us by our ancestors," said Sumiyabazriin Zagd-Ochir, one of many throat singers who crowded into Ulan Bator's Central Cultural Palace to defend their claim to the art.

"For years, this art has been performed and handed down to the younger generations. It has a very high standard of development and it will develop more."

China is the sole country named on the UNESCO representative listing for throat singing, although the brief explanation says Mongolian communities in Inner Mongolia in China, western Mongolia and Russia all practice the art.

Throat singers can simultaneously produce two different notes. A hum in the throat harmonizes with the melody.

China has 500 times Mongolia's population. Han Chinese outnumber ethnic Mongolians in Inner Mongolia, and dominate the regional government as well as heavy industry and mining.   Continued...