Between Authenticity and Commodification: Valorization of Ethnic Bai Language and Culture in China

  •  Hongmei Yang    
  •  Meichun Xue    
  •  Hanxiao Song    


In an era of globalization, language and culture are discursively constructed as technical skills in exchange for marketable values. This is particularly true with ethnic minority languages and cultures which are gaining increasing importance and emerging as commodities for promoting tourism and the local economy. Adopting the concepts of “cultural capital” (Bourdieu, 1986) and “commodification of language and authenticity” (Heller, 2003, 2010), this study examines how ethnic Bai-related language and cultural practices are capitalized as a commodity to enhance the local economy and empower Bai people’s identification with their heritage maintenance. The data were collected through semi-structured interviews and online observations via WeChat and TikTok. Findings demonstrate that the convertibility of Bai language and cultural capital into economic capital is largely mediated by the promotion of heritage tourism, marketing strategies, and the use of social media. Despite the increasing status of Bai language and culture, this study also demonstrates the tensions between authentication and commodification of Bai heritage language and cultural practices. The study argues that in the socio-economic process of discursive shift, Bai language and culture as “semiotic resources” (Kress, 2010) are not merely seen as symbols of ethnic identity but also regarded as marketable products to cater to market demand. The study can shed light on the empowerment of ethnic minority languages and their heritage maintenance in modern China.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
  • ISSN(Print): 1923-869X
  • ISSN(Online): 1923-8703
  • Started: 2011
  • Frequency: bimonthly

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