My research concerns Kam “big song,” a centuries-old musical genre that was recognized as China’s National-Level Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in 2006, and inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the ICH of Humanity in 2009 (See: In the national Chinese context, big song is also historically significant as the first officially recognized form of multi-part Chinese music, thus representing a new scholarly understanding of Chinese musical genres. The songs comprising this genre are sung by Kam (in Chinese, Dong 侗) people, one of China’s fifty-five recognized minority groups. Big song singing has long served as a nexus for the recording and transmission of many crucial elements of Kam culture: facets of the Kam language (a Tai-Kadai family language with no widely used written form); knowledge concerning Kam history, philosophy, agriculture and ecology; Kam social structures of the past, present and imagined future; and aesthetic and spiritual aspects which are tied to big song singing. However, the major socio-cultural changes that began in rural Kam communities during the 1990s have greatly threatened big song’s ongoing transmission, and its future remains far from assured. Only since the recent increased state promotion of the genre—including its recognition as ICH—has a radically transformed big song genre experienced a resurgence of interest amongst Kam villagers.


As an IIAS fellow, I am preparing a scholarly monograph on Kam big song. The monograph will provide the first detailed, ethnographic, English-language account of the Kam big song genre and of its relationship to Chinese political and cultural trends. It will also present the understandings of the first non-Chinese musician to perform extensively in the genre. The book is developed from my doctoral dissertation and from further postdoctoral research in China. It draws upon almost twenty-four months of detailed ethnographic participant-observation fieldwork in rural Kam areas—fieldwork which has included my learning to speak the Kam language and singing with Kam villagers in many performances. The monograph illustrates the ways that global and national recognition and support of big song is influencing Kam music, Kam society, modern Kam identity and the likely future of Kam communities. It offers a model for understanding how new interpretations of local culture may be similarly influencing other minority communities, and provides important insights into a dimension of Chinese society that is largely overlooked within Chinese scholarship, which tends to focus upon issues concerning mainstream Han society. The book will assist in documenting a crucial period within the history of this minority group, and will also provide data and analyses that will be of direct use in developing future policy initiatives concerning the preservation and protection of ICH in Asia.

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Ee, mang gay dor ga ey (Hey, why don’t you sing)? Imagining the Future for Kam Big Song.” In Music as Intangible Cultural Heritage: Policy, Ideology, and Practice in the Preservation of East Asian Traditions, edited by K. Howard (Farnham, UK & Burlington, VT, USA: Ashgate).


Researching Kam Minority Music.” In Encounters: Australia-China Musical Meetings, edited by N. Ng (Bowen Hills, QLD: Australian Academic Press).


Co-authored with Kam song experts Wu Meifang 吴美芳, Wu Pinxian 吴品仙, Wu Xuegui 吴学桂 and Wu Zhicheng 吴志成, “Discussing ‘Fair Use’ of Archived Recordings of Minority Music from the Mountains of Southwestern China.” In Sustainable Data from Digital Research: Humanities Perspectives on Digital Scholarship, edited by N. Thieberger (Melbourne: PARADISEC).



“Echoing the Environment in Kam Big Song.” Asian Studies Review 35 (December): 439-455.


Co-authored with Catherine Falk, “From Intangible Cultural Heritage to Collectable Artefact: The Theory and Practice of Enacting Ethical Responsibilities in Ethnomusicological Research.” Proceedings from the “Transmission of Academic Values in Asian Studies Workshop,” Australian National University, 25-27 June 2009, Falk_Ingram.pdf.


Co-authored with Kam song experts and singers Wu Jialing 吴家玲, Wu Meifang 吴美芳, Wu Meixiang 吴梅香, Wu Pinxian 吴品仙, and Wu Xuegui 吴学桂, “Taking the Stage: Rural Kam Women and Contemporary Kam ‘Cultural Development’.” In Women, Gender and Development in Rural China, edited by T. Jacka and S. Sargeson, 71-93 (Cheltenham, UK & Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar). (An invited Chinese translation of this chapter is to appear in the journal Miao Dong luntan 苗侗文坛 [China Forum on Hmong and Kam Studies])



“A Localized Perspective on China’s Intangible Cultural Heritage: The Case of Kam Big Song.” In Proceedings of the Asian Studies Association of Australia 18th Biennial Conference, University of Adelaide, July 2010


“China’s Kam Minority: A Short Bibliographic Outline of Kam-Related Research Materials in the University of Melbourne Library,” East Asian Library Resources Group of Australia Newsletter No. 56 (July 2010), available from


“Researching Kam Minority Music,” guest seminar (in Chinese) at the Research Centre for Ritual Music in China, Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Summary and partial transcript available (in Chinese) from



“China’s 60th Anniversary From the Margins,” New Mandala (Australian National University blog), available from more-6973


Dor ga dao (Singing our own songs): How Kam Villagers Negotiate Creative and Collaborative Possibilities in the Performance of Kam Songs.” In Collaborations: Creative Partnerships in Music (Conference Proceedings), Social Aesthetics Research Unit, School of English, Communications and Performance Studies, Faculty of Arts, Monash University, Australia, June 2009, available from



“‘If You Don’t Sing, Friends Will Say You Are Proud’: How and Why Kam People Learn to Sing Big Song.” Context: A Journal of Music Research 32: 85-104.