China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Since its inception in 2002, the Beijing New Workers Art Troupe has grown to be the most visible—as well as most audible—cultural center for the three hundred million migrant workers in China. The art troupe, which consists of migrant workers from across the country, has been producing art works about the workers, by the workers, and for the workers, aiming to articulate a distinct “new worker subjectivity” in no other voice but the workers’ own. Among its myriad forms of cultural productions such as theater, film, and Spring Festival galas to name a few, music production—a total of eight albums in fourteen years—has remained one of the most constant art forms that embodied the workers’ voice, literarily and figuratively. This paper starts by close-listening to the works of the New Workers Art Troupe and explores how music functions as a technology for subjectivization. It investigates how the abstract form of music and its electronic dissemination makes it an especially potent technology that overcomes time and space, thus transmitting and helping to create a disembodied voice and subjectivity for the workers. As this disembodied voice and subjectivity reaches collaborators in Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Taiwan among other places, it has opened up new acoustic territories for meaningful alliances across Asia. Finally, the paper ventures to understand how the music of the art troupe and their collaborators functions as “prophecy”—to borrow Jacques Attali’s concept—and provides important acoustic insights into the future of modern China.