Organized Panel Session
Anthropological studies of ethnicity have developed in many directions; from Fredrik Barth’s examination of boundaries, through Anthony Smith’s argument about ethnicity’s role in the era of the nation-state, to the “cognitive turn” described by Rogers Brubaker. The cultural, linguistic and religious diversity found in Southeast Asia in general—and across Southwest China in particular—is a fertile ground for reexamining and reflecting on anthropological theories of ethnicity. In exploring contestations and negotiations over the symbols of ethnic identity as members of the Naxi nationality seek to define and distinguish themselves within the context of China’s rapid commercialization, this paper brings Judith Nagata’s concept of an “ethnic charter” to examine the evolving impacts of the PRC’s ethnic policies. What it reveals is how disputes over both ownership of cultural symbols and orthodoxy of religious practice emerge between urban and rural Naxi populations as ethnic elites work actively engage with the space opened by relaxing policies surrounding “folk” religions.