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Logics, Stakes and Limits of Cultural Heritage Transmission in China, Russia and Mongolia

The usage of embroideries among the Hezhe in China and the Nanai in Russia. A comparative study of heritagisation processes and their local appropriation

L’utilisation des broderies chez les Hezhe de Chine et les Nanaï de Russie. Étude comparative des processus de patrimonialisation et de leur appropriation locale
Anne Dalles Maréchal

Résumés

Chez les Nanaï de Russie, la promotion de l’utilisation des peaux de poissons se fait conjointement avec l’activité féminine plus large des broderies protectrices contre les mauvais esprits. Dans le nord-est de la Chine, la sauvegarde de l’art Hezhe, promue par l’UNESCO et l’administration chinoise, a conduit à la création de nouveaux objets en peaux de poissons. Cette étude montre comment les politiques culturelles influencent la production de la culture matérielle, soulignant ainsi la place de chaque groupe au sein d’une culture dominante (numériquement et culturellement) et les stratégies d’appropriation autochtones.

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Introduction

  • 1 The Amur region used to belong to China until the 1850s. The Russians occupied the region after 184 (...)
  • 2 In the ethnography predating the hardening on the frontier in the 1950s, the Nanai and the Hezhe we (...)

1On either side of the Amur River, the geopolitical border between the People’s Republic of China and Russia, a same ethnic group with two denominations can be found: the Nanai and the Hezhe, who used to form one kin group. In the 1850s, the ethnic group was divided due to the construction of nation-states, which gradually cut contacts between them1. Both groups are now official “minority groups” (Ru. malochislennye narody; Ch. shaoshu minzu). They do not speak the same language anymore: the Nanai mostly speak Russian and the Hezhe, Chinese. They have only officially reestablished contact since the 1990s-2000s, but it mainly concerns the Native intelligentsia and local governments. While acknowledging the kinship between them, they also now form two very distinct groups2.

  • 3 In Russia, a district (Ru. raion) is an administrative division of a federal unit, here, the krai o (...)
  • 4 In China, provinces have their own provincial government and are subdivided administratively.
  • 5 Administratively designated villages for ethnic minority groups in China
  • 6 My fieldwork was conducted during seven months between 2011 and 2015 in the Amur region in Russia a (...)

2According to the 2010 Census, the Nanai people in Russia constitutes a group of about 12 000 individuals (2010 Russian Census). Most of the Nanai population lives in villages in the Nanai District3 (fig. 1). The Hezhe people in China are 5 354 individuals (2020 Chinese National Population Census), scattered along the Sungari and the Heilongjiang rivers, in the Heilongjiang Province4, in four “ethnic villages”5 (Ch. minzu xiang) (fig. 2). On both sides, their main economic resource is fishing. Before their way of life was challenged by the political situations in both countries (especially with the Soviet Regime and Communist China), they were mostly sedentary or semi-sedentary, living in patrilineal clan villages. Both groups are considered as shamanist, although the political control of their belief systems has led to major changes in their religious practices6.

Figure 1. Map of the Khabarovsk Krai, Russia

Figure 1. Map of the Khabarovsk Krai, Russia

The dots are the villages and cities I worked in

© Anne Dalles Maréchal (source: Google 2022)

Figure 2. Map of the Heilongjiang region, People’s Republic of China

Figure 2. Map of the Heilongjiang region, People’s Republic of China

The dots are the villages and cities I worked in

© Anne Dalles Maréchal (source: Google 2022)

3In China as in Russia, cultural policies aim at underlining the specificities of the minority groups while integrating them as much as possible within a political unity. In North-East China, the safeguarding of Hezhe crafts, promoted both by UNESCO and the Chinese administration since the 2010s, resulted in the creation of a new type of items. Some are made from fish skins and are different from what can be found among the Hezhe kin group in Russia, the Nanai. Among the latter, the display of Indigenous cultures tends to go mostly alongside museum activities. The promotion of the usage of fish skins is part of the wider activity of embroidery made by women, and the Nanai embroiderers are now perceived as artists. In China, although museums have been part of cultural policies to display ethnic minorities for decades now (Denton 2014, pp. 199-213; Varutti 2014, pp. 129-145), this showcasing is mostly fitted within touristic frameworks. In this context, heritage processes promote two elements to ethnically mark the Hezhe: the fish skins on a national level and the Yimakan storytelling, on an international level with the involvement of UNESCO.

4With these policies, minority groups are being staged and they are encouraged to express a form of “collective ethnic identity”. Identity may be defined “as an activated category of perceived, felt, or feigned likeness, distinction, and solidarity among human actors” (Eidson et al. 2007, p. 341). In direct line with the concept of ethnos used for the construction of nationalities during the Soviet years, “ethnic identities”, as perceived and promoted by the government, are defined by classification through official policies and politics. But “ethnicity” is also a category responding to the need to define a group in relation to “others”, based on a territory, language or culture considered as common to the group (Schindler 1991, p. 68). In this article, the term “ethnic/ethnicity” therefore relies on a double theoretical premise: it is simultaneously self-defined in relation to others and the result of political classification. It is inevitably linked to the notion of “tradition”, as advanced in heritage-making policies. Broadly speaking, tradition can be defined as a categorisation of practices considered as “authentic” within the complete range of actions available to one group (Hammer & Lewis 2007, pp. 1-18; Harvey 2007; Hobsbawm 1983a, pp. 2-9; 1983b; Otto & Pedersen 2005; Ranger 2005, 1983; Vallard 2011, pp. 235-236). The aim of this article is precisely to discuss how “authenticity” is created through heritagisation, which in turn leads to legitimation processes. Within the display of Indigenous groups, “tradition” and “ethnicity” become constitutive of a “cultural identity”, which becomes “collective” under the impulsion of state policies. The difficulty and danger of reifying certain peoples by attempting to define their identity, ethnicity or traditions has often been put forward (Eidson et al. 2007, p. 341; Kuper 1994, pp. 537-538; Brubaker & Cooper 2000, pp. 1-2). This article will show that these terms rely on definitions and practices which change according to the context they are used in. The question of self-representation is central to the issues raised here and it shapes the feeling of belonging towards specific groups.

  • 7 “Agency” being used as the ability or possibility to exert power or influence (High 2010).

5The case study of Nanai/Hezhe heritage-making processes renders possible the comparison of the implementation of different cultural policies across one political border, with a museum aim in Russia and a touristic goal in China. The minorities’ appropriation of these contexts, which can also be referred to as minority agency7, becomes instrumental in the success or failure of cultural policies. This article aims at shedding light on the political agenda underlying heritage making, but more so on the way minority groups act within these governmental strategies.

  • 8 Empowerment is to be understood as a process through which agency is collectively or individually r (...)

6I will first analyse how Nanai embroidering illustrates a double inverted movement simultaneously seeking legitimisation within the past while being expressively modern in its innovations. With heritagisation processes, the embroiderers are perceived as artists and together with their embroideries, they become bearers of a Nanai visual identity. In the second part of this article, I will endeavour to show how embroideries among the Hezhe are essentially linked to the material (fish skins) by studying the objects within the touristic context of ethnic minorities. I will then use the case of another touristic process, the Yimakan storytelling, to show how similar policies of heritage creation may backfire and fail. Through the comparison of these two contexts in Russia and China, different reactions to cultural policies can be confronted and the limits of said policies may be illustrated. It will trigger a discussion on the importance of the Indigenous agency in the creation of material culture and on strategies of empowerment for minorities within political display8.

Among the Nanai

  • 9 The Nanai are part of the “Indigenous Small-Numbered Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East”, t (...)

7In Russia, since the beginning of the Soviet Regime, cultural policies put forward Indigenous9 cultures in different ways: museums, dance shows, exhibitions, festivals, etc. The idea of a Nanai identity or culture is, of course, much more complex than what is artistically represented through embroideries. But heritagisation processes among minority groups compel them to distinguish themselves from others. For the Nanai, it is mainly done through museums, and the highlight on material culture offers a “stage” on which some Nanai may express what they perceive as their own Indigenous art. Through museumification, the embroidered objects have now become fixed images of what is considered as the Nanai culture. Representation and self-representation are thus closely linked within and by the creation of material culture. However, the techniques used in embroideries show many innovations. The objects, rather than being immutable images of the past, as museums would have us believe, become witnesses of cultural interactions and change.

8Among the Nanai, embroidery is an essentially feminine practice and there is a performativity believed to be part of the practice: the symbols are used to convey luck, the embroideries constitute shields to ward off evil spirits and embroiderers make references to myths (Ivanov 1963, pp. 317-397; Okladnikov 1981; Mel’nikova 2005, pp. 170-171; Gaer 1991, p. 66; Kile 2004, p. 42). Embroiderers inherit a large stock of motifs from other embroiderers and for the Nanai, their ability to use these “old” symbols in a new way is constitutive of their talent. Since the massive emergence of museums in the 1920s to feed the construction of the new socialist state (Teryukova 2014, p. 255), embroiderers have become acknowledged artists. They now tell their life stories in addition to providing embroidered objects to museums. In this context of heritage making through museums, the legitimation of the embroiderers is threefold. It is first spiritual, with the life stories in which the shamanistic background is clearly set. It is familial, with the display of inherited skills or tools. And it is institutional, with the validation of the embroiderers’ knowledge through diplomas and prizes, following the Soviet means of valorisation through distinctions.

Fixed images of change

9The technical innovations and the creation of new objects today illustrate how embroidered artefacts are still part of everyday life, even though a good part of what is produced has changed its usage. For my informants, there is a clear-cut separation between what can be found outside and inside museums, the latter fixating embroidered objects in time. However, the observation of Nanai embroideries and their stylistic transformations since the 19th century (when Russian ethnographers first became interested in the Indigenous material culture in the region) shows how innovations are intrinsic to this practice.

10Until the arrival of manufactured fabric clothes in the region alongside Russian colonisation during the second half of the 19th century, embroidered dresses used to be worn daily. Their degree of embroidery would vary according to the wealth of the bearer but also according to the context of use. Plain dresses tended to be used for “regular” activities whereas heavily embroidered dresses and more expensive fabric (silk) were used for feasts and ceremonies (Ivanov 1963, pp. 317-397; 1954; Okladnikov 1981; Mel’nikova 2005, pp. 170-171; Kile 2004, p. 42). Nowadays, embroidered dresses are exclusively worn for feasts and ceremonies: they consist of dresses closing on the right and made of colourful fabrics (usually silk), with a richly embroidered frame.

  • 10 Appliqué embroidery is a technique consisting in decoratively stitching a piece of fabric on top of (...)

11New kinds of embroidered artefacts can be found in Nanai households: cushions, cell-phone cases, framed embroideries hung on walls or even potholders. Even though the Nanai do not wear their embroideries on a day-to-day basis and even though the objects have changed, embroidery is still actively part of everyday life. However, the function of the artefacts has shifted. Everyday wear has been replaced by Russian/Western-style kinds of clothes and the embroidered objects are now mostly used for their aesthetics which refer to a form of art considered as typically Nanai. Embroideries, like costumes (Kosmina 2004, p. 241; Gherchanoc & Huet 2007, p. 4; Capdeville-Zeng 2016, p. 123), thereby become subtle means to convey identities by building on the policies of ethnic affiliations. In this case, the Nanai style consists of a visual expectation. It can be a type of dress, for instance, asymmetrical dresses closed on the right with an embroidered frame. It can be motifs, like the Nanai “eyes”, consisting of two spirals facing each other. It can be a specific fabric, like silk or fish skins, and/or specific skills, such as the “Nanai stitch” (consisting of a double chain stitch), stencils or appliqué embroidery10 of coloured fabric (Gaer 1991, p. 76; Ivanov 1963, pp. 317-397; 1954; Okladnikov 1981; Mel’nikova 2005, pp. 170-171; Kile 2004, pp. 42-53; Dalles Maréchal 2020, pp. 305-331). Using the concept of “operational chain” (Fr. chaîne opératoire) as a theoretical premise (Leroi-Gourhan 1971, pp. 234-267; 1973, pp. 343-392; Lemonnier 2004, pp. 10-11; Balfet 1991, p. 12), these visual elements may be labelled under the term “techniques”: any of these objects require a specific set of techniques in order to create the expected visual effect. The new usage of embroideries, which depends on visual criteria, therefore relies heavily on the recognition of specific techniques, considered as Nanai.

12For my informants, these artefacts used every day are often labelled as “new” (Rus. novyi), as opposed to “old” (Rus. staryi) ones which can be found in museums. Their function, as visual marks of Nanai art, can be paralleled to the vision of embroidered artefacts in museums. The visual elements which constitute the latter are the same: a type of dress, motifs, specific fabric and/or specific skills. Museums provide a fixation in time and space. The “old” objects are considered as fixed and immutable images of what it was to be Nanai in an unspecified past, as if the Nanai identity was systematically linked to something visual, borne by the material culture – something which the Nanai have incorporated in their own way when referring to a form of art as typically Nanai, linking it to their “ethnicity”. This “ethnic” identification is both self-assigned, as the Nanai will see the techniques as their own, and imposed, as others will identify members of officially recognised ethnic groups.

13However, further analysis of the techniques show that these fixed images in museums bear witness to the changes undergone by the Nanai society since the 1850s. As the objects inside museums show, after the second half of the 19th century and the arrival of many Russians, fabric (cotton, silk and synthetic) became more available. Gradually, dresses made of fabric tended to replace those made from fish skins (fig. 3). The symbolic representations on them were transformed: black fabric was used instead of blue pigments in the creation of stencils for instance.

Figure 3. Transformation of the Nanai dresses according to the date of fabrication

Figure 3. Transformation of the Nanai dresses according to the date of fabrication

a. Fish skin dress from the first half of the 20th century; b. Nanai embroidered dress from the second half of the 20th century; c. Women from Naihin for a festival in the Nanai District wearing embroidered dresses

© a. Anne Dalles Maréchal (Najhin, 2013, courtesy of Nikola. Ch. and Sophia. S. Bel’dy); b. Anne Dalles Maréchal (Najhin, 2014, courtesy of Klavdiia A. Beld’y); c. Anne Dalles Maréchal (Troitskoe, 2014)

14From the 19th century onwards, the fabric dresses started to bear new kinds of embroideries: cross-stitched lines, cotton-coloured ribbons, crocheted ribbons and lace ribbons, as used by the Russians, were now used to mark out the “frame” of the fabric dress (fig. 4). This “frame” has been used to define the edges of the dress but also the boundaries within which all the representations are drawn / embroidered. On fish skin dresses, these borders usually consisted of a line of blue pigment, sometimes reproducing a sort of pattern (like the scales of the skin) (fig. 5). The performative aspect of embroideries was also subject to these changes. Sewing on cotton and silk fabric with cotton thread has enabled the embroiderers to make their stitches finer, allowing them to create more precise and effective embroidered protections against evil spirits.

Figure 4. “Frame” embroidered by Klavdiia. A. Bel’dy

Figure 4. “Frame” embroidered by Klavdiia. A. Bel’dy

© Anne Dalles Maréchal (Naihin, 2013)

Figure 5. “Frame” on a fish skin dress from the first half of the 20th century

Figure 5. “Frame” on a fish skin dress from the first half of the 20th century

© Anne Dalles Maréchal (Najhin, 2013, courtesy of Nikola. Ch. and Sofia. S. Bel’dy)

15This feminine practice becomes a witness of the cultural interactions at play over time, adapts itself to new contexts and is marked by the appropriation of cultural imports. Rather than being immutable objects, the embroideries become fixed images of the changes the Nanai have undergone since the 1850s. The role of the techniques becomes essential in their capability to innovate constantly, giving the practice its adaptability.

Growing role of the artist

  • 11 The concepts of art and artists have been widely developed during the Soviet years and have been su (...)

16The acknowledgement of embroiderers as artists is something very recent, which went alongside the development of museum activity during the Soviet years11. The individual behind the embroidery becomes the focus of heritage display. The embroiderers’ names were hardly ever mentioned in the ethnographic data or museums before the 1950s. Today, the most “talented” become masteritsy, members of the Professional Union of Artists of Russia. “Talent” here responds to a threefold legitimation which depends on the recognition by the Nanai of the exogenous origin of the embroiderer’s skills, of a familial inheritance and of an institutional sanction. There ensues the creation of two categories of embroiderers: the professional ones, who are able to legitimate their practice, and the amateurs, who may possess the same degree of technical ability but have not gained legitimation (yet). For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the role of the masteritsy as their categorisation as such bears witness to the spectacularisation of the practice and heritage-making processes.

17Since the 1930s, the census have been conducted to record the names of embroiderers, either by official instances (museums or the artists’ association) or by Nanai people involved in the study of Nanai culture. Naming the artist and professionalising the practice have led to the individualisation of embroidering. In addition to providing objects, these masteritsy are now telling their personal life stories, often built in the same pattern, in which a shamanic background is enhanced. They were born in families with many children, many of whom died very young. They were often very sick in their childhood and had to be cured by shamans. Zinaida (approximately 70 years old), an embroiderer from Troitskoe, in the Nanai District, thus told me her story in November 2013:

Two brothers of mine died within seven years. They were born and then they died. Two brothers died. My mother said: “But what can I do for this [problem]?” She still wanted children. She couldn’t conceive a child so they [her mother and father] went to see a shaman who told them she would soon be pregnant. A girl would be born. […] And Mum said that she was pregnant almost immediately and I was born outside, on March 3rd. On the snow, three days like this, my mother was outside. And when I was born, when they were cutting the umbilical cord, I wasn’t making any noise because it was cold and it was early in the morning. Then we drank, and we went home […]. That’s that, the girl was born, it was spring. […] And then [when Zinaida was older], he [the shaman] shamanised when he came to my house. And he said to my mother that if your daughter had been born in ancient times, she would have been a great shaman of the Amur. I knew when old people would die, when I was little, who would become ill, the spirits… I knew everything. I didn’t walk on the earth when I slept, I flew. I flew everywhere.

  • 12 Ethnographic works on Nanai shamans are filled with accounts on the constraints shamans face when t (...)

18Like Zinaida’s account, many life stories of renowned embroiderers are built around a sort of shamanistic or spiritual background. The content and structure of these life stories may be compared to the election discourses of the shamans, in which they relate how they came to hold this position (Smoliak 1991, pp. 36-39; Bulgakova 2003, pp. 138-149; 2013, pp. 59-76; Shternberg 1925, p. 473). Embroiderers have similar biographies: family heritage, visions in dreams, and childhood spent in sickness are the core elements of these discourses. The shamans’ constraint is, however, much more tiresome than the embroiderers’: if the future shaman tries to escape the election by the spirits, he may die12.

19The compulsive need to practise something is at the centre of the narratives: shamans feel spiritually coerced to dance or sing and embroiderers to embroider. The masteritsy feel the need to embroider for hours at a time, often at the expense of their wellbeing. In 2014, one embroiderer from Komsomolsk-na-Amure, Julia had a degenerative disease of the eyes which was gradually making her blind; another one, at the same time and city, had a cardiac disease; in Troitskoe, Zinaida’s eyes were hurting her a lot; and in 2015, in Naihin, Klavdiia couldn’t stand sitting down for long hours at a time. The compulsion to embroider thus made them hurt both physically and mentally as they felt spiritually compelled to embroider and yet could not comply with their need to do it.

20In these stories, the embroiderers also see the motifs in dreams to create their embroideries. Dreams are considered as a spiritual space common to one clan, where humans and spirits may interfere. Dreams often serve as explanations for understanding the influence of spirits on people: for instance, if someone sees a dead person in their dream, it might mean that the deceased is haunting their relatives. The source of the embroiderers’ talent as resulting from both a compulsion and dreamlike visions endows the practice with shamanic characteristics (Kile 2004, pp. 53-99; Dalles Maréchal 2020, pp. 262-292). It is undeniable in Raissa’s story (a Nanai embroiderer who lives in Khabarovsk) where the dream plays a leading role. While visiting her in-laws, for example, she dreamt of a dead woman, haunting the village (Digor 2010, pp. 13-14). On another instance, a few years ago, her son had a major car accident, and he remained stuck in the car for a whole night. She told me that she dreamt of the car crash that night, before being told, and woke up singing (like a shaman). She also says that her embroideries come to her in dreams. Raissa wrote a self-published book about her life as an embroiderer. Written as a sort of personal journal, this book is filled with short stories about Raissa’s life, which often centre on spiritual practices, and illustrated with her embroideries. This ego-document of sorts reflects how the embroiderer supports her legitimation with spiritual characteristics within the context of heritage display.

21By using the shamanistic models of life storytelling, the embroiderers become the heroines of their own stories. Many legends and myths portray the embroiderer as an enchantress: in these stories, she may use her needles or thimbles as weapons against evil spirits (Beffa & Delaby 1998, pp. 136-137; Nagishkine 2014, pp. 175-187). For instance, in the tale entitled “Small Elga”, a famous story among the Nanai, the young heroine transforms her evil stepmother into an owl with her needle (Nagishkine 2014, pp. 175-187). It is also the case among other Tungus groups: the Even epic heroin, Holuk, uses her sewing board to travel between worlds (Lavrillier & Matic 2013, p. 60). In Raissa’s book, myth intertwines with memory as she incorporates Nanai heroes, shamanic spirits and animals to her recollections. The use of the mythical and shamanistic registry within these life stories enables the embroiderers to call upon a spiritual heritage as the readers, be they Nanai or not, will recognise the exogenous origin of their skills, thus providing a first form of legitimation. Integrating these elements to the museumification of their objects also enables the embroiderers to give sense to this process within the Nanai thought system.

22Masteritsy have usually learnt how to embroider thanks to a family heritage. It usually consists of techniques: a woman may inherit the stock of motifs used by an embroiderer in her family, her tools and sometimes her dresses. All the embroiderers I met displayed this inheritance, either by showing the specific skill they had acquired (like the ability to sew a very fine stitch) or the objects they had inherited (tools or dresses – the older the better). This second form of legitimation calls upon Nanai traditional means of transmission, through inheritance from blood relatives, thereby rooting museumification processes within the Nanai kinship structures.

23Museums and cultural policies encourage embroiderers to compete against each other in festivals, shows and exhibitions. This competitive display sanctions “the best” embroiderers with diplomas and prizes. These are usually displayed on the walls or shelves in the embroiderer’s house. Zinaida, who claims strong spiritual abilities in her life story, also displays her prizes on the shelves of her house and tags her creations, ready for display (figs 6-8). Since the Soviet years, a third more recent form of legitimation thus appears in the form of institutional sanctions. It goes alongside the individualisation of the practice as the “winners” are recognised by name and become professional artists. Heritage making and museums thereby register Nanai embroidering outside of the Nanai group. These official sanctions are national and they are applied all over the country. As “silent identity manifesto”, like costumes (Capdeville-Zeng 2016, p. 123), embroideries enable the assignation of an “ethnic identity” on the national stage for Indigenous display. Minority groups are not only differentiated from Russian people through material culture, they also distinguish themselves from other officially recognised ethnic groups. In the Amur region, there are ten officially registered ethnic groups, resulting from the 1930s Soviet Classification System. This categorisation does not always make sense in the region: in order to define whether one person is Nanai or not, my informants usually resort to the last name as more indicative of clan membership. However, the official classification has been internalised so much that embroideries are used to demarcate ethnicities. I was told on numerous occasions that the Negidal use more flower motifs, that the Evens and Evenki use more geometrical shapes, that the Nivkh use more fish skins and that the Nanai have the “Nanai eyes” (two symmetrical swirls facing each other).

Figure 6. Tags on a hunter’s hat embroidered by Z. N. Bel’dy

Figure 6. Tags on a hunter’s hat embroidered by Z. N. Bel’dy

© Anne Dalles Maréchal (Troistkoe, 2013, courtesy of Z. N. Bel’dy)

Figure 7. Z. N. Bel’dy’s membership to the Professional Union of Artists of Russia

Figure 7. Z. N. Bel’dy’s membership to the Professional Union of Artists of Russia

© Anne Dalles Maréchal (Troistkoe, 2013, courtesy of Z. N. Bel’dy)

Figure 8. Z. N. Beld’y’s prizes

Figure 8. Z. N. Beld’y’s prizes

© Anne Dalles Maréchal (Troistkoe, 2013, courtesy of Z. N. Bel’dy)

24The threefold legitimation process culminates with museum legitimisation. The embroiderers are now recognised artists, bound to their embroidered artefacts through kin-heritage processes and shamanistic ties. This discourse is close-to systematic in heritagisation processes. Museums display the name and a short biography of the embroiderer; some museums also display the life story as told by embroiderers. The usage of shamanic-like life stories illustrates the systematic link which is made in Russian museums between Indigenous cultures and shamanism. Reclaiming these stories seems to enable the embroiderers to elaborate a new form of “Nanai visual identity”, achieved this time through the link between Indigenous culture and the creation of material culture. In museums, the exhibition of embroidered artefacts fixes them in time as marks of “Nanai visual identity”. The embroiderers, as artists, become linked to the notion of safekeeping of tradition.

25The precise stake of the concept of tradition is to highlight the transmission of practices, which enables them to be found within a historical past, like a “selected cultural repository” which “comes from the past” (Lenclud 1987, p. 111). In the communicative space of museums, this implies mutual exclusion between innovation and continuity, resulting in the creation of a dichotomy between what is perceived as authentic and what is not (Hobsbawm 1983a, pp. 2-9; 1983b; Otto & Pedersen 2005; Ranger 2005; 1983; Hammer & Lewis 2007, pp. 1-18; Harvey 2007; Vallard 2011, pp. 235-236). However, among the Nanai, it seems that the notion of heritage allows precisely for the creation and usage of new objects with new means. Within the context of heritagisation, Nanai embroiderers have elaborated new legitimation processes. Their personal life stories place them within the ancient pattern of transmission, but their practice calls upon constant innovations. Tradition thereby appears as a dynamic and innovative process, heavily linked to transmission, as the Latin root of the word (traditio) suggests (“the act of transmitting”) (Hobsbawm 1983a, pp. 2-9; 1983b; Latour 1991, p. 45; Lenclud 1987, p. 112; 1996). There ensues a back and forth movement between what is seen as traditional or modern, ancient or new. Along with their creations, and within the museum as a space for ethnic identity display, embroiderers become bearers of tradition, even though these creations may not be that ancient. This double inverted movement, which goes simultaneously forward and backward, is constitutive of the practice of embroidery. Embroidering therefore represents a movement forward, which relies on the mastery of (new) techniques and innovations. It is also a second one which seems to turn towards the past and which must first go through the creation of a heritage (spiritual, familial and institutional). This is particularly illustrated in the title of the embroiderer Raissa’s book: “Back along the river of memories and forward into the current of time”. Within museums, the embroiderers, henceforth considered as artists, become pivotal as witnesses of both a population depicted as on the brink of extinction and of a “Nanai visual identity” which constantly recreates itself together with material culture (Dalles Maréchal 2020, pp. 262-293).

Among the Hezhe

26In China, since the 1950s, cultural policies towards “ethnic minorities” have more or less followed the same guideline as in the Soviet Union. Before enhancing them as cultural practices, China considered ethnic, religious and cultural practices as superstitions bound to be eradicated with modernisation. However, in order to integrate ethnic diversity in nation-building processes, China has made cultural heritage enhancement a new focus since the 1980s. UNESCO models are a powerful soft strategy to achieve this goal, which enables the government to treat its plurality as a unifying political and social element (Baptandier 2001, p. 10; Trebinjac 1990, pp. 115-116; 2000, pp. 13-14; Névot 2015, p. 283). The Nanai and the Hezhe have been separated by a political border constituted by two rivers, the Amur (Heilongjiang in China) and the Ussuri (Wusujiang in China), since the Beijing Treaty of 1860. However, the border has not been hermetically sealed and contacts between the Nanai and the Hezhe persisted throughout the beginning of the 20th century. The border has become more tightly policed since the 1950s, with both countries’ respective political situations, and the Hezhe are now part of the official fifty-five minority groups recognised by China since the 1950s (Billé 2012; Mackerras 2003, p. 2; Mullaney 2011; Cao & Dehoorne 2009, p. 398; Gladney 1995, p. 4; Thoraval 1999, pp. 45-47; Névot 2015, p. 283; Pulford 2018, pp. 113-117; 2021, pp. 1-3). They mostly now live off fishing, which is closely linked to the valorisation of fish skins.

27In North-East China, since the 2010s, two “visible” cultural elements are today being put forward among the Chinese Nanai kin group, the Hezhe: the fish skin embroideries and the Yimakan storytelling, a specific kind of epic story. Both constitute a tourist attraction around which structures and commerce are developing. Both are part of the political safeguarding processes of a so-called ethnic culture: the fish skins on a national level and the Yimakan storytelling on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List. These elements are chosen, and they help create a visible cultural identity for these populations, an identity which is therefore closely linked to tourism (see Milan and Zheng, present issue).

  • 13 “Commodised identities” is to be understood as the “marketing of identity traits as commodities for (...)

28Embroideries among the Hezhe mostly take the form of clothes and mural decorations made of fish skins. The clothes are usually plain fishing costumes which are created either for museums or for dance shows. For the purpose of this article, I will only refer to mural decorations, that is, decorations made of fish skins and intended to be hung on the walls, which cannot be seen among the Nanai. In the previous section, I have shown that, among the Nanai, the embroideries are inevitably linked to the artist and to the notion of heritage. In China, to be considered Hezhe, embroideries depend essentially on the material (fish skins), at the expense of the Hezhe visual style, the objects having essentially acquired a Chinese graphic style. The valorisation of fish skins takes place alongside that of the Yimakan storytelling. The case of the Yimakan illustrates similar means in terms of showcasing cultural practices but with drastically different ends. Aimed at safekeeping Hezhe epic stories, recorded in the 1950s, the heritagisation of Yimakan storytelling seems to be a difficult task for the people involved and even appears to create a worrisome context for some of our informants. Despite the involvement of UNESCO, the Yimakan storytelling fails to respond to the objectives of the Chinese administration, thereby highlighting the decisive power of the minority agency. In this analysis of Hezhe ethnic tourism, the comparison of embroideries and storytelling highlights the policies surrounding the valorisation of two different cultural items within the same political framework. I will thus show how the efficiency of cultural policies depends on the minority’s appropriation of said policies. Or, in other words, how minority agency can be seen through commodised identities13 (Swain 2011, p. 173).

“Mural decorations” and tourism

29Since 2006, China has been celebrating a cultural heritage day in June, and the work of skins in general (Dumont 2016), and more specifically of fish skins for the Hezhe, was registered on the “Chinese intangible cultural heritage list (first batch, item VII-85)” (“The National Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage”, cf. Chinese Cultural Studies Center [s.d.]). This event is linked to policies around the safekeeping of cultural heritage which are identified nationally since the UNESCO Convention ratification of 2003. On the one hand, this treatment represents soft power strategies by presenting China as a multicultural united country. On the other hand, economic aspects are constitutive of these policies as they contribute to the local development of tourism (Bodolec 2014, pp. 20-27; Milan, present issue; Névot 2015, p. 280; Trebinjac 1990, p. 115).

  • 14 The “touree” is the person who is the object of tourism: “the viewer and the viewed, the gazer and (...)

30The recognition of specific heritage relies on the idea of preserving specific practices from cultural changes (Hobsbawm 1983a, p. 2; Otto & Pedersen 2005; Harrell 2013, p. 286). Yet, in the context of heritage tourism, it also induces the need to adapt to new cultural contexts, that of the “other” – in this context, the tourist (Oakes 1997, pp. 35-37; J. Yang et al. 2013, p. 47; L. Yang 2011, p. 563). Once again, a sort of double movement is visible: one that tends in this context towards the ethnic minority’s usage of a specific fabric (fish skins) and another which relies on the “other’s” usage of touristic consumption. The touristic context has been analysed through Foucault’s panopticon perspective, based on the analysis of observation and visibility in contexts of domination. This gazer-gazee construct creates a power imbalance in which the gazee is placed in an “inescapable visibility” where they need to meet societal expectations (Xie 2011, p. 24; Foucault 1976, pp. 146-166). Urry has transplanted this construct within the ethnic tourism framework by calling upon the tourist-touree14 dichotomy (Urry & Larsen 2011, pp. 1-31). In this postulate, the touree is aware of being observed and commodised. The whole relationship depends on both participants’ belief in there being a linguistic, racial, cultural or historical difference between them. Although these authors stress the power imbalance of the tourist over the touree, I argue that the relationship relies on co-constructions in order to be maintained. On the touree’s side, participants need to find means to define themselves as “other”. On the tourist’s side, they must find means to “receive pleasurable (through distance) experience” (Xie 2011, p. 25). This inverted movement, meeting each participant’s ends, is quite visible among the Hezhe with the creation of mural decorations. Thus, the artefacts created within the framework of “conservation” are made with new techniques and result in a new medium, to fit both the need to define the tourees as Hezhe and the desired appropriation magnitude of the tourists.

  • 15 The reason for this is that the Chinese characters for “fish” (yu) and for “surplus” are homonyms, (...)

31In every ethnic village, so-called Hezhe shops can be found, held by Hezhe or sometimes by Han Chinese people. They sell many different objects made from fish skins, mainly good-luck mural decorations of Chinese style. They are mostly done by women, but some artefacts are mass-produced in factories (key chains made of fish skins for example). They can either represent a fish or the Chinese character for fish, which is commonly used all over China as lucky charms15. They are usually also made with red knots, considered to bring luck in China. They also sell mural decorations representing various things, ranging from horses to scenes of everyday life (figs 9-11).

Figure 9. Good luck mural decorations

Figure 9. Good luck mural decorations

Material: fish skins

© Anne Dalles Maréchal & Aurore Dumont (Jiejinkou, 2015, courtesy of the artist and shop owner)

Figure 10. Good luck Mural decoration in the shape of the Chinese character fu, “good fortune, blessings”

Figure 10. Good luck Mural decoration in the shape of the Chinese character fu, “good fortune, blessings”

Material: fish skins

© Anne Dalles Maréchal & Aurore Dumont (Raohe, 2015, courtesy of the artist and shop owner)

Figure 11. Mural decoration

Figure 11. Mural decoration

Material: fish skins

© Anne Dalles Maréchal & Aurore Dumont (Raohe, 2015, courtesy of the artist and shop owner)

32Although they may at first appear as incidental, these mural decorations are actually made with the same techniques and representations from one village to another. In 2005, a one-year program was offered by the local government to women who wished to learn how to create fish skin artefacts in a Hezhe ethnic village. Many of the owners of Hezhe shops have actually learnt how to do mural decorations there, although they might not all acknowledge it. In addition, many claim that mural decorations made of fish skins were invented in the 1990s by three Hezhe men. The fact that these objects are not considered as ancient or that the techniques have been learnt quite recently does not, however, constitute a disadvantage for selling them. Using fish skins alone seems to justify in itself the perception of tradition surrounding these objects. It may be seen elsewhere, in restaurants for example, where cooking popular Chinese dishes usually made with meat are now made with fish. It allows the restaurant to be considered as a Hezhe restaurant.

  • 16 Although it is, of course, impossible to claim that all craftswomen obtained their fish skins from (...)

33In addition to the acknowledged creation of new objects, the techniques involved are drastically different to what could either be found in the ethnography from before the 1950s or what can be found among the Nanai. The fish skins seem to be provided through a specific network, revolving around the creation of Hezhe artefacts. A shop owner in Tongjiang City claimed that she bought the fish skins from a Chinese factory dealing with fish meat. She would then treat and sometimes dye the skins and sell them for 25 yuan a piece (approximately 3 euros)16. The techniques are more or less the same: the fish skins are dried on a wall and stencils are used to cut the shapes into the skin. Each craftswoman creates her own version of these mural decorations. In Jiejinkou Village, the mural decorations were flat and included drawings to signify the eyes or mouths (fig. 12). In Raohe City, one craftswoman created volume by superimposing the different parts of the motifs; she then frayed the borders in order to create tiny fringes (fig. 13). In Tongjiang, another craftswoman filled her motifs with padding to create volume; she would then sew the borders together with visible stitches (fig. 14).

Figure 12. Mural decoration

Figure 12. Mural decoration

Material: fish skin

© Anne Dalles Maréchal & Aurore Dumont (Jiejinkou, 2015, courtesy of the artist and shop owner)

Figure 13. Mural decoration

Figure 13. Mural decoration

Material: fish skin

© Anne Dalles Maréchal & Aurore Dumont (Raohe, 2015, courtesy of the artist and shop owner)

Figure 14. Mural decoration

Figure 14. Mural decoration

Material: fish skin

© Anne Dalles Maréchal & Aurore Dumont (Tongjiang, 2015, courtesy of the artist and shop owner)

34On the contrary to the Nanai, the Hezhe tend to work the skins differently in order to maintain the scales and the opacity of the fish skins, which is actually what is sought to be erased among the Nanai. The aim of this different technique is to maintain the “fish” aspect of the skins, highlighting the link between the practice and the material.

35Although these new items are of fairly recent origin and their usage takes place exclusively within the touristic framework, this practice demonstrates yet again the local appropriation of the context which combines financial gain and expressions of ethnic identity. It shows how heritage can be driven by and among minority groups themselves to facilitate and improve life within their own communities, as R. Fraser’s study on Orochen heritage-making processes in North-East China has shown (Frazer 2020). Among the Hezhe, on the one hand, resorting to fish skins enables them to earn a living in multiple ways: a craftswoman in Tongjiang claimed to be earning 10 000 RMB a month with her Hezhe crafts shop. The creation of a hidden, behind-the-scene network of fish skins provision also enables some craftswomen to gain money. But reclaiming the usage of fish skins also enables the craftswomen to express a form of identity based on material (fish skins) and material culture (the techniques employed to work the skins). Therefore, although Foucault or Urry tend to stress the power imbalance which exists between the gazer (tourist) and the gazee (touree), I argue here that the case of the Hezhe and their usage of fish skins is different: the Hezhe’s appropriation of this specific context helps adjust the power struggle, to some extent, within cultural policies.

The Yimakan storytelling and the UNESCO

36The counter-example of the Yimakan storytelling will now illustrate the failure of such processes, thereby demonstrating the importance of minority agency behind cultural policies. Where fish skins seem to fulfil the ambitions that underlay the cultural policies, the Yimakan storytelling illustrates the limits, even the failure, of these processes. Since 2011, the Yimakan storytelling is part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH thereafter) in Need of Urgent Safeguarding (UNESCO 2011a, 2011b). The Hezhe people therefore receive material help to lead projects surrounding the inscription of this practice on the UNESCO ICH List. These policies officially aim at making the Yimakan storytelling more visible and at revitalising it, while the underlying implications are the development of tourism and the control of minorities.

37The Yimakan are oral tales, counting the adventures of the hero Mergen (literally “brave, skilful” in Nanai and Mongolian) (Hamayon 1990, p. 190; Even 1992, p. 435). They also talk about shamanistic spirits, intertribal wars, etc. They are composed in verse and are made of two styles of implementations: one sung and one told, both in the Hezhe language (even though it is not spoken anymore). Each ethnic village has its own “transmitter” (storyteller) who can tell the Yimakan. According to the documents given to UNESCO, these tales are centuries old. In addition to the material help it has engendered, their inscription on the UNESCO ICH list has led to a greater visibility of the practice, mainly in the form of journalistic documentaries and shows.

38These stories can actually be found in Russian ethnography since the 1850s. Mergen is a hero throughout the Amur region, as far as Mongolia (Avrorin 1986; Lopatin 1916; Graham & Kim 2016, pp. 165-166; Veit 2007, pp. 247-248; Nagishkine 2014). The term Yimakan, being a Chinese transcription of the Hezhe term, can also be found among the Nanai and neighbouring people, under different terminology: ningman (Bulgakova 2001, p. 163; 2015, p. 61; Onenko 1989), or ningma (Avrorin 1986, p. 14), nimakan in Udeghe (Onenko 1989), nimkan for the Evens and nimngakan for the Evenki (Lavrillier 2005, p. 496; Lavrillier & Matic 2013). According to some authors, the root of the word is ningma, “to shamanise” (Avrorin 1986, p. 14; Bulgakova 2001, p. 164). Among the Nanai, the stories regarding Mergen are generally associated with shamanism and shamanistic knowledge: the hero, with the help of shamanistic spirits, fights and defeats his opponent who is responsible for the difficulties faced by his clan (Bulgakova 2001, p. 163; 2015, p. 61). The ningman, the Nanai equivalent to the Yimakan, used to be told by shamans and T. Bulgakova also argues that they constituted indirect ways to transmit shamanistic knowledge from a shaman to a future shaman (Bulgakova 2001, pp. 3-5). During my fieldwork in Russia, I witnessed many people recounting stories about Mergen, which suggests that there is no prohibition in telling the story: anyone can tell Mergen stories, and it is not restricted to shamans. The Yimakan storytelling has been added to the ICH List on the premise that it was perceived as an old practice, in a dying language, on the brink of extinction. The perception of an “old” practice by the Chinese administration fits the ethnographical enquiry: this particular type of storytelling can be traced back in the ethnography concerning both the Hezhe and the Nanai as far as the 1850s all over the Amur Region.

  • 17 We were not told by whom.

39However, locally, the emic reaction to the inscription of the Yimakan storytelling on the UNESCO ICH List seems to have a contrary effect to what could be expected. First, many of our Hezhe informants agree on the fact that the term “Yimakan” itself was invented in the 1950s by ethnographers who came to the region. They also agree that these tales are based on extracts collected by ethnographers in the 1990s. So, for them, whether it be true or not, the valorisation actually concerns recreated tales from exogenous origins. In addition, still according to many Hezhe, as a result of the media coverage, the storytellers are being kept hidden as a protection against media intrusion. There are few Hezhe students who are interested in learning the Yimakan and some students are paid17 (30 yuan – approx. 4 euros) to take the courses for studying the Yimakan. These classes are given by teachers who do not speak the Hezhe language and have to learn the texts by heart without understanding them. Therefore, from an emic perspective, the Yimakan storytelling is perceived as a recent cultural invention that does not easily find its place within the Hezhe society.

40To explain the perceived failure of the Yimakan storytelling valorisation, still within the theoretical premise that minority agency is decisive in the implementation of cultural policies, it is possible to analyse tourism in functionalist terms using the push-pull approach (Lee 1967) from the touree’s viewpoint. This approach has often been used to attempt to explain why tourists are attracted to specific places (J. Yang et al. 2013, pp. 46-48; Caber & Albayrak 2016, p. 75; Oigenblick & Kirschenbaum 2002, pp. 1088-1090). Here, I propose to understand how tourees create touristic spaces in functionalist terms. From an emic perspective, the Yimakan, as opposed to fish skins, do not seem to respond to the possibility of expressing some form of “ethnic identity”. Although all the official instances (the Chinese administration and UNESCO) have endeavoured to impose an “ethnic identity” through the use of a selected practice, the expected self-assignation of ethnicity does not seem to take roots in this case. It could be explained by the fact that the Yimakan makes little sense in the Hezhe lifestyle: the Hezhe do not speak Hezhe and do not tell these stories anymore, whereas the Hezhe being essentially anglers, the fish skins have an everyday sympathy more easily understandable. The implementation of cultural policies therefore relies on “ethnicity” as being self-defined in relation to others as much as the result of political classification. The minority appropriation of cultural policies appears as a decisive criterion for the development of cultural practices within the heritage creation processes. The counter-example of the Yimakan shows that “ethnic identities” and “ethnicity” are at the heart of the success of heritage processes, much more than the safekeeping and / or the authenticity of selected practices.

Conclusion: Indigenous agency and empowerment

41The comparison of the data collected on either side of the border shows several concepts at stake in the valorisation of elements of culture. First, the emphasis on an “ancient” knowledge in Russia vs. the value of an “ethnic” material in China confer on each of these groups a sign of external recognition of an identity considered as traditional and ethnic. They result in the creation of different objects using drastically different techniques. The elements that are considered either Nanai or Hezhe also show the place of each group within dominating cultures, more specifically the adaptability of each culture, or lack thereof in the case of the Yimakan storytelling.

42Several authors argue that cultural policies, especially with regards to Indigenous populations, tend to standardise the visibility of these groups (Oakes 1997, pp. 36-37; L. Yang 2011, p. 563; J. Yang et al. 2013, p. 47). This standardisation often implies for the touree to be fixed in an imagined past, where the “locals” wear items or tell stories originating from their history and where the adaptability of these groups is erased in favour of an outdated and pessimistic vision. It is common, for instance, in Northern China, to see Tungus groups represented wearing antlers during shows for tourists, in reference to the costume worn by the shamans presented in the older ethnography (Dumont 2016, p. 283). In Russia, the link between “being a Nanai” and “being shamanist” was somehow automatic in their political display. In fact, shamans were asked to stage shows to portray the shamanic practice, mainly dancing, singing and beating the drum. However, these shows were very problematic for the Nanai, and they were often considered as the cause for illnesses the performers and their relatives faced afterwards. It was the case for the shaman Gara Gejker, who performed in Moscow in 1983 and for the shaman Maria Petrovna, who performed in France and Italy (Bulgakova 2013, pp. 157-159). In Sikachi-Alian, in 2013, the museum curator forbade young Nanai to use the drums on display for a show at a political gathering in case it called the spirits back to the drum. In fact, museums are still filled with problematic objects, like drums which belonged to shamans. When shamans die, their ritual objects should also be destroyed. However, people who inherit these objects are scared to destroy them in case it angers the spirits dwelling in them. As T. Bulgakova’s paper in this issue suggests, museums provide a safe space where ritual objects may be left alone and kept without risks for a given individual. But their usage within cultural policies is rendered impossible because of the spiritual risks it implies. It is not the case for embroiderers, who do not enter a direct relationship with spirits and therefore cannot bring about spiritual consequences with their practice being used for political display.

43The underlying message beneath cultural policies and instances such as UNESCO is directly and overtly linked to safekeeping, implying that these groups and their selected practices need to be saved from extinction. However, as this article shows, the impact of tourism on the local economy transforms practices. In Inner Mongolia, the nomadic lifestyle of the Evenki reindeer herders has entered the heritage-making discourses and policies to such extent that nomadic routes have been adapted to the needs of the touristic economy: nomadic encampments are brought closer to the Evenki villages in summer, specifically to accommodate tourists, sometimes at the expense of the wellbeing of the reindeers (Dumont 2016, pp. 283-288; 2018, pp. 16-17). This standardised visibility is quite explicit in the creation of mural decorations among the Hezhe, among whom the touristic context has led to a radical transformation of material culture.

44However, this article also shows that there is a sense of agency behind the minorities’ choice to comply or not with cultural policies. The double movement highlighted behind embroideries in both countries shows a dynamic process contradicting the backward-looking vision of immutable practices. In Russia, through the wider display of Indigenous cultures, the interdependent movement is characterised by a back and forth motion between the past (with the valorisation of heritage) and the present (with resorting to innovative techniques). In China, it is displayed in the tourist-touree relationship, relying on the concomitant needs of both participants. This analysis shows the appropriation by local actors of cultural policies. In Russia, the embroiderers, while becoming a vector of so-called tradition, also redefine a Nanai visual identity in their own terms, embedded in material culture as opposed to shamanism. In China, resorting to fish skins enables the Hezhe to negotiate on better terms the unequal relationship between the gazer and the gazee in the touristic context. The example of the Yimakan shows how cultural policies can fail to be implemented and appropriated, thereby showing that even though the balance is uneven, the display of minority cultures heavily relies on the minority agency.

45As a conclusion, it could be argued that the appropriation of cultural policies, as it provides minority groups with a “stage” on which they can define, to some extent, their visibility, enables the Nanai and the Hezhe to gain agency. Embroidering appears as a strategy of empowerment through which the embroiderers give their own vision and on their own terms of what it is to “be Nanai or Hezhe”. Following the analysis made in this article, it seems this display tends to move away from portraying minority cultures with regards to their religious practices (shamanism) towards a focus on material culture.

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Notes

1 The Amur region used to belong to China until the 1850s. The Russians occupied the region after 1846 and in 1858, the Aigun Treaty extended the Russian frontier to the Amur River, which was later extended to the Ussuri River with the Beijing treaty in 1860 (Atkinson 2001, pp. 450-460; Kim 2015, p. 46; 2012, pp. 169-180; Billé 2012, pp. 19-24; Humphrey 2012, pp. 57-67).

2 In the ethnography predating the hardening on the frontier in the 1950s, the Nanai and the Hezhe were considered as one ethnic group. Before they were categorised under specific ethnonyms in their respective countries, they were mostly known under the common names of “fish-skin peoples” or “Goldy”. The idea that these two groups are related is commonly held by my interlocutors from each group, as also tends to suggest the book “We are a single people. Ten-year anniversary of the reestablishment of the ethnic links between the Russia and China Nanai” (Ru. My- edinyi narod. Desiatiletie vosstanovleniia etnicheskih sviazei nanaitsev rossii i kitaia) published in 2002 and edited by Nanai and Hezhe organisations.

3 In Russia, a district (Ru. raion) is an administrative division of a federal unit, here, the krai of Khabarovsk. Each district has its administrative centre, here, Troitskoe.

4 In China, provinces have their own provincial government and are subdivided administratively.

5 Administratively designated villages for ethnic minority groups in China

6 My fieldwork was conducted during seven months between 2011 and 2015 in the Amur region in Russia and China. One of these stays was financed by the “Pentecostal and Charismatic Research Initiative” and another one by the program “Dynamiques Asiatiques (Pres. Hesam – EHESS). I have mainly worked alongside eleven Nanai embroiderers: seven were professional artists, members of the Artists Trade Union of Russia, four were “lay” embroiderers whose craftsmanship was nevertheless valued in their villages. In China, fieldwork was conducted with A. Dumont and we met with three craftswomen. Data was collected by qualitative survey, mainly through direct observation and interviews. I would like to thank C. Jacquemoud, A. Dumont, P.-M. Milan and the anonymous reviewers for their insights on this article.

7 “Agency” being used as the ability or possibility to exert power or influence (High 2010).

8 Empowerment is to be understood as a process through which agency is collectively or individually regained.

9 The Nanai are part of the “Indigenous Small-Numbered Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East”, the official classification in Russia.

10 Appliqué embroidery is a technique consisting in decoratively stitching a piece of fabric on top of another one.

11 The concepts of art and artists have been widely developed during the Soviet years and have been submitted to changing cultural policies used by the government as tools for (self-)representation and propaganda (Slezkine 1994, pp. 292-297). For more examples of the usage of art as a political tool, see Blanchier 2015; Damiens 2017; Frolova-Walker 1998; Pinchon-Bonin 2008; Trankvillitskaïa 2016.

12 Ethnographic works on Nanai shamans are filled with accounts on the constraints shamans face when they feel that they are elected by the spirits: for instance, Shternberg 1925, p. 476, Smoliak 1991, pp. 36-39; Bel’dy 2002, pp. 85-92; Bulgakova 2003, pp. 148-149; 2013, p. 76. It is also more generally the case among other Tungus groups in the region (Shirokogoroff 1935, p. 344-358; Lavrillier 2005, p. 401).

13 “Commodised identities” is to be understood as the “marketing of identity traits as commodities for sale” (Swain 2011, p. 173).

14 The “touree” is the person who is the object of tourism: “the viewer and the viewed, the gazer and the gazee, the tourist and the touree” (Xie 2011, p. 109).

15 The reason for this is that the Chinese characters for “fish” (yu) and for “surplus” are homonyms, resulting in the association of the “fish” with “prosperity”.

16 Although it is, of course, impossible to claim that all craftswomen obtained their fish skins from this woman, we met some women who actually did, which corroborates the idea that there is an invisible network at play.

17 We were not told by whom.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Map of the Khabarovsk Krai, Russia
Légende The dots are the villages and cities I worked in
Crédits © Anne Dalles Maréchal (source: Google 2022)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/docannexe/image/6140/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 207k
Titre Figure 2. Map of the Heilongjiang region, People’s Republic of China
Légende The dots are the villages and cities I worked in
Crédits © Anne Dalles Maréchal (source: Google 2022)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/docannexe/image/6140/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 255k
Titre Figure 3. Transformation of the Nanai dresses according to the date of fabrication
Légende a. Fish skin dress from the first half of the 20th century; b. Nanai embroidered dress from the second half of the 20th century; c. Women from Naihin for a festival in the Nanai District wearing embroidered dresses
Crédits © a. Anne Dalles Maréchal (Najhin, 2013, courtesy of Nikola. Ch. and Sophia. S. Bel’dy); b. Anne Dalles Maréchal (Najhin, 2014, courtesy of Klavdiia A. Beld’y); c. Anne Dalles Maréchal (Troitskoe, 2014)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/docannexe/image/6140/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 574k
Titre Figure 4. “Frame” embroidered by Klavdiia. A. Bel’dy
Crédits © Anne Dalles Maréchal (Naihin, 2013)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/docannexe/image/6140/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 113k
Titre Figure 5. “Frame” on a fish skin dress from the first half of the 20th century
Crédits © Anne Dalles Maréchal (Najhin, 2013, courtesy of Nikola. Ch. and Sofia. S. Bel’dy)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/docannexe/image/6140/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 59k
Titre Figure 6. Tags on a hunter’s hat embroidered by Z. N. Bel’dy
Crédits © Anne Dalles Maréchal (Troistkoe, 2013, courtesy of Z. N. Bel’dy)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/docannexe/image/6140/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 219k
Titre Figure 7. Z. N. Bel’dy’s membership to the Professional Union of Artists of Russia
Crédits © Anne Dalles Maréchal (Troistkoe, 2013, courtesy of Z. N. Bel’dy)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/docannexe/image/6140/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 202k
Titre Figure 8. Z. N. Beld’y’s prizes
Crédits © Anne Dalles Maréchal (Troistkoe, 2013, courtesy of Z. N. Bel’dy)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/docannexe/image/6140/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 621k
Titre Figure 9. Good luck mural decorations
Légende Material: fish skins
Crédits © Anne Dalles Maréchal & Aurore Dumont (Jiejinkou, 2015, courtesy of the artist and shop owner)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/docannexe/image/6140/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 156k
Titre Figure 10. Good luck Mural decoration in the shape of the Chinese character fu, “good fortune, blessings”
Légende Material: fish skins
Crédits © Anne Dalles Maréchal & Aurore Dumont (Raohe, 2015, courtesy of the artist and shop owner)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/docannexe/image/6140/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 122k
Titre Figure 11. Mural decoration
Légende Material: fish skins
Crédits © Anne Dalles Maréchal & Aurore Dumont (Raohe, 2015, courtesy of the artist and shop owner)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/docannexe/image/6140/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 293k
Titre Figure 12. Mural decoration
Légende Material: fish skin
Crédits © Anne Dalles Maréchal & Aurore Dumont (Jiejinkou, 2015, courtesy of the artist and shop owner)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/docannexe/image/6140/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 377k
Titre Figure 13. Mural decoration
Légende Material: fish skin
Crédits © Anne Dalles Maréchal & Aurore Dumont (Raohe, 2015, courtesy of the artist and shop owner)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/docannexe/image/6140/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 436k
Titre Figure 14. Mural decoration
Légende Material: fish skin
Crédits © Anne Dalles Maréchal & Aurore Dumont (Tongjiang, 2015, courtesy of the artist and shop owner)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/docannexe/image/6140/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 220k
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Référence électronique

Anne Dalles Maréchal, « The usage of embroideries among the Hezhe in China and the Nanai in Russia. A comparative study of heritagisation processes and their local appropriation »Études mongoles et sibériennes, centrasiatiques et tibétaines [En ligne], 54 | 2023, mis en ligne le 06 juin 2023, consulté le 22 juin 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/emscat/6140 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/emscat.6140

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Auteur

Anne Dalles Maréchal

Anne Dalles Maréchal is a French doctor in Religious Anthropology from the EPHE, Paris, France and Associate Member in the Groupe Sociétés, Religions, Laïcités (UMR 8582), Aubervilliers, France. Her research focuses on religious interactions and migration in the Amur Region. She is particularly interested in migration of Russian evangelicals to Canada and in Christian missions towards the Russian Far-East. She published “‘Parler en langues’ pour mieux rompre avec la culture russe. La manifestation de l’Esprit Saint dans trois Églises évangéliques de l’Extrême-Orient de la Sibérie” in 2021 (Socio-anthropologie 33) and “Transformation de la consommation d’alcool chez les Nanaïs du Bassin de l’Amour” in 2017 (Civilisations 66, pp. 77-90).
dallesanne@gmail.com

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