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How does music link people across time and space? How do singers modulate their repertoires to forge links with audiences both within and across local, regional and national borders? What are the consequences of these developments? In Song King: Connecting People, Places and Past in Contemporary China (University of Hawaii Press 2018), Dartmouth College Assistant Professor Levi S. Gibbs seeks to answer these and other questions through an examination of the life and music of Wang Xiangrong, the Folksong King of Western China. As a folksong king, Wang is both folk and elite, and in this capacity he simultaneously is tasked with representing the local, the regional, and the national both in performances within China, and—in the case of one chapter looking at his performance at the Dow Chemical Plant in Midlands Michigan—around the world. Born and raised in a rural area of Northern Shaanxi Province, Wang grew up listening to shamanic songs and bawdy songs, but grew into other contexts in which he now represents his region and his nation in ways that require him to modulate his repertoire to bring together audiences, performers in the performance event. At the end of the book, Gibbs considers how the concept of song kings and queens might find application to and help understand about folksingers around the world, in doing so, Song King provides new and innovative ways of considering issues of folksong traditions and their performers in contemporary China and beyond. All recordings mentioned in the volume are also available on amazon.

Timothy Thurston is Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds. His research examines language at the nexus of tradition and modernity in China’s Tibet.

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