‘Red bud’ troupes bring fresh vitality
Published: Jun 27, 2024 10:39 PM
Illustration: Liu Xiangya/GT

Illustration: Liu Xiangya/GT

The improvement in living standards of the people and the subsequent increasingly diverse consumption demands have greatly promoted the innovation and development of Ulan Muqir in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.  

Meaning "red bud" in Mongolian, Ulan Muqir is the Mongolian name for traveling troupes that go from one grazing site to another, performing for the herdsmen in some of China's most remote areas. The troupes on the grasslands have enjoyed a rejuvenation full of fresh vitality by continuously adding new dimensions and enriching forms of expression.  

Since the first Ulan Muqir troupe was established in June 1957, the troupes have traveled across the grasslands for nearly 67 years, with the sky as the curtain and the earth as the stage. From inception, Ulan Muqir has embodied a distinct ethnic heritage. The members of Ulan Muqir are versatile, holding down multiple jobs including creating, performing, broadcasting, counseling, culture inheritance and communication. Their works have their "roots" in the fertile soil of Chinese civilization, allowing them to become one of the most popular primary-level cultural service teams in the region. 

In terms of cultural inheritance, Inner Mongolia's intangible cultural heritage, rich in unique cultural charm, has been well protected and developed by Ulan Muqir, including folk literature, traditional music and dance, as well as social customs. The various Ulan Muqir troupes across the region have been drawing from nearly 4,000 intangible cultural heritage projects and incorporating them into their diverse artistic performances, establishing a unique model of heritage preservation.

For example, the Ulan Muqir of Hure Banner has preserved a distinctive move from the Andai dance (a national intangible cultural heritage) - swing-step while waving a scarf up and down. The troupes have also devoted themselves to fostering local heritage inheritors. The stage play Aoluguya, created by the Ulan Muqir of Genhe City, prominently features props made from birch bark, promoting and showcasing the Ewenki ethnic group's brilliant "birch bark culture" and their nationally recognized crafting techniques. Meanwhile, through regular exchanges, Ulan Muqir members coming from different areas can appreciate, draw upon and facilitate each other's development. 

In promoting cultural integration, Ulan Muqir troupes effectively bring the latest news and policies into the homes of ordinary people. Art is a key carrier for spreading thoughts and trends. Incorporating the country's policies and guidelines into their works is a significant responsibility of Ulan Muqir, driving their vitality and making them advance with the times. 

In 2022, various Ulan Muqir troupes meticulously created a series of high-quality, grassroots-oriented artistic programs, including the songs and dances "Mother is China" and "My Hometown," as well as the local opera Great Love in a Small Village and Happiness in Tomorrow. They all reflect the theme of forging ahead on a new journey. 

Composer Tolgor of the Hure Banner Ulan Muqir created songs such as "We Are Brave Border Defenders" and "Deep Friendship between Mongolian and Han," expressing the people's gratitude to the government. The works also emphasize the crucial relationship between personal interests and the nation's destiny, and highlight China's historical achievements in the cause of ethnic unity and progress.

In promoting the innovative development of culture, Ulan Muqir troupes adhere to a people-centered and audience-friendly orientation, drawing inspiration from everyday lives. Combining the social development of the region in the new era, Ulan Muqir troupes continuously renew content, expanding communication channels and methods. This has made them a unique brand of national culture. Some troupes have established comprehensive evaluation standards, namely historical, demotic, artistic and aesthetic, ensuring the excellence of their works from the very beginning.

Ulan Muqir's works encompass a wide range of solid and useful knowledge in finance, healthcare, psychology, law and technology. They effectively integrate various activities and performances with law education, making the law more appealing to the general public while also incorporating community service and conflict resolution.

In terms of channels and methods, Ulan Muqir troupes utilize on-site performances, roadshows, and household performances, as well as social media for online performances, creating a 24-hour "digital" presence. During the pandemic, the Ulan Muqir of Jarud Banner released over 70 online videos to promote healthcare and fire safety knowledge. 

The Ulan Muqir program has become a symbol of development in Inner Mongolia, promoting full coverage of public cultural services and emphasizing the principle that "national uniqueness leads to the path of global acceptance." It has been actively engaging in cultural exchanges to showcase China's fine national culture and foster worldwide friendship and joy. 

Since 1974, Ulan Muqir troupes have gradually gone global, touring dozens of countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The troupes have transformed from cultural teams traveling between grassland huts and yurts to Chinese "ambassadors," sparking waves of "horseback culture."

The Ulan Muqir program is a pacesetter for the country's literary and art front. Committed to promoting artistic innovation, Ulan Muqir troupes continuously create down-to-earth, widely spread, and enduring works, cultivating batches of new artists and heritage inheritors. They have withstood the test of time, showcasing new characteristics and trends in the new era. The evolutionary journey and development model of Ulan Muqir provide valuable perspectives and ideas for developing a great culture in China in the new era. 

Zhao Yuemei is an associate researcher at the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). Zhao Fangxue is an editor with the General Office of the CASS.