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

Dancing heirs of nomadic culture. The bii biyelgèè dance and heritagisation processes in Mongolia

Danser l’héritage culturel nomade. La danse bii bielgèè et les processus de patrimonialisation en Mongolie
Raphaël Blanchier


Cet article interroge les politiques culturelles et de patrimonialisation en Mongolie contemporaine, en prenant l’exemple de la danse bij bielgèè des Oirates, inscrite sur la liste du patrimoine culturel immatériel nécessitant une sauvegarde urgente de l’UNESCO. Le bij bielgèè étant à la fois la danse de groupes minoritaires et un parangon de la culture nomade nationale, l’auteur propose de repenser la place de la transmission dans les processus de patrimonialisation, en tenant compte de leurs racines historiques (à la fois politiques et épistémologiques), ainsi que du positionnement relationnel de plusieurs acteurs locaux : les “héritiers” reconnus du patrimoine et les autres “utilisateurs”. Ainsi, la patrimonialisation peut être considérée comme une perspective heuristique pour comprendre les processus de construction et de négociation des identités culturelles dans les pays socialistes et post-socialistes d’Eurasie et sur la scène globale.

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  • 1 By this term I hereby and hereafter refer to the idea of nomadism” as constructed and implemented (...)

1Bii biyelgèè is a dance form of the Oirat (or Western) Mongols originating from the Mongolian Altai. It displays mimetic gestures referring to daily life activities of the nomads, along with other gestures, some of which are gender-dependent. It was inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding (hereafter Urgent Safeguarding List) in 2009. Since then, it has become an emblem of Mongolian nomadic1 culture and national identity, and its transmission to younger generations is nowadays at the core of cultural policies in Mongolia.

2The 2013 Periodic Report, sent to UNESCO by the Mongolian National Commission, accounts for the implementation policies of safeguarding (UNESCO 2013). In it, most of the measures relating to the transmission of bii biyelgèè to young Mongolians across the country, correspond to a centralised, mass mode of transmission, reflecting investment in educational and cultural institutions: schools, Mongolian State University of Arts and Culture (Mongol Ulsyn Soyol Urlagiin Ih Surguul’, hereafter SUIS), cultural centres, etc. In response to the periodic report, the UNESCO Committee significantly highlights this course of action (UNESCO 2014) and requests closer attention is paid to local modes of transmission, in order to avoid the risk of distortion and de-contextualisation” of the practice through inadequate, mass modes of transmission (UNESCO 2014, Point 6).

3The above example immediately highlights the paradox of a practice that claims to follow from a continuous and informal transmission, but is safeguarded mostly within the frame of important and particularly voluntarist state policies. The question of the legitimacy of the heritage bearers”, who are able to ensure the transmission of the practice, arises as well. The bearers, who come from minority Oirat subgroups in Western Mongolia, are now recognised as having preserved their practice from the influence of official dance forms developed in the 1950s in the capital Ulaanbaatar. Under these conditions, how is their integration into the official networks of centralised cultural institutions played out today? To answer this question, this article invites us to consider not only the political, institutional and discursive dimensions of the heritage processes, but also, and above all, the agency, relative positioning and modes of commitment of the various actors in the field, particularly those of the recognised bearers.

4Heritage-making processes can be defined as encompassing both the inscription of a practice on a list and the implementation of safeguarding policies by local institutions and actors. UNESCO’s definition of Intangible Cultural Heritage (hereafter ICH) in 2003 caused great waves of enthusiasm, given that the new concept was designed in opposition both to the idea of the tangibility of monuments, sites or objects, and to the value of exception and representativeness associated with them, as they were assimilated into masterpieces. Both aspects were seen as implementing a Westernised model of heritage, possibly following biased aesthetic criteria, and of not sufficiently considering the cultural variability of local viewpoints on the notion of heritage. Enhancing the safeguarding (rather than the protection) of intangible cultural elements (vs tangible ones) was supposed to valorise the point of view of local communities, groups or individuals designed as heritage bearers (Bortolotto 2011, 2012; Tornatore 2011).

5On the other hand, the implementation policies have brought into focus, often passionately and sometimes problematically, the tensions arising locally between the different kinds of actors: UNESCO, national institutions of state parties, researchers, professional artists, leaders, integrated or marginalised members of the communities and so on. Some authors, looking beyond the heritage consensus, even speak of the heritage “arena” to describe the kinds of negotiations or even tensions highlighted by scholars in case studies from very diverse contexts (cf. Bondaz et al. 2012). In addition to these socio-political tensions, epistemological aspects, especially around the issue of authenticity, have been mobilised in passionate debates regarding who can be considered a bearer and who cannot (Givre 2012; Makovicky 2010). As we shall see, the case of Mongolian bii biyelgèè does not escape these tensions, despite the appearance of a very consensual discourse.

  • 2 As opposed to the Halh majority group of Central Mongolia. In Mongolia, Halh are often considered a (...)
  • 3 I hereby refer, of course, to the image of today’s Oirat groups in Mongolia, notwithstanding the fa (...)

6This case also invites us to link the analysis of heritage processes with the issue of globalisation. To nuance a commonly expressed idea, Mongolian national identity today, from the point of view of heritage processes, is not only constructed with reference to the central, majority ethnic group of the Halh (cf. Bulag 1998; Marsh 2009; Pegg 2001), but I argue, it also relies on locally identified expressions, valid for their diversity. Such a diversity in local forms of art tends to be associated with minority groups such as the Oirat. The Oirat (Western) Mongols are a minority2 group from Western Mongolia, with a long and stratified history of migration and demographic and territorial reorganisation. The Oirat are today considered as composed of subgroups (sometimes called small ethnic groups” or baga yastan) whose number and boundaries may vary according to locutionary context as well as across time, even in the national census. Henceforth, the Oirat represent, for most Mongolian people, an embodiment of a colourful (and peaceful3) ethnic diversity while sharing with other Mongols the nomadic way of life and associated cultural features. They are perceived as reserves of authenticity” (the notion is discussed later), thus embodying a fantasised, intact, pre-socialist world (cf. Blanchier 2017; Legrain 2014; Nichols 2014).

Figure 1. Map of the distribution of Oirat ethnic subgroups in the provinces of Uvs (North), Bayan-Ölgii (West) and Hovd (South)

Figure 1. Map of the distribution of Oirat ethnic subgroups in the provinces of Uvs (North), Bayan-Ölgii (West) and Hovd (South)

© Marc Alaux & Raphaël Blanchier

  • 4 Tavan hoshuu mal, a Mongolian phrase to designate the five species breed (in variable proportions d (...)
  • 5 Including food preparation techniques (dairy products, meat), material preparation (felt, leather, (...)

7Indeed, bii biyelgèè is a practice associated with a local minority and composite group that is valued as a cultural emblem of Mongolian national identity, in connection with nomadism (Blanchier 2018, pp. 17, 55 ff.). The elaboration of Intangible Cultural Heritage thus associates a given cultural form (bii biyelgèè) with a Mongolian national identity based on the promotion of nomadic steppe pastoralism. It includes not only the extensive breeding of the five muzzles”4 but also the associated habits and customs (yos zanshil)5. In the logic of heritage processes that have emerged in Mongolia, the relevant elements of Mongolian cultural heritage are those that are both an illustration of this nomadic pastoralism culture” (soyol) or civilisation” (soyol irgenshil, see Tsetsentsolmon 2015) and that have been able to preserve its original essence. Bii biyelgèè unquestionably fulfils the first of these two conditions with its rhythmic dance gestures that mimic typical Mongolian nomadic pastoral activities or the gait of a steppe horse. On the other hand, bii biyelgèè opposes Mongolian stage dance, a professional practice forged in the 1950s under the impetus of socialist cultural policies. Although both forms of dance thematically refer to the nomadic way of life, only the former fulfils the condition of a preserved practice, while the latter is suspected of being corrupted or altered by Western, or Russian, forms of art, such as ballet. As we shall discuss in this article, the heritage dance lies at the intersection of these two criteria – the illustration of a culture” based on nomadic pastoralism and the value of authenticity”.

8The heritagisation process implies some identification of the bearers, both at this institutional level and among the community. Any dancer who practices movements resembling bii biyelgèè cannot claim this title. The position of the bearer, as it emerges from the processes of heritagisation, reveals the ambiguity of the character: they are supposed to transmit a practice anchored in an atemporal, ideally pre-socialist past. At the same time, they can only be recognised through their participation in the activities of nationally visible networks and institutions, inherited from the cultural structures of the socialist period and stimulated by contemporary state heritage policies. Actually, the life trajectories of bii biyelgèè dancers, also named biich, even when they are fully recognised as bearers, do not always correspond to the ideal image displayed during the heritagisation process. As this paper will demonstrate, they can be described as a socio-historical product of a former revivalist episode, sustained by Mongolian state cultural policies, which took place in the 1980s, rather than as keepers of a pre-socialist preserved past.

9This invites us to question the role and agency of local actors, both in the processes of heritagisation, and in the shaping of the modes of transmission that are related to them. However, it must be borne in mind, and this is the hypothesis that will be defended throughout this article, that this positioning is not only configured by the biich’s own will but in interaction with the complementary figure of the professional dancers, and therefore in a relative manner. I will argue, based on the Mongolian case, that the idiom of authenticity generally mobilised in heritage processes reflects the positioning of the bearers of heritage practices, as opposed to the local actors who make use of them from the outside – representatives of state and local authorities, choreographers and professional dancers, visitors, film-makers, researchers or tourists, etc. The paper also questions the hypotheses of discontinuity between the socialist and the post-socialist periods (see Pegg 1995, 2001; Bumochir & Munkherdene 2019; Tsetsentsolmon 2015), by arguing that significant elements of continuity can be found. They even allow to rethink heritagisation processes beyond the UNESCO Convention and across the borders of political regimes. This paper proposes to theorise such processes on the long term as cyclical phenomena.

10In order to address these issues, this paper will be divided into four distinct sections. The first section will look at the heritagisation process of the bii biyelgèè within the broader framework of the redefinition of Mongolian national identity in a post-socialist context. In the second section, the long-term development of the complementary categories of performing and authentic arts, the basis for the contemporary recognition of bii biyelgèè as suitable for heritage making, will be examined. In the third section, the ideal image of the bearer will be contrasted with the sociological and historical profiles of the paths taken by local actors. This reflection is continued in the fourth section, which highlights the asymmetrical complementarity of the roles between the bearers and the other local agents of heritagisation.

11This study is based on ethnographic fieldwork research accomplished between 2010 and 2015, over a total of eighteen months in Mongolia, with interviews conducted in Mongolian by the author. In addition to participant observation for qualitative research, the author used public documents relating to the UNESCO application and took care to interview a variety of actors: bii biyelgèè dancers, association leaders, professional dancers, dance teachers and choreographers, cultural centre directors, as well as amateur practitioners, audience members and general public. References to interviews from the field are indicated in the text by: (Int. Name). Unless otherwise indicated, the translations from Mongolian are the author’s.

Heritage-making policies in post-socialist Mongolia

The dance of nomadic pastoralism

  • 6 The official three manly games” usually include the following: archery, wrestling and horse racing (...)
  • 7 There are others, in certain ethnic groups, such as jalam har or balchin heer. juraa geldene, speci (...)
  • 8 A near exhaustive survey of the evocations of nomadic pastoralism in the biyelgèè dance is given in (...)

12In the application file written by the Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO, as well as in the speeches of the various local actors quoted above, bii biyelgèè is unanimously recognised as a practice intrinsically linked to the nomadic pastoral lifestyle of the steppes. The themes staged in the dance explicitly refer to the daily life or festive activities of Mongolian nomadic herders, through mimed or stylised gestures. The female dance Hödölmör, activities”, shared by all the Oirat subgroups, displays the typical actions of the Mongolian woman: washing her hands and face by drawing water from the basin, combing and braiding her hair in the Oirat fashion, preparing felt from sheep wool, preparing leather straps and, for some subgroups, preparing the barley flour. In contrast, the male dance Eriin gurvan naadam evokes the three manly games” of ankle bone shooting, archery and wrestling in their Mongolian variants6 (Lacaze 1995, 2000). Several dances evoke ritual gestures such as Tsatsal, the ritual sprinkling of dairy products that is performed daily in the domestic setting, as during the ovoo cult or mountain worship, or Mörgöl, prayer”, in which the dancer, with clasped hands and their face immersed in inner concentration, evokes the Buddhist prayer. But the most emblematic dances of the nomadic steppe pastoralists are those that evoke horses, specifically the swift dance Joroo mor’, ambling horse”7. In this dance, the dancer’s shaking shoulders evoke not only the pace of the horse itself, but also the movements of the rider carried by his mount across the steppes8.

13Some gestural aspects of bii biyelgèè also relate to the nomadic way of life. Its squatting postures, the limited scale of its movement spatiality, and the sharp, brisk quality of its movements, are commonly associated with the traditional performance conditions in the limited space of the nomadic yurt. Indeed, this is the place where bii biyelgèè was usually performed, especially during familial celebrations, such as weddings and the haircutting ceremonies, or in the evening after a long day of work at the camp or in the steppes. It is commonly said that it helps relax stressed bodies; but it also magnifies the beauty of ordinary gestures during leisure and/or nomadic gatherings, such as the New Year Celebration, ovoo cult or Naadam Festival (Cf. Blanchier 2018).

14Bii biyelgèè is also anchored in a series of oral and musical practices directly linked to Mongolian nomadic traditions, as indicated by the typical Mongolian instruments that accompany the dance. Apart from the shanz and tovshuur lutes (usually used for epic or legendary songs), bii biyelgèè is frequently accompanied by the two-stringed ekel fiddle with its goatskin table, or more recently by the horsehead fiddle the famous morin huur created, according to the tale, from the skull, sinews and hairs of a magical, beloved horse. These instruments are commonly said to imitate the rhythm of horses and more generally to evoke the steppe landscape and the Mongolian Oirat legends (cf. Pegg 2001).

Figure 2. A Hoton family performing bii biyelgèè and its mimetic gestures under the yurt

Figure 2. A Hoton family performing bii biyelgèè and its mimetic gestures under the yurt

© Raphaël Blanchier, Ulaangom, 2013

15Above all, bii biyelgèè is described as originating (üüssen, üüseltei) directly from nomadic life, as in this legend:

  • 9 Mön l ard tümnii yazguur èrh ashgaas üüssèn. Biyèlgèè malaa saada, tsai süünii dèèjiig örgöh, uul u (...)

16[Bii biyelgèè] originates from ancient activities of the people. The bii biyelgèè originates from milking, libation of tea and milk premises, cult of the mountains and waters, obtaining of wool and cashmere from one’s herds, cultivating cereals and many such activities. This is precisely where an authentic art (yazguur urlag) originates from9. (Int. Tserendulam Bidernee, August 2013)

17In this story, Tserendulam, a female biich in her sixties, evokes the well-known relationship between the mimed gestures of bii biyelgèè and the general activities of the nomads. Yet in this instance, she does not point out to the relation of resemblance between the dance and daily activities but rather to a relation of origin.

18There are many legends recounting the origins of musical, vocal or instrumental genres in Mongolia, many of which evoke a relation of the imitation, and perhaps emulation, of natural elements. For instance, the höömii (overtone singing) is said to arise from the vocal imitation of the sounds of the wind and rivers (Curtet 2013, p. 110 ff., p. 346 ff.). The long song evocates the outline of rugged landscapes (Legrain 2014, p. 263 ff.); the horsehead fiddle refers to the special relationship between a person and their horse (Pegg 1995), and so on. Legends of the bii biyelgèè origins are comparatively few and rarely told, which makes them all the more significant.

19Let us take this legend, told by a Dörvöd artist from Uvs.

  • 10 Bii biyelgèè yaaj, haanaas üüssèn baina gèhèèr havar tsagt mal töröl törnö. […] Modon ayaga hiidèg, (...)

If you ask: How and from where did bii biyelgèè originate? Well, this happens in spring time, when the cattle give birth. […] [The nomads] prepare wooden bowls, the children play rhythms on them. With a bowl and horsehair, the father makes a tovshuur lute, on which the uncle plays the Praise of Altai (Altain magtaal). Listening to the song, the children won’t sleep. They want to enjoy the song and thus they stand up and start to dance. They make the legend out of this10. (Int. Liilaa Sodnom, August 2013)

20This legend catches the attention, as the origin of the dance is not located in the natural environment but in the domestic and humanised context of a nomadic camp.

21The UNESCO nomination form underlines these aspects extensively:

Mongol Biyelgee is unique and distinguished art expression, which has embodied and originated from the nomadic way of life of Mongols that expressed lifestyle, customs, traditions and spiritual practices through dancing elements. (UNESCO 2009, section D)

22As an art that emanates from this way of life and gives it expression, bii biyelgèè seems to meet the requirements of an ICH element apt to respond to contemporary cultural policies.

Nomadic heritage policies

  • 11 USL: Urgent Safeguarding List, RL: Representative List.
  • 12 The latter two elements were first inscribed in 2003 and 2005, on the list of Masterpieces of the O (...)

23Far from being an isolated event, the inscription of the bii biyelgèè at UNESCO took place in a context marked by strong heritage effervescence. In 2009, bii biyelgèè, was inscribed together with Traditional music of the Tsuur” (USL11) and Mongol Tuuli [sic], Mongolian epic” (USL), later joined by Traditional music of the Morin Khuur” (RL) and Urtiin Duu, traditional folk long songs” (joint inscription with China – RL)12. After those successful inscriptions in 2009 and another one in 2010 (The Mongolian Traditional Art of Khöömei”), the National Commission proposed ten elements in 2011, a considerable number for Mongolia. Only one was finally retained: The long-song performance technique of the limbic flute players – circular breathing” (USL). This can be explained by the enthusiasm in Mongolia for the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, signed in 2003 (hereafter 2003 Convention). It came at a time when the country was redefining itself, in the wake of the 1990 Democratic Revolution, as a nomadic nation. This included the protection of salient cultural elements (customs, oral traditions, etc.) related to nomadic pastoralism among its national priorities (Campi 2012).

  • 13 While this strengthening of Mongolian national identity seems typical of nationalist resurgences in (...)
  • 14 For Bulag, the gradual matching of Mongol and Halh, the majority ethnic group in the territory of p (...)

24The promotion of bii biyelgèè in the 2000s and 2010s was part of a vast movement to protect and promote Mongolian national identity. Landlocked between its two powerful neighbours, Russia and China, Mongolia gained its independence from the Sino-Manchu yoke at the beginning of the 20th century by allying itself with Russia and then with the USSR. This geostrategic choice led to it becoming the world’s second socialist regime in 1924 (see Legrand 1975). With the end of the USSR, the democratic transition of the early 1990s put an end to Mongolia’s insertion into the socialist world, depriving it of a valuable ally (Maire 2016, p. 79)13. The fear of China’s increasing hold on Mongolia’s economy and culture was amplified by the economic crisis (linked to the transition to a market economy) of the 1990s and the mining development policy of the 2000s and 2010s. It is also reflected in the resurgence of a strong nationalism, characterised by acute Sinophobia14 (cf. Bulag 1998, Billé 2016). These elements, together with the need to position itself strongly in a changing international arena, gave rise to a policy of national security” in which Mongolia’s political and territorial integrity, and the protection of its economy, are now in continuity with the maintenance of a cultural identity based primarily on nomadic pastoralism and its cultural and artistic expressions (Campi 2012).

  • 15 Mal süreg bol ündesnii bayalag mön bögööd töriin hamgaalaltad baina, “The livestock is a national a (...)
  • 16 Mongolyn ard tümnii tüüh, soyolyn dursgalt züil, shinjleh uhaan, oyuuny öv töriin hamgaalaltad bain (...)
  • 17 Mongol ulsyn ündesnii ayuulgüi baidlyn üzel barimtlal, “National Security Concept of Mongolia”, ela (...)
  • 18 Supposedly destroyed by the socialist regime.

25The 1992 Constitution makes the state the warrant of nomadic pastoral activity15 as well as the guardian of the culture and heritage of the Mongolian people16”. The Concept of National Security of Mongolia17” document (published in 1994, updated in 2010) crystallises the association between national security and the preservation of nomadism, through the importance given to the preservation of environmental conditions, necessary for the maintenance of Mongolian nomadic pastoralism, and specifically related cultural elements (ibid.). For many Mongolian people, the heritage mission of the Mongolian State, with regard to the arts and practices linked to nomadism, seems self-evident. During the 1990s, cultural policies were undertaken at the highest level of the state with the aim of restoring cultural elements specific to the nomadic pastoralists of Mongolia. Intellectuals such as Dulam Sendenjav were entrusted with political missions aimed at reintegrating Mongolia into its own national history and culture18, as well as at developing national rituals and symbols rooted in the Chinggiskhanid past and nomadic civilisation (Bianquis 2013). While the 1990s, the decade of democratic transition, were marked by a harmful economic crisis, the 2000s saw the beginning of relative prosperity, enabling Mongolia to implement the desired heritage and cultural policies at a higher level and with international recognition.

Threats to the transmission

26Traces of this perspective can be seen in the arguments put forward by the National Commission in section 3 Urgent need for safeguarding” of the nomination form. The first cause incriminated is the modernisation of lifestyles, notably through two major trends, globalisation and urbanisation, which are said to be the cause of young people’s lack of interest in bii biyelgèè.

Due to intensified dynamics of globalization and assimilation of worldwide pop culture and arts channelled into oneness of style, standards and trends, the traditional cultures seemingly lose strengths and thus some specific forms and types of traditional cultures face danger of disappearing. This impacts biyelgee” as well. […]

  • 19 Bold in the text.

One important feature of folk arts and culture is that they exist and evolve in tight connection with natural environement [sic], traditional industries and social relations. However, urbanization trends accelerate [sic] faster, internal migration intensifies even more and, consequently […] our young generations face imminent threats of losing opportunities to inherit and maintain intangible cultural heritage expressions within its original state, natural environment and social settings by and large19. (UNESCO 2009, section 3.b Threat and Risk assessment)

27The 2003 Convention aroused great enthusiasm among researchers by proposing to move from a historical (sites and monuments) to an ethnographic model (practices). It also moved the paradigm from protection” to safeguarding”, understood as a mode of preservation that considers dynamics specific to the practices themselves instead of seeking to put them in a glass case. In fact, however, resilience to the protection perspective was often observed in different contexts (Bortolotto 2011; Tornatore 2011). This certainly seems to be the case with the bii biyelgèè application, where heritage appears as the antithesis and victim of modernisation, perceived, through globalisation and urbanisation, as synonymous with the destruction of local ways of life, and therefore of the heritage attached to them. This interpretation consolidates the above-mentioned vision of the bii biyelgèè as an emanation of a nomadic pastoral way of life, which risks disappearing alongside it. The nomadic way of life, from the perspective of heritagisation, is here perceived as a cultural whole. This is an implicit, yet decisive, aspect of what should be an ideal cultural heritage.

28The definition of the heritage element does not, however, only embody an absolute ideal. It also depends on the relative, or contradictory, positioning of the authentic” practice vs other similar, yet inauthentic” practices, especially, in our case, the stage form of Mongolian dance.

Stage and authentic dances. An archaeology of categories

  • 20 Yazguurtan means aristocratic, of aristocratic origin.
  • 21 Current knowledge indicated that this word was borrowed from the Russian naturan, which in turn was (...)

29Bii biyelgèè is thought of as authentic, not only in relation to the nomadic way of life, but also as opposed to Mongolian stage dance, which is seen as a creative, and therefore inauthentic, practice. Conversely, bii biyelgèè is not seen as a dance (büjig), but rather as a fixed element of folklore, emanating from the local culture it represents. The definition of an element of cultural heritage – as opposed to the evolutive and creative dimension of artistic, professional and stage practices – is quite striking, with regards to the vocabulary employed by all actors in Mongolia (those in charge of heritage policies, biich, professional dancers and choreographers) to describe bii biyelgèè as antithetic to Mongolian stage dance. Most of the employed terms directly qualify the authenticity of bii biyelgèè. Ulamjlalt, traditional”, conveys the idea of tradition” (ulamjlal), as a continued transmission from generation to generation (ulam). Yazguur, authentic”, etymologically refers to the ancient origins or roots of the practice as a way to guarantee its value20. Natur21 is employed in a meaningful way to describe the very authenticity of bii biyelgèè. Such words are commonly defined in regard to opposing values, steadily represented by Mongolian stage dance. For example, natur means that no modification should be made to the practice, as opposed to deglelt, choreographed”, which implies such operations as mix” (holih), introduce” (oruulah) or modify” movements (öörchlöh). Such actions are generally welcome in a choreographed dance, but in bii biyelgèè they seem to threaten the integrity of the practice, and they have even been described by some as the cause of its progressive disappearance. In the context of heritagisation, this opposition between staged and authentic arts is made in favour of the latter, at least in appearance. To understand the archaeology of this dichotomy, we have to go back to socialist cultural policies.

Origins of Mongolian stage dance

  • 22 Mongol tuurgatny büjig högjliinhöö urt zamyn tul üyèès üyèd ulam ulmaar bolovsron tögöldörjsöör tai (...)

30As the 1950s trained choreographer Dolgorsüren Garam wrote, Mongolian dance of the yurt dwellers, along the long road of its development (högjil), has gradually matured into an accomplished performing art […] and has developed into an autonomous professional art genre”22 (Dolgorsüren 1993, p. 13, cf. also Nanjid 2009). This way of conceiving the transformation of nomadic local practices into accomplished and autonomous arts” (urlag), under the modernising and beneficial influence of socialism, is a recurring point of view among dance scholars in Mongolia. In the case of dance, it is mainly Russian classical ballet that is described as the technical and aesthetic operator capable of giving obscure local practices the dimension and lustre of a professional dance of international standing.

  • 23 For an analysis of the stage model continuity between the socialist and post-socialist periods see, (...)
  • 24 First called the National Folk Song and Dance Ensemble of the Mongolian People’s Republic (BNMAU-yn (...)
  • 25 Aguulga n’ […] manai namyn üzèl surtlyn bodlogyg surtalchlah, quoted in Lhagvasüren 2005.
  • 26 The Drama Theatre (Ulsyn dramyn tyeatr) and the Opera-Ballet (Ulsyn duur’ büjgiin erdmiin tyeatr) s (...)

31At the same time, choreographers and policy-makers alike see Mongolian dance as deeply rooted in a local and ancestral past23. This ambivalence is at the heart of the foundation of the National Music, Folk Dance and Folk Song Ensemble24. Dual guidance was therefore immediately given to the National Ensemble, as stated in Decree No. 72/114 of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee Conference of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party dated December 1 1950: The content [of the Ensemble’s productions] must communicate the political and ideological trends of the Party”25 and the form must be popular” (ardyn). Where one might have recognised, almost word for word, Stalin’s famous formula national in form, socialist in content”, in practice, however, the first objective was reduced to a minimum. In Mongolia, the ideological content” is not displayed by Mongolian stage dance (see Blanchier 2018, pp. 135 ff.) but rather by ballets, operas or plays. The National Ensemble is in fact (at least in the field of dance) dedicated more to the second task. The institutionalisation between the classical” arts (songodog), which find their place within the Central Theatre (for dramatic art, later to become the Drama Theatre) and the Opera-Ballet26 (for classical dance and lyrical song), and the so-called popular arts (Mongolian music, Mongolian dance), were thus combined with a series of separate tasks. The classical institutions were there to convey ideology in the Western great genres”, while the folk arts were in charge of showcasing the Mongolian nation’s colourfulness. The creation in 1967, under the leadership of Dolgorsüren, of a complete Mongolian folk dance” (mongol ardyn büjig) curriculum in the dance section of the conservatory, leading to a professional diploma alongside that of classical dance (songodog büjig), confirmed this separation of genres. It was in this context that the Mongolian national dance was truly reinvented as an independent genre.

Figure 3. The prima ballerina Alimahüü Jam’’yan performing a choreographed version of Dörvöd biyelgee with bowls at the 1st World Festival of Youth and Students in Prague in 1947

Figure 3. The prima ballerina Alimahüü Jam’’yan performing a choreographed version of Dörvöd biyelgee with bowls at the 1st World Festival of Youth and Students in Prague in 1947

© personal archives of Chinbat Chuluun and Oyuunchimeg Gonchigsüren, with their kind permission

Is socialism to blame?

32The UNESCO nomination form directly accuses socialist cultural policies of having contributed to the degradation of local practices, such as bii biyelgèè, especially by repressing local forms of expressions and by promoting (although this remains somewhat implicit) Russian-influenced forms of art such as the Mongolian stage dance:

During the whole last century, the state policy was deviated in regards of treating traditional culture and arts, particularly folklore performing arts due to proletarianism” which supressed [sic] everything associated with national identity and traditional culture. Eventually, it affected existence and survival of biyelgee” negatively, by and large, too. Thus, the number of biyelgee” bearers and performers has been reduced and its core characteristics and performance qualities have been jeopardized. (UNESCO 2009, section E, item 3.b Threat and Risk assessment)

33This view is also expressed by some biich, who readily point to the harmful influence of Mongolian stage dance, a product of socialism, on bii biyelgèè. They appear broadly in line with a statement relayed by Western researchers describing socialist cultures as deleterious to local arts: by becoming scenic”, folk” and national”, arts such as höömii, or overtone singing (Curtet 2013), epic recitation (Pegg 1995), long song (Yoon 2011), horsehead fiddle (Marsh 2009) or dance have become detached from the pastoral-nomadic context (that is under the yurt) and ritual connotations that would have once presided over their performance, leaving us with a watered-down version of themselves (Pegg 1995, p. 78 ff., 2001, p. 255 ff.). However, what we can discern from the history of the bii biyelgèè shows that it has not been repressed to that degree. Biich like Pürevjal Magsar (1892-1983) have contributed to the emergence of Mongolian stage dance, and several videos in the national archives, the earliest of which dates back to 1954, show official festival-like occasions where the local bii biyelgèè is honoured. While it rightly highlights the phenomena of censorship, ideological instrumentality and the attenuation of the ritual dimension of certain practices, particularly in the fields of song and epic, this rhetoric of loss leaves out no less important aspects of these processes. The socialist period not only contributed, in terms of cultural development” (högjil) policies, to the promotion of Soviet-influenced performing arts, but also, and in a complementary way, to the deployment of the category of authentic”, yazguur.

34Marsh, using Geertz’s concepts, has shown that Mongolian cultural policies during the socialist period can be described in terms of a dialectic between two complementary currents. The former, known as epochalist (The Spirit of the Age”), aims to promote a modernisation based on a strict imitation of the Russian elder brother” (ah) model. The latter, known as essentialist (The Indigenous Way of Life”), (Geertz 1973, p. 240), aims to develop a form of socialism adapted to Mongolia’s cultural, geographical and historical specificities (Marsh 2009, p. 67). Following his analysis, the late 1970s and early 1980s should be interpreted as essentialist”, in the sense that this watershed in the cultural policies positions Mongolian arts against the Russification” of previous decades, in favour of authentic” (yazguur) local forms of art. As an illustration, the Central Party Committee’s 54th directive of July 1982, where this turning point in Mongolian cultural policy is expressed, invites us to:

Study and inventory (nyagtlan sudlah) the many beautiful Mongolian ancestral customs (mongol ovogtny olon saihan yos zanshlyg) related to, among other things, the wedding ceremony, archery, wrestling, etc. song and dance, costumes and footwear, domestic furniture, horse and camel harnessing, embroidery, sculpture, ornamentation, of the Halh, Buryat, Dörvöd, Bayad, Zahchin, Ööld, Torguud, Hoton, Dar’ganga etc. ethnic groups. [elements] which, having been handed down to us (ulamjlan üldsen) from the time of our ancestors, constitute a priceless and inexhaustible (ünelj barshgüi) heritage treasure (öv sand) […] [and] are not treated in a way that pays attention to the customs of their possessers (eznii yosoor handahgui). Hence the serious endangerment of precious elements of our popular culture (ardyn soyol urlag), which, forgotten, destroyed, cannot reach the next generation. (Central Party Committee’s 54th directive of July 1982, quoted by Jav 1990, p. 34)

  • 27 Leader of the Mongolian People’s Republic from 1940 to 1984.

35To say that not enough attention was paid to the possessors (eznii yosoor handahgüi) should be interpreted within the context of a reaction to the Russification of Mongolian culture, embodied by Tsedenbal’s27 policies of the previous decades (cf. Marsh 2009, pp. 100-101). But above all, the text contains all the elements that form the basis of an Intangible Cultural Heritage policy: 1) an awareness of the priceless value of an ancestral culture; 2) the realisation that it is endangered, particularly in the continuity of its transmission to future generations; 3) the need for an inventory that will transform this popular culture into a heritage treasure” (öv san) for future generations. Unlike what is suggested by Tsetsentsolmon (2015) or Bumochir and Munkherdene (2019), who tend to think of the UNESCO ICH framework as disruptive from the socialist era, I propose to see, in the contemporary UNESCO-related heritage policies, a long-term heritagisation process having a socialist background.

  • 28 The blurred and shifting meaning of those categories has been highlighted by several scholars, amon (...)

36During this period, personalities such as the composer N. Jantsannorov and the ethnomusicologist J. Badraa (cf. Marsh 2009, p. 100; Curtet 2013, p. 235) contributed to setting up festivals of authentic arts” (yazguur urlagiin ih naadam) and popular talent” (ardyn av’yaastan) competitions, which largely foreshadowed the heritage policies of the 2000s. Firstly, the communist, militant figure of the amateur” (uran saihanch) is replaced by that of the talented [person] from the people” (ardyn av’’yaastan) (ibid.). Of course, to a large extent, these festivals continue a concept of amateur artistic practices inherited from the previous period. Nevertheless, within the expression talented [person] from the people”, the term ardyn no longer refers to revolutionary ideology but to local origins and the typically Mongolian character of the artistic practices represented: the “talented [persons] from the people” are those non-professionals who practice authentic arts” (yazguur urlag)28.

  • 29 For a discussion of the representation of Oirat ethnicity in Mongolian dances and in relationship t (...)
  • 30 This can be compared, to some extent, to the national policy of minzu (nationality”) in China. See (...)

37Secondly, besides the opposition between classical” (songodog) and folk” (ardyn) art, there is also the opposition between folk” art, transformed by socialism, and authentic” (yazguur) art, which carries a typically Mongolian essence. Colwell (2018, p. 208 ff.) discusses the emergence of the concept of yazguur, especially among Mongolian musicians and music theorists, in the 1970s and 1980s. The ethnomusicologist Badraa Jamts, for instance, uses the phrase ardyn yazguur urlag, authentic folk art”, to oppose the Eurocentrism (or Russo-centrism), and modernist ideology of development implied in the professional folk” arts duly transformed for the stage. Colwell argues that, on the other hand, Badraa’s understanding of yazguur might be influenced by the Russian term samobytnost’, meaning originality” (in the sense: referring to the origins), and therefore suggests changing the translation of yazguur to original” (Colwell 2018, p. 215). In principle, these yazguur arts readily refer to the wealth of musical arts and oral literature perceived as original”, that is typical of nomadic pastoralism, rooted in local subgroups sometimes ethnically identified29, often perceived as intact and ancestral, of which the Oirat are ideal representatives. In the context of heritagisation, the small ethnic groups (baga yastan) are also associated with positive values of diversity, on the one hand, and authenticity” on the other30, as people tend to see them as both geographically and symbolically marginalised, and therefore preserved, during the socialist period. Their arts are particularly represented by various traditional instruments (the horsehead fiddle, shanz and tovshuur lutes), popular song genres (such as the long song, the short song, the mocking song), other vocal practices (such as eulogies, epics, etc.) (Curtet 2013, p. 179) and, of course, bii biyelgèè.

38Today’s denial of a revivalism, prior to the one promoted by UNESCO at the end of the 2000s, seems to me to be typical of a structural amnesia” that this paper argues correlates with heritage processes: ignoring the previous revivalisms of a practice makes it possible to emphasise its truly ancient, ancestral and untouched character, while at the same time reinforcing the rhetoric of a surviving practice that has undergone deleterious policies. The image of a bii biyelgèè that is doubly complementary to Mongolian stage dance thus emerges: not only is it a source and guarantee of Mongolness, but it is also its antithesis, the preserved version, the one that has escaped socialism.

The bearers: their idealised image and life trajectories

39Let us now shift the analysis to the main actors of heritage, the biich, whom UNESCO refers to as bearers. What is their position in relation to cultural policies that seem to be defined, for them and in their name, by institutions that are external to them? And how does taking their position into account shed light on the transmission processes at work in heritage-making?

The heritage bearers’ profile. The nomination form and the field

40Despite the absence of explicitly discriminating criteria, a coherent and consensual image of the figure of the biich emerges through a quick analysis of the nomination form’s text and photos. In fact, the photos, of which there are ten, are less focused on presenting the practice of bii biyelgèè than on the idealised features of the biich. Against a neutral background (a sheet stretched indoors), outdoors or in a yurt, these photos depict individual portraits of biich dancing. Their faces, sometimes smiling but always absorbed in an attitude of intense concentration, are wrinkled, giving an image of elderly, solitary people happy to dance for themselves. The colourful costumes convey an image of ethnic diversity due to the plurality of the bearers. The photo gallery credits the photographer (2008, A. Duurenjargal [sic]) but never the biich themselves, who are thus presented less as individuals than as variations of the same mould. The text is along the same lines. There is a list of names in the community(ies), group(s) or individual(s) concerned” section of the nomination form (UNESCO 2009, section E, item 1.c); however, this list displays the ethnic diversity of bearers of the same mould rather than individuals. One may identify key features from the image of the biich, as delineated in the nomination form. The biich are:

  • rare (about twenty bearers), the scarcity being explicitly associated with the endangerment of the practice. As said in the Nomination form, It is currently nearly-extinct and as mentioned in the item C, there are just over 20 bearers of biyelgee dance tradition from given ethnic groups, who preserved the originality of biyelgee dance” (UNESCO 2009, section E, item 1.c).

  • rooted in their local ethnic and rural identity, autochthonous/native”, both originating from a district of the western provinces (here Hovd and Uvs), and belonging to an Oirat ethnic group. This valorisation of local anchorage is to be understood in relationship to the shared vision, in Mongolia, of Oirat culture as a reserve of authentic Mongolness as well as displaying a colourful, politically neutral ethnic diversity.

  • isolated: not only do the biich live in remote lands”, but the list shows barely two or three biich per district/ethnic group; this is the antithesis of the image of a tight-knit local community, suggesting that they are isolated bearers.

  • old (over 60-80 years old”, UNESCO 2009, section C, item 1.d), which is meant to echo to the rareness and endangerment, as well as to enhance the unavoidable long-term maturation of a heritage bearer.

  • 31 For this study, private archives, such as the photo albums compiled by the biich themselves whilst (...)

41This typical portrait of the indigenous biich – isolated, local, elderly and rare – creates a link between the bearer and the broad image of marginalised elders, ultimate bearers of a disappearing practice. However, the facts stated in the form do not fully correspond to what I encountered in the field, a few months after the inscription. First, the biich are not isolated from each other in remote villages of the Mongolian Altai: the majority live in Ulaanbaatar, the others in provincial or district centres. Only a few people, like Humbaa or Jalh, still set up their yurt away from the district centre in the summer. Moreover, far from carrying out their biich activities independently of each other, they frequently gather at performances or projects to promote their practice (training, documentary films, festivals, etc.). Although this fieldwork took place in 2010, after the registration was complete, the biich stated that signs of the practice’s revival were noticeable from the early 2000s. Photos of the biich Balgan, although not all precisely dated, show him and other biich participating in festivals in Ulaangom, the capital of Uvs Province, where he is from, from at least as early as 2001. Other photos show him participating in the following national and international events31:

  • Concert of the Oirat singer J. Erdenedalai (15 January 2004);

  • Autumn Festival, Paris (21 September to 1 October 2006);

  • Mongolian Dance, Music and Ballet – Lincoln Festival, Asia Society (24 July 2007);

  • Great Morin Huur Festival (2007);

  • Mongolian New Year’s Greetings, on the set of the NTV television channel (2008).

  • 32 Mongol ardyn yazguur urlagiin bii biyelèg holboo.
  • 33 Mongolyn bii biyelgèè övlüülèh holboo, founded in 2010, chaired by choreographer S. Sühbaatar.
  • 34 Mongolyn öv soyolyn èrdènè – bii biilèg. Founded (most likely) in 2009, chaired by choreographer D. (...)
  • 35 Founded in 2010, chaired by journalist Ch. Önörtüvshin.

42Besides these one-time events, the biich have been brought together within NGO institutions. The association Authentic Mongolian Popular Art of Bii Biyeleg32, was founded as early as 2006 by the professional dancer Lhagvasüren Zagdragchaa. Others, such as the Association for the Transmission of the Bii biyelgèè33, the Heritage Treasure – Bii Biyelgèè34 and Ih Högsüü35, founded later, have taken advantage of the enthusiasm generated by the UNESCO inscription. Yet it is useful to bear in mind that the connection between biich through associations or cultural events precedes (and to some extent conditions) the UNESCO inscription as much as it follows it.

43Similarly, the number, list and age of the biich presented in the nomination form have seemingly been oriented. The number of biich known to the Mongolian heritage services is much higher than those listed, with a significant number (including those mentioned in the nomination form) belonging to the average age group of 40s and 50s, at the time of the application. The 2009 file selectively mentions only a very small number of biich, no doubt chosen to represent the rarity of the bearers and a certain ethnic and territorial diversity. However, this under-representation in 2009 is matched by an over-representation in the 2013 Periodic Report: 436 practitioners […] now registered”, a spectacular increase of about 4000% in four years. The report furtively suggests that this increase is primarily the result of an effective policy of identifying them and safeguarding their practice, yet the explanation seems insufficient. Rather, it appears that it is a matter of constructing an image of the biich as the bearer of an ancestral practice that is threatened with extinction, which is clearly in line with what can be termed a rhetoric of safeguarding” (cf. Blanchier 2018, p. 168).

Figure 4. The biich Jalh Masgaa and the ekel (fiddle) player Tsezen Lhaidaa performing bii biyelgee under a modern yurt

Figure 4. The biich Jalh Masgaa and the ekel (fiddle) player Tsezen Lhaidaa performing bii biyelgee under a modern yurt

© Raphaël Blanchier, Ulaangom, 2013

Transmission in straight lines?

44The biographical interviews conducted with several biich show that the transmission of heritage practices is complex. The cases of dancers from diverse backgrounds allow us to appreciate how today’s heritage-related value of authenticity was forged in the cultural policies of the 1980s, and specifically in the recognition given by festivals to amateur practices vs arts professionalised by socialist cultural institutions.

45The first case is that of non-professional artists, amateurs who turn away, in this period, from Mongolian stage dance to bii biyelgèè during amateur competitions and festivals. Yundendorj Yondon, a local government employee married to the Ulaangom theatre professional dancer Bayartai Genden, describes his entry into bii biyelgèè as follows:

  • 36 Alban gazaruud koncyert bèldèh yostoi. […] Urlagiin hümüüs oruulj bolohgüi. Dandaa uran saihanch, t (...)

The administrative units had to present concerts. […] [Professional] artists were not allowed to perform, only amateurs (uran saihanch). At that time, among the amateurs there was no biyelgèè of the bowls… Colleagues told me: nobody offers bii biyelgèè. Why shouldn’t we make it? You have a wife who is a dancer, why don’t you study biyelgèè? At the end of the process [of preparation], we, the representatives of all the organisations, arrived at the provincial theatre. There was a selection. Once selected, we performed at the provincial theatre. Then those who were selected went to Ulaanbaatar. And there I got the gold medal. I danced with four bowls piled on my head [the last of which was] filled with milk36. (Int. Yundendorj Yondon, September 2013)

46Therefore, Yundendorj, previously known more for his talents as an amateur accordionist, is recognised to this day as the bearer of bii biyelgèè of the bowls, which he actually learned in 1982 from his wife, a dancer of Mongolian stage dance.

47The second case is that of dancers from public theatres in the western provinces, previously trained in the most academic tradition of Mongolian stage dance within socialist institutions, who suddenly take it upon themselves to learn the bii biyelgèè of their ethnic origin. Among biich as well as among choreographers, researchers and cultural workers, Samjid Riimed is seen as the most prominent representative of the Urianhai bii biyelgèè. However, if he is indeed Urianhai, he did not learn bii biyelgèè from his parents or in his childhood. Born in 1938, Samjid joined the newly opened Bayan-Ölgii theatre in 1955 and recruited musicians and dancers. Spotted by Sevjid himself, the most famous of all Mongolian choreographers, Samjid learned the trade of a professional dancer on the job. He worked for forty-five years as a dancer in this theatre and completed his training at the SUIS, after which he was promoted to dance master; indeed, two of his children became choreographers of Mongolian stage dance. In the 1980s, stimulated by the promotion of the authentic” arts (yazguur) and specifically the bii biyelgèè, he embarked on a personal research project with elderly people in his province to collect and document the gestures of the Kazakh and Urianhai bii biyelgèè, which he compiled into sequences of his own composition. Yet this does not prevent Samjid from being unanimously acclaimed as an authority on the Urianhai bii biyelgèè. In the end, contrary to what is commonly claimed, the biich are not recognisable as bearers because they learned bii biyelgèè in a familial environment from generation to generation, or because of the preserved nature of the gestures they dance.

48The third case is epitomised by Dugaraa Batmagnai. Dugaraa (now deceased) was a professional dancer from the Hovd Theatre who became interested in the Torguud bii biyelgèè of the Bulgan District, his homeland, in the 1980s. In the archive videos, we can see how his way of dancing the Torguud bii biyelgèè was influenced by his training as a professional dancer, in contrast to others who have not received this training: arched posture, wide conventional smile, fluid and ample movements, transfers of weight from one foot to the other, etc. All these contrast with the reserved attitude, the concentrated look, the brief and abrupt movements and the immobility of the pelvis of the other bearers. However, Dugaraa is still recognised on a par with the others. Contrary to the opposition underlined at the beginning of this paper, one can therefore be both a biich and a pro dancer. What is the reason behind someone like Dugaraa being considered a biich? It is not his background, which is that of a professional dancer, or the transmission of bii biyelgèè through the family or from childhood, which he learned late in life and which his parents did not practice, or his particularly scenic way of dancing. The only plausible explanation is his regular participation in the festivals of the 1980s, which established him as a biich despite everything that, a priori, makes him the antithesis of a heritage bearer.

49The authentic arts festivals of the 1980s not only enhanced the status of local practitioners of bii biyelgèè, but also led a number of non-biich to endorse the practice as if it had been in their family for generations. These policies have thus contributed to the recognition of biich, within the contemporary process of heritagisation, as people whose legitimacy as bearers is established purely by their participation in these festivals, even when the ancestry of a family practice or conditions of family transmission of an informal kind cannot be demonstrated. The 1980s are not only the object of a contemporary amnesia, they also play the role of a screen, masking the diversity of transmission procedures for the biich today who are recognised as authentic bearers.

Transmitters and transmission of heritage

50Heritagisation during the 2000s seems to have an effect similar to that of the revivalism of the 1980s: alongside the biich, who are recognised for their long-standing line of transmission, newcomers to the practice of bii biyelgèè, such as professional choreographers and dancers, and local children, are playing an increasing role in the process. Heritagisation seems to have stimulated what I call a substitution effect by which stage bii biyelgèè, a professional form assumed by dancers and choreographers from the socialist institutions of Mongolian stage dance, is often mistaken for the bii biyelgèè of the biich. As a consequence, one can also observe how the actors of the first practice, coming from the choreographic milieu, tend to take the place, in the public opinion as well as in the distribution of funds, that should have been those of the biich themselves.

Heritage frustrations

  • 37 Mongolian tügrüg, or tugrik, the local money.
  • 38 Under the 2010 decree 546 on the protection of the ICH element of the Minister of Culture, Educati (...)

51In contrast to the 1980s, the current heritage situation promotes a substitution effect which, despite appearances, seemingly works to the disadvantage of the biich in material terms. If one follows the figures given in the 2013 Periodic Report (UNESCO 2013, section B.3.b), only four biich could be employed sustainably under the implementation policies. Out of 16,1 million MNT37 of another training programme included in the same budget, only 3 million were allocated to support 15 [sic] bearers taking part in the programme38”.

52On the other hand, during events when the biich are directly involved, there is no money available.

  • 39 Möngö baihgüi… Chi harsan bizdee. Heden tögrög avah, yuu ch baihgüi. Tsol baihgüi, tsalin baihgüi. (...)
  • 40 The name has been changed.

[At the festival], you saw well… there was no money. A few tugriks to be made? No money at all! No recognition [lit. no title], no salary. I made the cakes myself, all by myself [implying to feed us, since even the meal was not provided]39. (Int. Ay40, September 2013)

  • 41 The name has been changed.
  • 42 So far unverified.

53This is how the biich Ay bitterly describes the festive event organised in September 2013 by the Gös41association, in which she invested a lot of energy. Rumours42 of fund embezzlement from UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture were circulating around the president of this association, which ceased its activities following this festival.

54The biich, who, according to UNESCO’s motivations and aims, should have been the first beneficiaries of the bii biyelgèè inscription, have been somewhat marginalised, at least in terms of distribution of public funding, by the very heritagisation of their own practice. The substitution effect shows the ambiguities at work in the heritage process. There is a publicly claimed political desire to mobilise the whole of Mongolia (and not just the Altai provinces) around the promotion of bii biyelgèè within mass events. In consequence, bii biyelgèè is treated by the cultural authorities less as a local practice to safeguard (in the sense of the 2003 Convention), and more as a national emblem to promote. This national dimension of heritagisation certainly testifies to some cultural nationalism” (Curtet 2013, p. 432 ff.; Curtet & Nomindar’ 2015; Nomindar’ 2012; Tsetsentsolmon 2012). But these ambivalences are also a sign of the asymmetry specific to the heritage arena, an asymmetry that de facto cuts across a multitude of actors, with diverse, even divergent, statuses, roles and interests. Reduced to the status of objects of discourse, the biich only have limited access to the heritage manna, whereas the choreographers and other authorised actors of these heritage processes are able to draw prestige and financial benefits from it.

The duty to transmit

55How do the biich position themselves in this strongly asymmetrical relationship? To be a biich means, for them, not profiting from the practice. It should first and foremost be experienced as a moral duty, which does not fall to the others, the non-biich, or those who benefit most from the process:

  • 43 Mongol ulsyn soyolyn tèrgüünii ajiltan, one of the highest awards for cultural workers.
  • 44 Bid nar, möngönii yum bish bai shdèè. Bi, tènd mèdal ögch. Bi èniig avahyn tölöö hiigèègüi shdèè ti (...)

For us, it’s not about the money. I’m not doing it to get a medal either. I’m not going to go and say, Give me the title of Meritorious Worker in Culture43” either. If they [the government] give it to me, I’ll take it. If not, well, too bad. My father used to say, I teach you this biyelgèè, you in turn must teach it”. Having learned your father’s movements exactly, it is up to you to perpetuate and spread this heritage. That is why it is my duty (yostoi) to teach the children well. Pürevjal said the same thing, and, of course, I intend to teach the children well. Therefore, having learned this way, the transmission goes on and on and on and on forever44! (Int. Chuluunbat Dashdorj, October 2013)

56For the biich, the transmission of the bii biyelgèè heritage in a just” or correct” (zöv) way, in Chuluunbat’s terms, i.e. being unaltered by the choreographic process, is a moral duty, as evidenced by the recurrence of the modal yostoi (must”). Used in its strongest sense, it is a moral duty that, according to Badamtsetseg, we owe to those who passed on this heritage to us:

  • 45 Manai aav ööriihöö aavaas, Sharaa gèdèg hünèèsèè sursan. Manai aavyn aavyg Sharaa gèdèg hün baisan (...)

My father himself learned it from his father, Sharaa. Sharaa was my father’s father. Dancers from generation to generation. What is called biyelgèè, what is called Zahchin biyelgèè will not disappear. It is passed on from generation to generation, it is perpetuated! I have to be able to do it. My father was able to do it; his objective was that I should also be able to do it. So my father was a famous bii biyelgèè dancer in Mongolia and among all the Zahchin, and also a horsehead fiddle player; yes, very famous; his name was Banzaa son of Sharaa. People know him, and all the scholars, the researchers of the arts, know him. And such a man, my father, he used to dance like this, with both shoulder blades, eh, this man, and yes, both shoulder blades. So while doing this, he used to bend backwards, until he hit the ground, and then get up, yes, that’s what this man used to do. And so, this way of dancing, it’s really superb and beautiful. So someone who dances the bii biyelgèè must absolutely (zaaval yostoi) hit the shoulder blades45. (Int. Badamtsetseg Banzaa, July 2010)

57Badamtsetseg sees the duty of just” transmission not only as a moral obligation, but as an integral part of the process of transmission from generation to generation”. In consequence, it would be to misunderstand the viewpoint of the biich to see in the transmission of the bii biyelgèè a mere reproduction of the movements, however accurate. With the movements themselves is transmitted the duty to transmit them faithfully. In short, the true” transmission of bii biyelgèè is not the exact reproduction of the gestures, but the moral duty to perform and transmit them continuously in the just” manner. From this point of view, the biich appears not only as the bearer or simply as the passer” of a remarkable heritage. Above all, the biich are being held” by the heritage, which they themselves hold: not only does bii biyelgèè belong to the biich, but the biich belongs to bii biyelgèè.

58That point is, in my opinion, a significant aspect of transmission in heritagisation processes. Based on his analysis of Norwegian costume and dance revivalism, Egil Bakka (1992) proposes three typical postures. The heirs” think of themselves as having inherited the practices concerned, in a line of transmission described as unbroken. As such, they also see themselves as the legitimate owner but, in a reciprocal way, they also belong to their practice as much as it belongs to them: they are, for example, only able to dance the dance of their family, their village or their line of transmission. Conversely, the user” is interested in the practice in order to make a broad use of it, for example in the sense that it gives them pleasure, it serves to assert a cultural identity or to implement preservation policies. Finally, the researcher is actually characterised less by their research approach than, according to Bakka, by their interest in the preservation of traditional qualities” (whatever they are) of the practice in question.

59This definition of typical roles allows us to avoid assigning authenticity based on objectivist criteria leading to a biased or even essentialist vision of things. Rather than either the paths taken by individuals, the intrinsic properties of practices, or the variability of claims, it highlights the stability of certain attitudes assumed in relation to the practice itself. However, these three figures are not on the same analytical level. Rather than three juxtaposed figures, it seems more effective to highlight the complementarity between the first two figures and the transversal character of the third. What distinguishes the user from the heir, in this sense, is the exteriority of the former’s relation to the practice concerned: the user can thus practice the dances of the village of their choice, according to their preferences or interest at the time. Yet the use they make of the practices concerned can be considered illegitimate by the heirs.

60In this sense, it seems obvious to consider the biich, who belong to the bii biyelgèè as much as the bii biyelgèè belongs to them, as heirs. But it seems no less legitimate to think of the other actors concerned, as well as the heritage authorities in charge of the UNESCO file, as choreographers, and the general public as users, who have an external relationship with the practice, which they perform, claim and mobilise for various uses: leisure, heritage, choreography, etc. As for the researcher’s perspective, it appears to be mobilised by both. Not in a stable and continuous way, but in a discontinuous way according to the circumstances. The biich and the choreographers, as does the UNESCO nomination form, mobilise devices of objectivity to validate their discourses, aiming to demonstrate the substantial anchoring of bii biyelgèè in nomadic pastoralism, even though this substantialist anchoring appears to be constantly relayed by a relative definition of the bii biyelgèè as a heritage practice.

61The distinction between heirs and users seems especially efficient when accounting for the tense relationship between biich (heirs) and other actors, acting as users of the same practice. Logically contradictory, these two attitudes seem to be mutually complementary: the heir is not defined as such only in their relation to the practice they inherit but in opposition to those who do not inherit it (the users) and vice versa.


62In the case of bii biyelgèè, the integration of heritage into Mongolia’s international and national political positioning in a post-socialist context means that the state and heritage institutions must be seen as major players in the heritage process. The UNESCO nomination form thus reflects both the image that the National Commission has of bii biyelgèè and the image it has of UNESCO’s expectations. The application file is based on a rhetoric of safeguarding rooted in the perception of bii biyelgèè as a practice emanating from nomadic pastoralism, and in the figure of the biich as an ancestral character in danger of disappearing. This makes it possible to highlight three complementary dimensions of bii biyelgèè: a practice typical of nomadic Mongolia, an ancestral practice transmitted in a continuous manner and a practice threatened with disappearance, dependent on cultural policies, which should therefore be safeguarded. However, the case of bii biyelgèè reveals more subtle dialectics.

63First of all, it is necessary to take into account the long-time span of cultural policies, beyond the sole period of ICH-UNESCO type heritage. On the one hand, this historicisation of heritage processes highlights the historical anchoring of contemporary categories of authenticity in the socialist policies of previous decades, even though the most common discourses today position heritage in opposition to or at odds with this socialist past. On the other hand, it shows how the recognition of the bearers today has its roots in earlier periods of revivalism, specifically the beginning of the 1980s, the authentic arts festivals of which have significantly contributed to forging the authenticity of the biich of the 2000s and 2010s. Taking this into account, alongside institutional processes and value categories, focuses attention on the relative positioning of several types of local actors in relation to the practice itself and to each other. The issue of defining a heritage practice cannot be dissociated from that of differentiating its authentic bearers.

64The complementary roles of heir and user, as defined above, are in this sense the basis of a constitutive asymmetry. The biich, the claimed and recognised heirs, belong to this practice as much as it belongs to them (they are obliged, for example, to claim only the bii biyelgèè of their ethnic affiliation – transmission, for them, is not a choice but a moral duty). But the users are free to make use of the patrimonial object, precisely because they only have a subject-object relationship with it. This is precisely where the tensions inherent in the heritage process arise: the biich tend to be considered by the users (heritage authorities and choreographers, specifically) as objects, mere human embodiments of heritage with little say in the matter. As recognised bearers, however, the biich would like to be legitimate subjects of heritage discourse, with all that this implies in terms of recognition, economic development, etc. The freedom of users, with regard to the heritage object, facilitates the effectiveness of their hold on such an object. But the biich, bound by the relationship of inheritance (in the sense of Bakka 1992), do not have such freedoms: due to this asymmetrical relationship, recognising oneself as a bearer of heritage puts one on the side of the object for the users, rather than on the subject side.

65While several heritage researchers, including Bortolotto (2011, p. 21), see the shift from the tangible to the intangible as a significant heritage turning point”, in Mongolia the heritage of the bii biyelgèè is part of the continuity of a heritage vision that was already in place several decades earlier. On the other hand, some suggest that the transition from the tangible to the intangible has led to an abandonment, perceived as beneficial, of the object regime implied by the tangible conceptions of heritage. This is true in the official texts, of course, as long as we take “object” to mean the equivalent of “material element”. However, if we see things from the perspective of the field and take “object” in its epistemological sense (the object that a subject of knowledge has in view), the shift to the intangible does not tally with the abandonment of an object regime. On the contrary, the epistemological subject-object relationship seems to be inherent in the processes of heritage. Thus, when the epistemological object ceases to be confused with a material object, it shifts in such a way as to assign the status of epistemological object to some of the actors of heritage (the heirs), who are at the same time in the position of subjects (whose object would be the practice).

66It is true that the subject-object relationship, although fundamentally asymmetrical, is also, in law, relative. When caught in the asymmetry between the roles of heir and user, typical of patrimonial situations and revivalisms, it tends to become substantial and to freeze the relations between the biich and users of the bii biyelgèè in a structural asymmetry. The biich are caught in this asymmetrical epistemological relationship that they have contributed to constructing by assuming the role of heir in the eyes of users. Conversely, the users’ room for manoeuvre is limited because in order to make use of the heritage they have to recognise, at least in a subterranean way, that they will never be heirs to it, and, even if this has few consequences for their lives or careers, they are still confronted with the potentially exasperated claims of the biich. This dichotomy thus crystallises in the definition of a divided field of Mongolian dance, where the bii biyelgèè and Mongolian stage dance, while being defined as mutually exclusive, never cease to overlap and interpenetrate each other.

67This perspective, which tends to describe the bii biyelgèè/ Mongolian stage dance cleavage as a dynamic system, should not, however, make us forget the historical dimension inherent in any heritage process. Guillard (1997) highlights, in the case of the character dances” of military origin, performed in Touraine’s dance societies in the 19th and 20th centuries, cycles constituting periods of revivalism. Every sixty years or so, a generational phenomenon leads the children of the previous generation to take a new interest in the practice concerned, before letting it fall back into oblivion for contingent reasons (war, marriage, etc.), until the next generation seeks to revitalise it again. This periodicity establishes both the claimed ancestry of a practice and the continuity of its transmission. Within this perspective, which is fruitful for understanding revivalism as a series of functional cycles, we must also consider how the revivalism of the previous generation tends to be concealed in the process of legitimation. By drawing inspiration and yet also denying previous revivalisms the idea of an intact ancestral practice is constructed, rather than recreated, during successive revivalisms. Further research, combining anthropology and history, and carried out in a comparison between several heritage areas, will undoubtedly make it possible to support this hypothesis.

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1 By this term I hereby and hereafter refer to the idea of nomadism” as constructed and implemented through dance and other media in contemporary Mongolia. The reader must, however, keep in mind that nomadism” or nomadic” is not here defended as a social sciences concept nor used to describe the various forms of seasonal mobility and herding systems that have been described by researchers; as a concept, it has been duly critically challenged by authors such as Humphrey & Sneath (1999) or Orhon (2011).

2 As opposed to the Halh majority group of Central Mongolia. In Mongolia, Halh are often considered as the true descendants of Chinggis Khan’s Golden lineage, especially among radical nationalist milieux. The official Mongolian language stems from the Halh variant, to the detriment of other dialectal forms, including the Oirat’s.

3 I hereby refer, of course, to the image of today’s Oirat groups in Mongolia, notwithstanding the fact that in the 17th and 18th centuries, so-called Oirat” people constituted a strong empire bearing threat to Halh rulers of Central Mongolia, up until the point that they looked for an alliance with the Manchu Qing Dynasty to defeat them, before displacing or destroying most of them.

4 Tavan hoshuu mal, a Mongolian phrase to designate the five species breed (in variable proportions depending on the region) by nomads in Mongolia: horses, oxen (cows and yaks), goats, sheep and camels.

5 Including food preparation techniques (dairy products, meat), material preparation (felt, leather, etc.), etiquette and rules of conduct, religion (prayers, rituals, cult objects) and artistic forms of expression (legends, proverbs, songs, music, epics, embroidery, handicrafts, dance, etc.).

6 The official three manly games” usually include the following: archery, wrestling and horse racing, whereas anklebone shooting was added recently. But in bii biyelgèè, the horse gait is displayed in specific dances, such as joroo mor’ (see below), and therefore absent of the dance three manly games”. This dance thus includes anklebone shooting as a third game, to keep good numbers.

7 There are others, in certain ethnic groups, such as jalam har or balchin heer. juraa geldene, specific to the Hoton (a subgroup of the Oirat distinguished by their alleged Kirgiz ancestry and Muslim-originating rituals), evokes the pace of the camels in a caravan, which are listed in the lyrics of the song that accompanies it.

8 A near exhaustive survey of the evocations of nomadic pastoralism in the biyelgèè dance is given in Blanchier 2018, pp. 51 ff.

9 Mön l ard tümnii yazguur èrh ashgaas üüssèn. Biyèlgèè malaa saada, tsai süünii dèèjiig örgöh, uul usandaa zalbirch mörgöh, maliinhaa noos nooluuriig avah, taria tarih gèh mèt züilèès üüsèltèi. Èndèès l yazguur urlag üüsèltèi.

10 Bii biyelgèè yaaj, haanaas üüssèn baina gèhèèr havar tsagt mal töröl törnö. […] Modon ayaga hiidèg, hüühdüüd toglodog, aav n’ tèr ayaga, moriny üsèèr tovshuur hiinè. Ah n’ altain magtaal duulna, Hüühdüüd sonsood untahgüi, ènè ayalguug sonsohod durtai. Tèriig sonsohyn tuld bosoj biyelnèè. Èndèès domog hiinè.

11 USL: Urgent Safeguarding List, RL: Representative List.

12 The latter two elements were first inscribed in 2003 and 2005, on the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity before being transferred, by effect of the transitional clause (Art. 31) of the 2003 Convention, to the Representative List of the ICH. For the full list of elements inscribed by Mongolia, see UNESCO 2021.

13 While this strengthening of Mongolian national identity seems typical of nationalist resurgences in a post-socialist context, recent studies have emphasised the socialist foundations of the nationalism that has been expressed since 1990 (see Suny 1993; Hirsh 2014). In the case of Mongolia, Bulag’s seminal work on “Mongolness” shows how contemporary Mongolian nationalism is part of the continuity of a national construction inherited from the socialist period, where the emergence of a modern socialist state goes hand in hand with the emergence of a properly Mongolian nation-state, where ethnic, territorial and cultural boundaries ideally coincide (Bulag 1998, p. 28).

14 For Bulag, the gradual matching of Mongol and Halh, the majority ethnic group in the territory of present-day Mongolia, is at the centre of an exacerbated nationalism. Today, it goes hand in hand with an attachment to the ethnic purity” of the Mongols, which in its extreme forms generates racism and xenophobia. The true” Mongols are thus the Halh, an ethnic group associated with the golden lineage” (altan urag) from which the blood of Chinggis Khan is said to flow. Sinophobia, which is the most frequent and violent form of xenophobia, is not only linked to the economic and international situation, but also reflects local conceptions of the transmission of Mongolian identity.

15 Mal süreg bol ündesnii bayalag mön bögööd töriin hamgaalaltad baina, “The livestock is a national asset and its protection is the responsibility of the State” (Mongolian Constitution, chapter I, article 5, paragraph 5). Secretariat of the Constitutional Court of Mongolia [1992] 2021

16 Mongolyn ard tümnii tüüh, soyolyn dursgalt züil, shinjleh uhaan, oyuuny öv töriin hamgaalaltad baina, “The State is in charge of the protection of elements carrying memory of history and culture of the Mongolian people, his scientific and intellectual heritage” (Mongolian Constitution, chapter I, article 7, paragraph 1). Secretariat of the Constitutional Court of Mongolia [1992] 2021.

17 Mongol ulsyn ündesnii ayuulgüi baidlyn üzel barimtlal, “National Security Concept of Mongolia”, elaborated by the National Security Council of Mongolia (Mongol ulsyn ündesnii ayuulgüi baidlyn zövlöl). This text, which also gives the main directions of the Mongolian State international policy, is to define the protection of a national culture against both the inner threat of extreme nationalism and the external threat of foreign (especially westernised) cultures, seen as potentially deleterious for the nomadic culture, especially in the age of globalisation (Campi 2012). See National Security Council of Mongolia [1994] 2010.

18 Supposedly destroyed by the socialist regime.

19 Bold in the text.

20 Yazguurtan means aristocratic, of aristocratic origin.

21 Current knowledge indicated that this word was borrowed from the Russian naturan, which in turn was borrowed from the French nature.

22 Mongol tuurgatny büjig högjliinhöö urt zamyn tul üyèès üyèd ulam ulmaar bolovsron tögöldörjsöör taizny urlag […] mèrgèjliin biyè daasan urlagiin töröl züil bolon högjij irjèè.

23 For an analysis of the stage model continuity between the socialist and post-socialist periods see, for example, Curtet 2013, p. 226 ff.

24 First called the National Folk Song and Dance Ensemble of the Mongolian People’s Republic (BNMAU-yn Ardyn duu tancny ulsyn ansambl’), currently the National Academic Song and Dance Ensemble of Mongolia (Mongol ulsyn ündesnii duu büjgiin erdmiin chuulga). The adjective ardyn, literally of the people”, is a genitive of the word arad/ard, which first designated the pre-revolutionary peasantry and then, more broadly, the revolutionary people”. In this context it refers rather to the people as a cultural entity (the Volk of German Romanticism) with a distinctive folklore. In this sense, it is often used as a quasi-equivalent of national” (ündesnii), an idiom favoured in the 1930s to foster the development” (högjil) of a national culture (Legrain 2014, p. 94). The Mongolian folk songs” (mongol ardyn duu) are intended to be popular as an emanation of both the revolutionary people and a nationwide cultural identity. It should be noted that today, the opposite movement seems to be observed: ündesnii tends to be considered as equivalent to ardyn, as far as the arts are concerned, and national appears as a synonym for popular, in the sense of the English folk” in folk dance.

25 Aguulga n’ […] manai namyn üzèl surtlyn bodlogyg surtalchlah, quoted in Lhagvasüren 2005.

26 The Drama Theatre (Ulsyn dramyn tyeatr) and the Opera-Ballet (Ulsyn duur’ büjgiin erdmiin tyeatr) separated in 1963.

27 Leader of the Mongolian People’s Republic from 1940 to 1984.

28 The blurred and shifting meaning of those categories has been highlighted by several scholars, among which Colwell (2018), Tsetsentsolmon (2015).

29 For a discussion of the representation of Oirat ethnicity in Mongolian dances and in relationship to the socialist concept of ethnic groups, see Blanchier 2015, 2018, p. 211 ff.

30 This can be compared, to some extent, to the national policy of minzu (nationality”) in China. See Mullaney 2011. However, as demonstrated by Legrain (2014), the agency of local people and activists is more significantly at play in Mongolia, than it seems to be in China.

31 For this study, private archives, such as the photo albums compiled by the biich themselves whilst participating in these events, have been the most accessible and reliable source for documenting the events’ existence.

32 Mongol ardyn yazguur urlagiin bii biyelèg holboo.

33 Mongolyn bii biyelgèè övlüülèh holboo, founded in 2010, chaired by choreographer S. Sühbaatar.

34 Mongolyn öv soyolyn èrdènè – bii biilèg. Founded (most likely) in 2009, chaired by choreographer D. Nanjid.

35 Founded in 2010, chaired by journalist Ch. Önörtüvshin.

36 Alban gazaruud koncyert bèldèh yostoi. […] Urlagiin hümüüs oruulj bolohgüi. Dandaa uran saihanch, tèè. Uran saihanch hümüüst tiim ayagtai biyelgèè baigaagüi. Hamt ajilladag humus ingèj: Iim bii biyelgèè hiih hün baihgüi. Iim bolchihgüi yüü? Büjigchin avgaitai bii surahgüi yüü? […] Za süült n’, baiguullagiinhaa bügdèèrèè Aimgiin tyeatrt hürch baina. Shalgalt ögnö. Shalguulaj avaad, aimgiin tyeatr, tègèèd shalguulaad Ulaanbaatart. Tègèèd altan myedal. Ènè dörvön süütai ayagat.

37 Mongolian tügrüg, or tugrik, the local money.

38 Under the 2010 decree 546 on the protection of the ICH element of the Minister of Culture, Education and Science, we organised training and apprenticeship programmes involving 81 individuals for 16,2 million tugriks budget. From this budget, 3 million tugriks were distributed as a support to 15 bearers who were involved in the programme” (UNESCO 2013, section B.3b).

39 Möngö baihgüi… Chi harsan bizdee. Heden tögrög avah, yuu ch baihgüi. Tsol baihgüi, tsalin baihgüi. Boov hiisen, bi gants.

40 The name has been changed.

41 The name has been changed.

42 So far unverified.

43 Mongol ulsyn soyolyn tèrgüünii ajiltan, one of the highest awards for cultural workers.

44 Bid nar, möngönii yum bish bai shdèè. Bi, tènd mèdal ögch. Bi èniig avahyn tölöö hiigèègüi shdèè tii. Soyolyn tèrgüünii ajiltan gèsèn ög gèèd bi ööröö hèlchihgüi. Tèr ulsuud nadiig ünèlüülèh bi avna. Tèhgüi bol baihgüi shdèè, tiimèè, tiim l baigaa biz dèè. Minii aav yer n’ bol hèlj baisan: ènè biyelgèè chamd zaaj ögch baihdaa, chi tsaashaa zaagaad ögöh hèrègtèi. Chi aavynhaa hödölgööniig yag sursnaraar ööröö övlüülèh, nèmüülsèn oruulsan yum baihgüi. Tiim ch baisan uchraas l, bi hüühdüüddèè dooshoogoo sain zaaj ögöh yostoi. Pürèvjal guai ch bas hèlj baisan. Bailgüi yuund: zaa, hüühdüüdèd sain zaaj ög’yo shüü. Tiim uchraas iim sursan yum aa, ènè tsaashaa ingèèd ingèèd ingèèd, ingèèd oluulaa bol’’yo shdèè.

45 Manai aav ööriihöö aavaas, Sharaa gèdèg hünèèsèè sursan. Manai aavyn aavyg Sharaa gèdèg hün baisan yum. Üyè damjsan, udam damjsan iim büjigchin. […] Biyelgèè gèdèg yum n’, zahchiny biyèlgèè gèdèg yum ustgahgüi, üye udam damjaad ingèèd yavch baigaa yum chin. Bi èniig chadah yostoi. Minii ètsèg chadaj baisan yum chin’ bi chadah yostoi l gèsèn zorilgotoi. Gèhdèè minii ètsèg chin’ odoo ingèèd bür, Mongol ulsyn, bür ènè, zahchiny bür nèrtèi biyèlgèèchin, morin huurch, bür aldartai tiim, Sharaan Banzaa gèdèg hün baij baisan, odoo ènè hümüüs bol tanina doo, ènè urlag sudlaachid bol bügd tanina doo. Tègèèd tiim hün baisan, tèr hün chin’ manai aav chin’ odoo ingèèd biyèlj baihad chin’ bür ènè hoyor dal, dal yalaa, ènè hünii tii? ènè hoyor dal baidgii shdèè, ènüügèèrèè bür ingèèd aragshaagaa unaad, gazar tsohiod bosood irdèg, tiim hün baisan baihgüi yüü. Tègj biyeldèg, biyelgèènii tèr ontslog tèr baihgüi yüü, hamgiin gol n’ zahchin biyelgèè biyelj baigaa hün, dal zaaval tsohih yostoi.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Map of the distribution of Oirat ethnic subgroups in the provinces of Uvs (North), Bayan-Ölgii (West) and Hovd (South)
Crédits © Marc Alaux & Raphaël Blanchier
Fichier image/jpeg, 139k
Titre Figure 2. A Hoton family performing bii biyelgèè and its mimetic gestures under the yurt
Crédits © Raphaël Blanchier, Ulaangom, 2013
Fichier image/png, 624k
Titre Figure 3. The prima ballerina Alimahüü Jam’’yan performing a choreographed version of Dörvöd biyelgee with bowls at the 1st World Festival of Youth and Students in Prague in 1947
Crédits © personal archives of Chinbat Chuluun and Oyuunchimeg Gonchigsüren, with their kind permission
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Titre Figure 4. The biich Jalh Masgaa and the ekel (fiddle) player Tsezen Lhaidaa performing bii biyelgee under a modern yurt
Crédits © Raphaël Blanchier, Ulaangom, 2013
Fichier image/jpeg, 228k
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Raphaël Blanchier, « Dancing heirs of nomadic culture. The bii biyelgèè dance and heritagisation processes in Mongolia »Études mongoles et sibériennes, centrasiatiques et tibétaines [En ligne], 54 | 2023, mis en ligne le 06 juin 2023, consulté le 27 septembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Raphaël Blanchier

Raphaël Blanchier is an associate professor in Anthropology of Dance, Université Clermont Auvergne, ACTé Research Centre. His research focuses on Mongolian dances, cultural transmission and national identity in the age of globalisation.

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