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New Left Review 63, May-June 2010


Kristin Surak

THE BUSINESS OF BELONGING

In the tropical lowlands of Yunnan, home to two dozen of China’s ethnic minorities, the Dai welcome the New Year with hoses and water pistols in a raucous deluge of wet fun. [1] John L. Comaroff and Jean Comaroff, Ethnicity, Inc., University of Chicago Press: Chicago 2009, $19, paperback 236 pp, 978 0 226 11472 9 Once a festival enjoyed only by those living within dousing range, revellers from Beijing are now arriving in busloads to take part in the annual celebration. After drying off in the comforts of Xishuangbanna’s Dai Park, they wander past women weaving at looms, watch locals in colourful garb harvesting rubber, and enjoy an indigenous barbecue while staying in homes on stilts. A few weeks after the New York Times ran a story on this fetching sample of heritage tourism, a full-page advertisement in the Financial Times blared, ‘The British Bottom Line: 8 Million Ethnic Consumers—a Figure You Simply Can’t Ignore’. The ad plugged a diversity media company’s ‘bespoke ethnic marketing solutions’ for those hoping to capitalize on economic opportunities ‘just too significant to overlook’, represented by a slant-eyed mask casting a shadow in the shape of a pound sign.

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