Shelley Zhang

Wolf Humanities Center Graduate Fellow

20212022 Forum on Migration

Shelley Zhang

Ph.D. Candidate, Ethnomusicology

Shelley Zhang’s research focuses on music practices in post-socialist China and the experiences of the one-child generation. She draws from extensive multi-sited fieldwork in Mainland China, Canada, and the United States to study the involvement of Chinese musicians in Western classical music together with considerations of socio-economic precarity, transnationalism, the politics of memory, trauma, racialization, and desire. She does so to examine the legacy of the Cultural Revolution, which continually frames individual and collective engagements with music in the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese diaspora. Her PhD studies in ethnomusicology have been supported by the SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship from Canada and the Benjamin Franklin and Andrew W. Mellon Education Fellowships at Penn. She received her Diploma in Piano Performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada and is currently Secretary of the Association for Chinese Music Research.

Music after the Cultural Revolution: Transnational Precarity for China’s One-Child Generation

Since the 1990s, the world has seen an incredible surge of Chinese performers in Western classical music. Unknown to most outside of Chinese musical networks, these musicians often began their training as toddlers or young children, learning from parents who lost musical ambitions during the Cultural Revolution and who hoped to realize them through their only child. In my work, I weave together the colonial history of Western classical music in China and the continuing impacts of the Cultural Revolution and One-Child Policy. I argue that the prominence of Chinese musicians today results from a desire, even a desperation, amongst many Chinese families to negotiate past traumas and to use what I term “strategic citizenship” to acquire socio-economic stability in an increasingly interconnected world.