Analysis of Anthropology Based on Ethnic Culture

- Case Study of <Huayao Bride In Shangri-La, 2005>



Chunliang Zhang, HyunSeok Lee


Dept. of Visual Contents

Graduate School of Dongseo University

Busan, South Korea,






In current image-media era, the scope and depth of spreading ethnic culture have been extended. This paper takes the movie <Huayao Bride In Shangri-La, 2005>, as a case of culture criticism of anthropology. This movie has been considered as an explanation of traditional ethnic culture by contemporary media culture, and from the perspective of anthropology, methods of document research, cultural relativism, and intercultural comparison are taken to analyze this explanation. This movie shows colorful Huayao Yi Culture, involving many symbols and elements of ethnic culture. This paper selects 5 types of ethnic elements to compare and analyze the ethnic culture of reality and of movie, to emphasize the objectivity and authenticity of shooting content of movie theme based on national minority, and to discuss the relationship between balanced audio-visual language ethnic culture applied in movie and its connotation. The option , that ethnic culture in the process of media should be fully respected and protected, has been put forward.


Keywords-Huayao Yi;Anthropology;Ethnic Culture;Movie and TV Media


1. Introduction


In China, minority culture has become the transformation target of mainstream media. Many movies based on the topic of minority have been shot, views of anthropology have been applied to analyze ethnic culture in the movie, to study how ethnic culture is displayed in movie in media context. Movie & TV means are attempted to express deeper connotation by images forming through the camera.

Methods of document research, cultural relativism, and intercultural comparison are applied to do the anthropological analysis of Huayao Yi Culture in the movie of <Huayao Bride In Shangri-La, 2005>, from the perspectives of host culture and guest culture.


2. Literature Review


Visual anthropology: Visual anthropology is a way using image and film to show anthropological theory, to record, display and explain culture of an ethnic group or to attempt to build up knowledge of comparative culture [1].

Huayao Yi, is a part of Nisu branch of Ethnic Yi of Yunnan minority. Due to women’s elegant, generous and colorful clothing with exquisite bouquet beside the waist, they are kindly named as ‘Huayao Ethnic Yi’, with its nickname of ‘Huayao Yi’, who mainly inhabits in 2 towns, Longwu and Shaochong, locating in the north mountain area of Shiping County of Honghe Prefecture in Yunnan Province. The movie, <Huayao Bride In Shangri-La, 2005>, is named by it.

Boas thinks that each ethnic group has its own culture, and each culture is the special thing of each society and ethnic group, that will result in the theory of relativity. Boas said that there wasn’t universal principle of human’s culture development, as each culture has its existing value, each ethnic group has its respectable value. It’s wrong to evaluate whichever nationality’s views and value system, as it cannot understand the real meaning of each ethnic group and its culture [2].

Anthropologist PiRe Kenneth has created Emic and Etic in 1960S, Emic-Analysis of host culture, that is insider; Etic-Analysis of guest culturethat is outsider [3].

The American anthropologist Geertz proposed that the analysis of culture is ‘a science of interpretation of meaning’ and that it needs to be ‘deeply depicted’ rather than merely describing the description of superficial phenomena. The ‘deep description’ of culture is to use the means of film and television to interpret culture and to think and study culture in visual language. Instead of just staying in the performance and display of various cultural phenomena, you should also use the image language of film and television to express the deeper things behind the image [4].

As for ethnic culture in the movie of <Huayao Bride In Shangri-La, 2005>, it’s not only the superficial display of symbols of ethnic culture, but also the ‘deep explanation’ and display of spirits and connotations of ethnic culture.


3. Analytical Tool


Table 1. Analytical Tool


Analytical theory


National cultural symbol

1) Film and television anthropology methodology

2) Analysis of host culture and Analysis of guest culture

3) Cultural anthropology research method

4) Cultural phenomena and thick description

1) Yi’s Female Image

2) Wedding Custom of Going back Home

3) Wedding Room Arrangement

4) Traditional Dance





<Huayao Bride In Shangri-La, 2005>



4. Case Studies-<Huayao Bride In Shangri-La, 2005>


<Huayao Bride In Shangri-La, 2005> takes Yunnan minority Huayao Yi as background, and traditional custom ‘back home’ of Huayao Yi as clue, to display minority youth’s love story. It completely shows colorful ethnic culture, such as, natural landscape, special wedding customs, colorful ethnic clothing, various songs and dances, and female dragon dance,. The movie completely shows and widely spread many ethnic elements and symbols.



Fig. 1 Marriage custom of Huayao Yi          Fig. 2 Women's Dragon Dance of Huayao Yi


Ethnic culture displayed in the movie is not compatible with the real ethnic culture in reality, for example, the difference of ethnic woman’s image, as traditional Yi woman’s personality is tender, intrapersonal, diligent, hardworking, virtuous and warm-hearted, however, the ‘brutal’ image built by director disobeys judgment of Yi’s traditional value, and insult ethnic woman’s image of Huayao Yi; due to the misunderstanding of wedding custom‘back home’, this film has misunderstood the application time of this wedding custom, and overstated its application, arrangement of wedding room is incompatible with reality.

Table 2. Cultural analysis tableComparison Chart of Ethnic Culture in Reality and Ethnic Culture Displayed in Movie



Ethnic Culture in Reality

Ethnic Culture Displayed in Movie

Whether it matches

Yi’s Female Image

Tende, intrapersonal diligent,ardworking, virtuous and warm-hearted

Barbaric, naughty, stubborn


Wedding Custom of Going back Home

Couples cannot live together in the first 3 years, that is an ancient wedding custom existing in 19C50S or 60S, that doesn’t exist in this society.


Hero and heroine live together at the first night, that disobeys ethnic regulation. The movie mistakes the previous wedding customs of 19C50s or 60s as today’s custom.(Mistake application time)


Wedding Room Arrangement

Wedding room should be arranged on the first floor of soil palm room

Wedding room should be arranged on the second floor of soil palm room


Traditional Dance

Dance with cigarette cues is a mass folk dance of Suni of Yunnan Yi’s branch

Dance with cigarette cues is a folk dance of Huayao Yi of Yunnan Yi’s Nisu branch





 Fig. 3 Village head and villager clothing comparison     Fig. 4 Heroine and man wrestling image


Above all, according to Boas’ and Kenneth’s theoretical analysis, the movie <Huayao Bride In Shangri-La, 2005>, has play an important role of widely spreading, inheriting and developing minority ethnic culture; besides, without objectivity and reality, director uses ‘other person’ perspective to rebuild a ‘brutal’ girl without Huayao Yis ethnic characteristic. Director have strange views towards ecological landscape, clothing, folk ceremony of Huayao Yi’s area. Minority symbols of ethnic elements are used to ‘grafted’, in order to achieve visual shock, however, they do not display ethnic cultural spirit and connotation, with representational form over real content. The root reason is that director, scriptwriter, actors as ‘other person’, they did not conduct sufficient field investigation or experience ethnic culture. Also, they didn’t understand the nationality of Huayao Yi, that can be considered the hegemony of mainstream recognition of strong Han culture against weak minority culture, therefore, minority loses their rights to show themselves through the movie & TV media. Hence, it’s quite important to respect minority ethnic couture and their living style.


5. Conclusion and Suggestions


Each ethnic group has their complete cultural traditions, meanings and values, that regulates the imaginations of their images, and defines ‘self’ and ‘other person’. In the process of intergroup contact and cultural communication, each ethnic group shows their images to ‘other person’ in some ways. In current society, mass media, like movie & TV, has their own purposes to involve into the process of ethnic culture transmission. Some culture has been overstated, so movies about ‘other person’s self-image have deviated their own imagination and definition, that will result in damages to their culture and emotions. The themes of minority movies should be based on the objectivity and reality of content, seek for the balance between visual image and ethnic cultural connotation, efficiently apply image media to fully respect and protect ethnic culture, and attempt to express deeper cultural connotation by images forming through the ways of video tools and cameras.




[1] Kongshao Zhuang, Culture and Spirit, Wuhan: Hubei Education Press, 2001, pp.113.

[2] Franz Boas, Anthropology and Modern Life, Beijing: Huaxia Publishing House Press, 1999, pp.4-5.

[3] Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge--Interpretation of Anthropology, Beijing: Central Compilation and Translation Press, 2000, pp.17.

[4] Clifford Geertz, Interpretation of Culture, Han Li Translated, Nanjing: Yilin Press, 1999, pp.5.