Li Bingxiang, a suona fan and former Party secretary of a village in Pingyi County, also believes the instrument has fallen victim to the wide net cast to prevent ostentatious funerals. “The main extravagant expenses are the banquet, coffin, and labor costs for a three-day ceremony,” Li says. “There should be a compromise that reaches the government’s goals but also preserves traditions.”
The suona is a traditional Chinese wind instrument similar to the oboe that is customarily played alongside gongs, drums, and the sheng mouth organ at weddings and funerals in rural northeastern China. In Shandong province, where the suona is sometimes known by the onomatopoeic name “wulawa,” the instrument is an integral part of traditional culture. But in Shandong’s Pingyi County, where Wang hails from, suona performances have been banned from funerals since October 2016 as part of local government reforms aiming to curb lavish, showy ceremonies.
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When England became an empire, English began borrowing less and became the prolific word lender it is today, Haspelmath told me. If we start borrowing again—the way Arabic stopped exporting words to the rest of the world once its empire crumbled and started borrowing more from French and English—we’ll know we’ve seen the apex of our cultural influence. Until then, at least we’ll be able to find a hot yoga class just about anywhere in the world.
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