Megaphones Hiding in Trees: Civic instruction via mediated soundscapes in places of natural beauty in China

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Places of ‘scenic beauty’ in China – national parks, panda enclosures, holy mountains, private gardens – have been sites where encounters with nature have been constructed through idealisations of particular ecologies. Often, in these environments, the sonic design of space predicates as much on ‘organic’ elements as on deliberately-engineered and broadcast ‘artificial’ sounds. Loudspeakers are hidden in trees and rocks. Broadcasting ambient sounds throughout the course of the day, they send signals ranging from Chinese classical music to spoken descriptions of local objects of interest, to exhortations to walk in an orderly fashion, to religions chants. Sometimes, the broadcasts are presented in overt articulations in invocation of public service announcements or tourist information posts. Based on multi-sited fieldwork in Northern, Eastern and Southern China, this paper considers such mediated soundscapes along four axes of analysis. First, I contextualise such sonic ‘atmospheres’ within surveillance culture in China and civic instruction through public address. Second, I examine them within a longer, well-known history of Taoist philosophy that positions man in relationship to the cosmos through a perspective of ‘artifice’ embedded in oppositional co-existence with ‘nature’. Third, I explore these articulations as multisensorial experiences found in ecotouristic brands. Finally, I critique these sonic mediations in interaction with perceived ‘natural’ sounds within broader theorizations of ecomusicology developed by Guy (2009) and Rees (2016), coming to conclusions on national vs local acoustic ecologies of the ‘natural’ Chinese world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-214
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Communication of Chinese Culture
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2020


  • sound studies, China, Nature, Environment, Speakers, Media, Acoustic Disciplining, Sonic Disciplining, Soundscapes, National Parks

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