Arts and Culture
The twentieth-century social change among the Lisu, a migratory group who reside mainly in the mountainous regions of southwest China and Southeast Asia, is characterized by their large-scale conversion from animism to Christianity. Over the last three decades, the Christian revival and sustaining of the Lisu have been significantly affected by their self-organized engagements with media technologies. The aim of this paper is to understand the role of radio, the first widely used form of transnational religious broadcasting, in shaping their current mediated piety through sounded practices. Chiang-Mai-based Lisu radio production emerged in 1968 as a result of missionaries’ electronic evangelism following the end of colonialism that brought about their physical absence. First, I trace the history of Lisu Christian broadcasting as an effective medium for reconnecting with former converts and strengthening their spiritual lives. I then explore the particular affordances of on-air music in the missionaries’ cultural strategies of producing indigenized broadcasts for religious propaganda. I argue that although the post-1990 Lisu radio ministry continues to build upon missionary traditions and financial support, it represents a profound break from the former regarding the role of media in socio-religious cohesion as Lisu control over media forms of cultural production grows in importance. An essential part of this process is the impact of circulating of Lisu gospel songs over radio and other media into non-worship contexts, and the rise of a community of musicians and media practitioners who steer the sonic articulation of Lisu identities in the transnational sphere.