This article provides an in-depth study and critique of the nomination and inscription of an item on UNESCO's lists of intangible cultural heritage and the developments following its acceptance. China is now a major partner in UNESCO's heritage projects, but the application and experience of heritage initiatives across China have been highly uneven. I discuss the particular challenges presented in the contested, predominantly Muslim Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. I focus on the question of community, a term that lies at the heart of the UNESCO literature. What do we mean by community, and why do we think it matters? How does socially embedded music-making facilitate community, and how do heritage initiatives change that?