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Help protect our cultural heritage
Latest Updated by 2006-02-16 11:04:54
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A colleague of mine still retains fond memories of his trip to the southwest of Central China's Hunan Province a few years ago. What he remembers the most, however, is not the beautiful natural scenery that the area is best known for.

It was a folk operatic show that he enjoyed the most during the trip. The show, usually performed during the celebrations of the Lunar New Year, starts on New Year's Day on the lunar calendar and continues through Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the first lunar month.

What is amazing is that the show, which raises its curtain on a stage in the town's fair and tells the story of a boy trying to save his fairy mum from the curse of the all-powerful heavenly god, does not confine itself to the open stage.

It would somehow integrate itself into the daily life of the townsfolk, as performers join the festival parade, or add musical and drum clamours to a family's wedding, or participate in another family's memorial for ancestors. Outsiders have little inkling of when the show ends and real life starts.

Enchanting as the show is, it may be dying. My colleague found that very few local youths were interested in learning the opera, even though it is one of the local's the country's as well best intangible cultural heritage. In their advanced years, the performers were worried about not being able to pass it down to the next generation.

They are not alone, as many other folk artists share the same agony across the country. Over the past century, China has undergone tremendous political, economic and social changes.

After the founding of New China, folk artists and researchers launched two rounds of efforts in the 1950s and 1980s to collect and preserve folk arts in the forms of music, paintings, papercuts, operas and many others.

Precious pieces were archived, documented or recorded, as visitors to the on-going exhibition of intangible cultural heritage at the China National Museum on Tian'anmen Square are able to find out, sample and enjoy.

However, both rounds of cultural preservation campaign were discontinued. While political movements were blamed for the stoppage of the first exertion, more complex reasons, from a lack of financial support to the drive for the market economy, were cited as causes hampering the second attempt. In between, veteran artists have died, with the valuable expertise buried with them.

The current exhibition of intangible cultural heritage seems to make public a loud and clear declaration that the country is in the midst of the third round of the cultural conservation campaign.

The campaign, which began last July, is to put in the country's cultural protection inventory its multi-ethnic and rich artistic, ritualistic, linguistic and intellectual legacy.

The work, which is projected to continue for three years, has already involved tremendous efforts from researchers and folk artists themselves, as they trek into the remote and mostly poverty-stricken areas and look for the best folk artists living as recluses.

While researchers are putting in words, archives, on CDs or DVDs the salient works and performances of the folk artists, the authorities and the public must work together to think of ways to continue the cultural traditions and expertise.

Intangible cultural heritage is best preserved neither in museums nor on CDs or DVDS nor with the designation of a cultural heritage day, but in its continuation as part of the cultural lives of the people, for posterity.

Thus, much more serious thinking and good policies should be in place to encourage the young to learn from the old arts masters and to enable the veterans to pass their knowledge to the young.

Editor: Wing

By: Source: China Daily Website
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