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Minority Heritage Preserved in Chinese Shuishu
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Shuishu, a Chinese ethnic minority language complete with a written form, has been recognized as a living fossil of pictographic characters and was recently protected by publishing the book Chinese Shuishu.

Fifty copies of the book were published on January 12 by Sichuan Publishing Group. In total there are 160 volumes in this photo-offset publication.

The publication kept the original appearance of all 1,353 Shuishu characters by selecting them from the collections of handwritten copies found in Sandu Shui Autonomous County and Libo County where Shui ethnic people live.

Although not as famous as the Dongba characters of Naxi ethnic group, Shuishu's pictographic characters are considered equally important. In fact, Shuishu was included in the first list of items necessary to protect as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of China in June 2006.

China is preparing to submit Shuishu to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as an example of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.

Pan Chaolin is a noted folklorist specializing in Shuishu and the academic consultant for the Chinese Shuishu. He explained that the language is only written by Shuishu teachers who then secretly pass along the knowledge to their students. Shuishu is deeply rooted in religious and folk traditions, so they won't reveal their works to strangers. This is a great obstacle for those researching Shuishu.

Chinese experts discovered that a dozen symbols in the written language of the Shui ethnic minority are exactly the same as symbols found on pottery unearthed from the Xia Dynasty (2100 BC --1600 BC), the earliest recorded historical period in China. The finding indicates that the written characters of this ethnic group belonged to a section of the ancient Xia culture.

Currently the approximately 407,000 members of the Shui ethnic group live on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau in southwest China.

(China.org.cn by Chen Lin, January 30, 2007)

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