Ancient Dongba culture expected to endure in digital era

By Wu Jin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 16, 2018
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The centuries-old Dongba culture of the Naxi ethnic group in southwest China's Yunnan province may have perished, had it not been for the initiative of the Beijing Association of Dongba Culture and Arts (ADCA), a non-governmental organization led by Zhang Xu.

A symposium was held Sunday in Beijing on March 11 to evaluate achievements in the protection of Dongba culture. [Photo: Courtesy of ADCA]

A symposium was held last Sunday in Beijing to evaluate the progress of Dongba cultural protection. The National Social Science Fund of China (NSSFC), responsible for planning, organizing, launching, evaluating and financing social science programs, has recognized the success of the joint endeavor of the ADCA, Beijing Information Science and Technology University, Lijiang Dongba Culture Institute and Diqing Naxi Society Academy to preserve Dongba culture. 

Ratified five years ago by the NSSFC, the team, coordinated by Zhang, established a digital platform to record the unique culture through pictures, ranging from extant manuscripts and religious rituals to ancient handcrafts, such as the making of Naxi paper pulp.

To protect the culture from pending extinction, Zhang and her colleagues made several trips abroad to a variety of libraries, including the British Library, the University Library of Languages and Civilizations in Paris and the Library of Congress in the United States. They were searching for the manuscripts first brought to Europe by French explorer Jacques Bacot and his contemporary, Joseph Rock, an Austrian-American adventurer and botanist who spent several years in Lijiang after arriving in 1922.

After photographing the manuscripts, Zhang and her team brought the copies to He Zhiben, the late priest of Dongba rituals, who died last May, and to Xi Shanghong, the last known priest in Shangri-la, Yunnan, who can decipher the language. Both of the priests were invited to recreate the ancient ritual ceremonies based on the 3,378 copies of manuscripts discovered in recent years in 21 libraries both at home and abroad.

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