Significant changes are taking place in every aspect of human life as the world moves into an era characterized by the knowledge-based economy, the Internet and globalization. The world seems to be increasingly smaller.
And the processes of clashing, interaction, absorption and assimilation between various cultures is becoming much faster and easier than ever before.
But all of this does not mean that different cultures will become the same as one another, nor should we believe that they will unify simply because of frequent interaction between them.
In fact, in this increasingly smaller world, people want even more their cultural diversity and different lifestyles.
Furthermore, while we are enjoying the achievements of a highly-developed civilization, we are also inevitably suffering from the pressures of life as well as mental stress caused by fierce competition, the exhausting tempo of city life and the fickleness of the world. Many people now crave the richness of different cultures.
To preserve diverse cultures we must first of all get on together. In this sense, the protection of cultural ecology is based on the existence and development of mankind itself.
When the protection of cultural ecology is mentioned, the first things that come to mind are world-famous cultural remains and masterpieces, such as the Acropolis in Greece or artistic treasures in the Louvre in France. These classical works are the crystallization of man's extraordinary wisdom which provide the world with tremendous glamour.
With time passing by, however, this cultural heritage is in danger because of long years of disrepair. Therefore, effective measures should be applied to restore and preserve their original look.
Fortunately, the value of many cultural relics and works of art have been recognized worldwide and they have already been included on the world cultural heritage list.
Intangible cultural heritage, original art forms spreading in certain countries or regions and acquired by certain ethnic groups, such as music, dance, handicrafts and ethnic sagas handed down by singing, , also need to be preserved and protected.
Thanks to the imbalance of social development among nations, some unique traditions or customs can still be seen worldwide.
For instance, we can learn about the worship of genital organs by some African tribes; we can listen to old songs about the beliefs of the American Indians sung by old Indians in Canada; and the villages of the Mosuo people in China's Yunnan Province reveal an ancient matriarchal society.
These traditions and customs, which are like living cultural relics, demonstrate the roots of diversified cultures from which the footsteps of the first men and human evolution can be traced back. Anthropologists often regard these cultural forms as labels for certain nations, for they are extremely valuable for research and also inspire modern artists.
As intangible cultural heritage is dynamic and located around the world, it is easier for it to fall into decay and extinction as time passes. In addition, the rampant development of modern materialism and commercialization intensifies the contamination and destruction of such heritage.
Under these circumstances, we are concerned about the desertification of mankind's spiritual vegetation, just as scientists worry that the sources of the Yangtze will one day dry up if the unlimited cutting of forests and soil erosion are not stopped.
However, it is regrettable that this issue is currently neglected worldwide and few positive protective measures have been adopted. Therefore, extra concern for the protection of intangible cultural ecology should be given.
Judging from the facts of human evolution, the emergence, development, rise and decline of a certain cultural form is a long and complicated historic process and is ultimately dependent on social selection. We should not set any limitations on preventing people from choosing a new life style.
Most valuable intangible original cultural and artistic forms are preserved in developing countries, especially underdeveloped ethnic areas. Positive protective efforts are not enclosed, vacuumed protection like the treatment of mummies, at the price of limiting and even sacrificing their development in real society, nor the protection which is merely to satisfy the egocentric mentality of developed nations, nor the protection of decadent cultures.
The cultural ecology that should be preserved should be chosen for its value to mankind and its aesthetic qualities and protected by serious excavation and thorough research.
To this end, we should focus on the following points.
Based on investigation and research and with stringent standards, key objects or areas with high-value original and artistic forms should be chosen, then included on the World Heritage list. Culture-based economic development should be advocated worldwide with people made aware of cultural ecology. The protection of valuable cultural and artistic elements should be included in our overall strategy for economic construction. Practices such as demolishing serene and beautiful villages to build modern skyscrapers and consequently extinguishing the cultures deeply rooted in the land should be opposed.
Those who possess intangible original cultural heritage are the people who are most closely linked to that culture. They are usually remarkably talented and respected by other members of their ethnic groups. In some sense, it is they who make it possible to preserve and hand down these cultures and traditions. Protection of these people so as to prevent those valuable art forms or traditions from being lost is a necessary and urgent task.
Modern technology should be used in protecting intangible cultural heritages. We should record and preserve them in print, photographs, recordings and videos; set up folklore villages and museums; and establish institutions to preserve and study ethnic cultures.
We also need to conduct frequent exchanges worldwide in these fields so that cultural heritage can serve as the common spiritual wealth of mankind and promote friendship among all the world's people.
The preservation of cultural ecology should be included in the overall strategy of human sustainable development. To this end, the role of the government should be reinforced and financial funding from it should be increased. We should also strive to get participation and support from businesses with a taste for culture and art. In addition, international co-operation and assistance are also necessary.
On the premise of equally treating cultural forms and values in different countries and nations and respecting the methods of cultural development by different nations, active exchange and study of each other's cultures and arts should be conducted and a new world cultural order for common prosperity should be built.
(China Daily 02/07/2001)
(*The author is a senior research fellow with the China Arts Academy)