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China Leads the World in Ethnic Culture Study
"The world's longest epic poem, The Life of King Gesar, is created by Tibetans in China, and the world's largest study of ethnic literature is also underway in China."

Professor Liang Tingwang, deputy president of the China Ethnic Literature Association, and former vice-president of the Central University for Nationalities (CUN), was speaking to Xinhua at the Working Conference on China Ethnic Education held in Beijing on Saturday.

Liang was one of CUN's first ethnic scholars to specialize in ethnic literature. He said the conference, the first on ethnic education in a decade, "will boost the development of ethnic education and research in China."

China has 56 ethnic groups altogether, whose history and culture make up its spectacular civilization.

"Folk literature turns out to be an important way for ethnic minority groups to learn their own culture and history because of the lack of written characters," he said.

In 1985, Liang initiated "The Comprehensive Study of Chinese Ethnic Literature," at the time cutting-edge research on Chinese ethnic culture. The study mainly focused on the historical evolution, style and regional divisions in ethnic literature.

According to Liang, literature has a strong educational role and being popular with young people can help establish their values and morality.

Liang said the harmonious blending of ethnic and Han literature could gradually perfect Chinese civilization, while also reflecting the close relationship of different ethnic groups.

From the end of the 19th century to 1949, 434 Chinese literature and historical works came out but few of them encompassed ethnic literature. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the government has continued to fund rescue and research projects on ethnic literature. Up to 1999, 110,000 ancient titles of ethnic literature had been categorized, and 3,000 works had been published. Many of these had become major or supplementary teaching materials in ethnic colleges and universities.

Liang said the CUN was the only university specializing in ethnic education. So far, 13 ethnic colleges and institutes have been launched in China, and ethnic literature study courses are available in more than 100 colleges and universities, including Peking University. More than 10,000 ethnic students are enrolled in universities each year for preparatory studies.

Since 1949, nearly 3 million ethnic minority professionals have been trained and all of 55 minority groups have their own college graduates, as well as 5,000 writers in all.

Liang is planning to enroll doctoral degree students next year. A website is also scheduled to be set up to introduce more Chinese ethnic literature to the public.

The government has helped 13 ethnic minorities formulate written characters, and so far 22 ethnic minorities have their own characters. Over 10,000 schools carry out teaching programs in both Han and 21 respective ethnic languages. The number of registered students has topped 6 million.

"China's ethnic literature is such a rich mine," said David Holm, professor of the Chinese Department at Melbourne University in Australia. "As far as I know, China is the only country in the world to devote so much to exploring this mine."

(Xinhua News Agency July 29, 2002)

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