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Indigenous Culture Under Threat

Folk songs and dances from many ethnic groups in China lack successors, posing a threat to the ethnic art form. This has aroused concern among experts devoted to the preservation of indigenous culture.

Folk music from China's Dong ethnic group is a unique style of chorus with a multi-part complex form called "Dage." It caused quite a sensation around the world last century, eliminating in the process the perception that China didn't possess complex chorus music in its folk traditions.

However, experts have found that this ancient Dong musical form faces extinction as few people from the Dong can now sing it.

"How long will the 'Dage' last for?" asks Chen Leqi, vice director of the Ethnic Affairs Research Center under the auspices of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission of China.

Like the "Dage," many other traditional folk song forms and dances have difficulty in finding successors.

The issue was discussed recently at the Seminar for the Preservation of Ethnic Culture which was sponsored by the China Association for Promoting Democracy, one of China's eight non-Communist parties.

According to an expert from southwest China's Sichuan Province, there are now only eight people in the province who can sing melodies from the Nanping folk songs, a famous local music in Jiuzhaigou, a touring destination; less than ten people can play the Qiang flute; and exactly four people can sing the multi-parts chorus of the Qiang ethnic group, of whom the youngest is in his fifties.

After investigating and studying the Nuo Culture in western Jiangxi Province, the research team from the Jiangxi provincial committee of the China Association for Promoting Democracy found that Nuo masks, Nuo sedan chairs, Nuo dress and adornments have been lost, as well as some Nuo dance teams been dismissed, and that there is no successor to the Nuo art.

In southwest China's Guizhou Province, stories of an oral tradition, passed on by word of mouth, as well as folk and ancient songs, melodies and operas of various ethnic groups are also on the edge of extinction, due to a lack of successors in places of origin, said a folk art worker from Guizhou at the seminar.

Scholars attribute this to rapid social and economic development, which, they think, has changed the living style of ethnic groups. Youngsters today love pop music rather than folk songs and dances. Also, many of them have chosen to leave home and make a living, and are often unwilling to learn this art from old generations. With the decline of old folk artists, there will be less and less successors for these ethnic traditions.

Experts point out that priority needs to be given to saving and protecting ethnic folk songs and dances. An effective way is to introduce them to local schools according to ethnic group distribution conditions.

(China.org.cn by Zhang Tingting and Daragh Moller, November 25, 2003)

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