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Plan Aims to Save Dying Folk Arts

In a few years' time, people will be able to go to nearby folk culture centers or museums to help protect traditional folk culture.


Vice Minister of Culture Zhou Heping, said Tuesday in Beijing that the plan is part of a 17-year-long project, launched last year, to preserve unique folk arts, crafts, literature and traditions.


Struck a severe blow by modern lifestyles, the country's unique folk arts are disappearing with unbelievable speed.


"Almost every minute some aspect of folk culture is dying and we are racing against time," said Zi Huayun, senior research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Arts and an adviser to the project.


For example, many of the local forms of opera are disappearing in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region owing to a lack of interest or attention.


Fifty years ago, Guangxi had 18 local opera forms, but only the four major ones are still alive today.


Many other folk arts, like the paper-cutting of northwest China' Shaanxi Province, are dying at the same rate as the elderly: the younger generation has no interest their cultural heritage and would rather work in cities for more money.


"If there is only one radio in a remote village, young people there want to hear rock or pop songs. Girls want to own a pair of high heels," said Zi, who has traveled to the Chinese hinterland many times.


In addition to the influence from modern lifestyles and globalization, experts also note folk culture, as opposed to fine arts relics, are felt by some people to be crude or lacking in taste.


"Such prejudices will numb people to the loss of folk culture," said Bai Gengsheng, vice chairman of the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Association (CFLAA).


Left with countless endangered folk arts--but facing the potential loss of them all—in February 2003 the country established a national center at the China Arts Academy. Staff there are working on planning and implementing the protection project.


The draft of a law on folk culture protection is also in the works.


"The day of passing this law on folk culture protection is not far off,"said Zhou.


At present, the project is carrying out trial projects with 10 folk arts. These include New Year's pictures made in Wuqiang, Hebei Province; traditional cotton spinning techniques of the Li minority in Hainan Province; and shadow puppet plays from Qingyang County in Gansu Province.


The central government has earmarked 20 million yuan (US$2.4 million) this year for the project, part of which will directly benefit the 10 arts, Zhou said.


Despite the government’s efforts, the vice minister stressed that raising public awareness is essential to protecting folk culture.


"Experts like me act as a bridge," said Zi. "After we and the masses have fully understood each other, I believe people will always be able to think of better methods to protect the endangered folk arts."


(China Daily March 10, 2004)


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