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Efforts to Preserve Ethnic Music

A group of Chinese musicians have been working arduously over the past two years in ethnic minority villages in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and northwest China's Gansu and Qinghai provinces. 

With notebooks and recording equipment, they interviewed people of the Dong, Yao, Zhuang, Tu, Salar, Yugur, Baoan, Dongxiang, Tibetan and Hui ethnic minorities and recorded their music and transcribed the lyrics in the ethnic languages and in Chinese and English as well.


The fruit of their work is a compilation of 385 recorded folk songs, 42 hours of field recordings, 57 hours of filming, transcriptions of the complete lyrics of all of the songs, a full-color brochure aimed at young Chinese readers interested in China's cultural heritage and a 45-minute CD-ROM overview.


All the lyrics are printed in Chinese, English and the original languages with transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet.


Their work marks the beginning of a project under the auspices of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the Chinese Folk Artists' Association to preserve all the folk songs of China's ethnic minority groups.


It is also tied to the "Project to Preserve the Intangible Cultural Heritage of China's Ethnic Minority Groups," which was launched in December 2000 to research and protect the dying heritage and cultural traditions of the country's minorities.


The current initiative is part of the "Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity," a UNESCO program created in 1998 in response to the urgent need to raise public awareness of the value of oral heritage and to encourage governments to take legal and administrative steps to safeguard it.


The project to preserve the folk songs of China's ethnic minority groups is also supported by the Japanese Funds-in-Trust initiative, which was established by the government of Japan in 1993 to protect and promote all forms of intangible cultural heritage.


Based on scholarly research and using advanced methods of audio-visual documentation, the current project seeks to record the lyrics and musical arrangements of ethnic folk songs in three stages: investigation, recording and transcription.


The initial work "has succeeded in presenting living musical traditions as a social act between performers and audience," said Yasuyuki Aoshima, director of the UNESCO Office in Beijing. "In addition, it serves as an invaluable example for our society of the value of international cooperation and as a source of inspiration for further work."


But according to Liu Chunxiang, vice chairman and deputy secretary of the Chinese Folk Artists' Association, the work has just started, as they have only covered 10 out of the 55 ethnic minority groups in China.


Liu says that they are planning to record minority folk songs in southwest China's Sichuan and Guizhou provinces, and if possible they will also expand their work to Inner Mongolia, the Xinjiang Uygur and Tibet autonomous regions and Yunnan Province.


Liu says they will go back to the areas of their field work in April to deliver the CD-ROMs and anthologies of folk songs to the local primary and middle schools, in an effort to help in the preservation of traditional culture.


But so far there are no plans to release the recordings made during the project to the general public.


(China Daily March 20, 2004)

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