Hundreds of local and foreign dancers staged performances on Sunday in Nanchang, capital of east China's Jiangxi Province, marking the opening of an international arts festival that highlights ancient China's exorcism customs.
Watching street performances by 34 folk dancing teams from China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Brazil and Mozambique, local people relived the ancient rituals of expelling evil spirits and pestilence, which are traditionally staged during the Spring Festival, or Chinese Lunar New Year holidays.
Activities during the weeklong event include a street show, a mask carnival, folk singing and dancing performances, a seminar and an exhibition on Jiangxi's Nuo culture.
Nuo rituals, considered to be the oldest form of Chinese dancing, are these days more of a theatrical performance for entertainment purposes.
The 2,000-year-old folk opera was once used to express farmers' pleas for good weather, rich harvests and familial prosperity.
Nuo performers usually carry whips and dance to mysterious tunes. They also wear masks painted in black, white and red with various countenances, some amiable and others ferocious and frightening.
Jiangxi is the cradle of Nuo opera, which is also practiced in some southern and southwestern parts of China.
The festival is expected to expand international cultural cooperation and exchanges, and help preserve the Chinese folk art form that is on the verge of extinction, said Li Shuwen, chief of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles (CFLAC).
The festival is jointly sponsored by the Jiangxi provincial government, the CFLAC, and the Chinese Association of Folk Writers and Artists.
The Chinese government has stepped up its efforts to protect the country's intangible cultural heritage in recent years. In 2003, the government earmarked 46 million yuan (US$5.6 million) for a special project designed to preserve important cultural forms.
On June 11, State Councilor Chen Zhili said at a work conference that nine ministries and departments would launch joint efforts to safeguard certain forms of intangible cultural heritage.
"Protecting intangible culture in China is of great importance to maintaining a diversified world," Chen said. "It's also part of China's efforts to safeguard the nation's cultural identity."
(Xinhua News Agency, China Daily June 13, 2005)