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Preserving Culture in the Face of Globalization
The effects of globalization on traditional Chinese and world culture generated heated debate at a symposium on intangible cultural heritage at Chinese universities which was held last week.

Educators, scholars, officials and artists discussed their concerns at "The First Symposium on the Education of Non-material Cultural Heritage in Chinese Universities" at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.

Culture, as heritage, includes both material or "built" aspects of culture such as sites, buildings, landscapes, monuments, and objects, as well as non-material or "living" heritage embodied in social practices, community life, values, beliefs, and expressive forms such as language, arts and handicrafts, music, dance and poetry.

Non-material cultural heritage is characteristic of certain nationalities and is passed from generation to generation, said Qiao Xiaoguang, professor and director of the newly established Non-material Cultural Heritage Research Center at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

The subject has drawn growing attention nationwide after Chinese Kunqu Opera was listed as an intangible cultural heritage by the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) in 2001.

"A nation rich in cultural resources, China has an ocean of non-material cultural heritage including folk art, literature, opera and dance. But many of these precious traditions are under the threat of extinction with the modernization of the country," Qiao stressed.

"There is not enough awareness of what these cultural heritages are, let alone the necessary personnel, funding and legislative efforts to rescue and protect them. What's more worrying is that random tourism development in many local areas have misled people's understanding of aboriginal culture and have proved to be destructive to the maintenance of the original cultural ecology," he said.

Qiao said the Central Academy of Fine Arts has taken the lead in establishing the Non-material Cultural Heritage Research Center to advocate research and education of non-material cultural heritage at Chinese universities. A leading base of folk art research and education, the central academy plans to establish a Cultural Heritage Planning and Management Program and collaborate with the China Folk Papercut Society in including Chinese paper-cutting as a world non-material cultural heritage, Qiao revealed.

Yuan Li, a researcher from the China Academy of Social Sciences, emphasized that it is important to develop the traditional cultures of ethnic groups and respect their cultural diversity.

"Modernization does not mean Westernization or turning everything into Han culture," Yuan said. "Although the development of cultural industry can help with the economy in ethnic areas, it is certainly not everything. We need to protect the traditional cultural heritage of these areas." Yuan said there are many bad examples such as at many folklore attractions where local tourism departments have equipped diaojiaolou, a wood structure for living with natural ventilation, with air-conditioners or paved earth roads over with cement.

"They seem to have no idea about the geographic and cultural background of these places," Yuan criticized.

Zhu Bing, an official from the National People's Congress, China's top legislative body, said the nation's legislative protection of cultural heritage has expanded to non-material cultural heritage only in recent years.

"It is necessary to establish a comprehensive legal system as soon as possible," Zhu noted.

(China Daily October 30, 2002)

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