Hua'er (meaning flower) tune, a 600-year-old folk music popular in northwest China, has officially been brought under State protection, says the Chinese Folk Artists Association.
The protection was given when it was found that some old Hua'er (meaning flower) tunes no longer existed in writing. Not even the oldest person in a village could say how some of the tunes were traditionally sung.
Preserving and passing on intangible cultural heritage are urgent tasks, said Ke Yang, a professor with Lanzhou University in Gansu Province.
The association has nominated the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, in the central part of Gansu Province, as the "hometown of Hua'er" to safeguard the age-old folk music from being culturally homogenized.
Hua'er is sung in the fields and mountains by different ethnic groups of people, such as Huis, Hans, Dongxiangs, Salars, Bao'ans, Tujias, Tibetans and Uyghurs.
Every spring, natives dressed in their unique costumes gather together to take part in the annual Hua'er Meet.
Young men and women sing and woo each other with love songs. It usually starts with a young man's initiation, and if the object of his interest responds by singing her admiration back to him, the song can last up to a few hours sometimes.
The Hua'er gathering is also a time when middle-aged and elderly people meet old friends to reminisce.
But the ancient music, which originated from agricultural civilizations, has been "severely damaged by industrialization in recent decades," said Ke.
Chen Yuanlong, publicity director of the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, said that since the early 1980s, the local government has made efforts to safeguard the music.
"We took 13 years, starting in 1981, to look at Hua'er and have collected nearly 10,000 traditional songs from the public," said Chen.
He said the local government has paid a lot of attention to preserving the music in its ancient form.
"We have made records of the music sung by elderly Hua'er singers, and also fostered young professionals who can sing the old songs in their original form and local dialects," said Chen.
"We also try to add new elements in and develop the music so more people can learn it, in turn, making it more popular in modern society," Chen added.
He said that now Linxia has been officially nominated the "Home of Hua'er." He believed more and more people and organizations worldwide would join hands to preserve the traditional tunes.
He said the Linxia government is preparing to get Hua'er listed as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage.
So far, only Kunqu, a traditional Chinese opera, and guqin, one of the oldest Chinese plucked musical instruments, have been included in the world list by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
More than half of the total population of the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture are the Hui, Dongxiang, Bao'an and Salar ethnic groups, which means the prefecture has a solid mass foundation to preserve and keep Hua'er going, said Chen.
To preserve its folk culture, China launched a 10-year project last year to concentrate on its folk music, festivals and folklore.
The country is expected to publicize its first national list of "intangible cultural heritage masterpieces" at the beginning of next year, according to the Ministry of Culture.
(China Daily November 1, 2004)