Musical archaeologists urged greater efforts yesterday to ensure that the ancient art of the guqin is preserved for future generations.
The guqin, a seven-stringed zither, is China's oldest stringed instrument and enjoys a history of 3,000 years.
Historically, the guqin has been viewed as an important symbol of Chinese culture and the instrument most expressive of the essence of Chinese music.
Therefore, when the US spaceship Voyager was launched in search of intelligent creatures outside the solar system in 1977, a recording of guqin music and a picture of the Great Wall were on board as representatives of Chinese culture in an effort to seek out friends that may exist in other galaxies.
However, today's major changes in China's economy, and the accompanying cultural confusion, have posed a major threat to the further development of the guqin, said Qin Xu, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Arts (CAA).
The guqin is undoubtedly a part of world heritage, but today fewer than 2,000 people all over the world can play it, and guqin performances are rarely seen in China, Qin said in an interview with China Daily.
"Although several musical conservatories and schools have students majoring in guqin, the sector is on a very small scale as a result of the limited job prospects. Many of the graduates have no alternative but to change their profession and, thus, a vicious circle is formed," said Qin, expressing his worries about the fate of the guqin.
Fortunately, the Chinese Government has taken steps to save this special art form.
An application has been made to list the art of guqin as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage which is granted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the outcome will be revealed in July next year.
Wang Zichu, vice-president of the Music Research Institute under the CAA, said various measures were encouraged to safeguard the legacy and to inherit the tradition thoroughly and comprehensively to offer a glimpse of hope for its future.
"A niche immune from the impacts of modernization and globalization is necessary to preserve the guqin music in its traditional form," said Wang. "However, annotation and transformation are also urged, so that the ancient art can be carried on in new generations."
"Besides the art of the guqin being targeted at the general public, the audience, especially youth, also need to improve their artistic taste and cultural background to admire elegant guqin music," Wang added.
(China Daily December 31, 2002)