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Countries face problems in protecting intangible cultural heritage

Protecting their intangible cultural heritage is now a problem for many countries, especially developing ones.

The problem has been especially urgent in the case of China - a country with 56 ethnic groups and a long history.

However, the Ministry of Culture is expected to introduce a new law next year to further protect folk and traditional culture, a senior official said yesterday.

To learn from the successful experience of other countries, the ministry and the Education, Science, Culture and Public Health Committee of the National People's Congress jointly sponsored an international symposium yesterday in Beijing. Experts from at least 10 countries and regions took part.

Zhu Bing, deputy director of the committee's Cultural Office, said the law has already been drafted.

The proposed new law will aim to safeguard ethnic groups' unique customs, folkloric literature, songs and dances, traditional operas and handicrafts. It will complement the Cultural-Relics Protection Law of 1982.

Meng Xiaosi, vice minister of culture, said: "In the period of economically oriented development, it is easier for these cultures to be influenced by modern civilization and get lost."

Jia Mingru, a senior official at the Ministry of Culture, said: "Many ethnic languages, costumes, songs, dances and lifestyles are disappearing as modern civilization steps into ethnic-minority people's everyday lives."

Also, young people have different opinions about the arts, so they tend to have no interest in carrying on their traditional cultural heritage.

What is worse, a few people change traditional arts and folklore in their performances to suit the audience's taste, which has damaged these treasures, he added.

"We must push forward legislation in this field so as to save this precious heritage from extinction," he stressed.

Jia said that the new law will encourage the collection and sorting of different areas of China's cultural heritage, the provision of funds for people involved in protecting cultural treasures and the protection of the country's intellectual property relating to its cultural heritage.

The Chinese Government has always been concerned about protecting the country's cultural heritage, Jia said.

It started to collect information on traditional culture in the 1950s. To date, 173 genres of books have been published about folk songs, stories, proverbs, opera, dance and musical instruments.

The government has so far named 204 people as officially recognized master craftsmen and craftswomen and provided them with a comfortable working environment to preserve traditional crafts such as embroidery, cloisonne enamel and brocade work.

As for protecting ethnic culture, the government encourages the building of reserve areas to keep these "living human treasures".

The first such reserve in China was set up with the co-operation of Norway in Southwest China's Guizhou Province in 1996 to maintain the Miao ethnic group's unique culture.

Jia said that it is planned to set up 30 cultural reserves in China's western areas.

Moreover, Southwest China's Yunnan Province last year became the first to enact a local regulation on preserving folk and traditional culture.

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