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  Xinjiang Uyghur Muqam  
  The music of Uyghur Muqam is characterized by variations and continuity of musical patterns, indicating close affinity with the musical culture of China's central plains. In Muqam ensembles, the lead instruments, called satar or aijak, are made from local materials and vary in form (they may be bowed-stringed, plucked, or wind instruments).

The dancing skills involve unique steps, rhythms, and formations as well as figures such as flower-picking-by-mouth, bowl-carrying-on-head, and imitation of animals in solo dances.

Risk of Disappearance

Today, community festivities, such as meshrep and bezme in which everybody participates in Muqam, are held much less frequently. The responsibility for passing on the tradition to new generations of practitioners has fallen almost exclusively on the shoulders of folk artists, and the interest of young people in Muqam is gradually declining. Today, several Muqam pieces are no longer performed, in particular certain elements of the Twelve Muqam, which consists of more than 300 pieces of a total length of over 20 hours.

Action Plan

After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the local government of Xinjiang made every effort possible to preserve the Twelve Muqam. In 1956, Muqam master Turdi Ahun and musician Wan Tongshu, working with other assistants, took great pains to record most of the vocal melodies and librettos of the Twelve Muqam on tape. They also recorded the music by hand. Their efforts paved the way for the renaissance of this cultural tradition. In 1960, two volumes of Twelve Muqam sung by Turdi Ahun were published. The oral cultural heritage was finally secured in the form of its first publication.

Over the past two decades, local Xinjiang cultural institutions have sponsored seminars, supported research projects, and published a number of books with the Twelve Muqam as the focal theme. In the last four years, 7,000 performers -- many of them Uygurs -- have participated in the national key publication project. Their concerted efforts have resulted in the release of CDs, VCDs, and DVDs of the Twelve Muqam of Uygur.

In addition, the Chinese Government has drawn a 10-year plan to protect the traditional art. An investigation on Muqam in Xinjiang will be carried out. Meanwhile, China is expected to give financial support to the elder people who can sing Muqam, and the government will set up 10 to 20 study centers to train professional researchers on Muqam.

Moreover, the government will encourage local artistic troupes in Xinjiang to perform Muqam, and introduce Muqam into the national artistic education system. A research center, data bank, website, museum on Muqam will be established, and publicity work for common people about Muqam will also be launched.

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The plan is part of a 17-year-long project that started last year to preserve unique folk arts, crafts, literature and traditions in China.

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