Commercial zeal twists cultural heritage's pick

Updated: 2011-06-11 21:29
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BEIJING - Historical experts have criticized the commercial orientation of the selection of China's intangible national treasures.

Yuan Li, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Arts, said that cultural heritage should not be selected according to its commercial value.

China now considers 1,219 of its cultural practices as "intangible" national treasures after adding 191 candidates, according to a new list published by the State Council, China's Cabinet.

Folk literature, traditional music, dancing, opera, arts and crafts, folk customs, acrobatic performances and the traditional medicine of ethnic groups are on the newly-amended list.

Yuan said that due to an over-emphasis on commercial value, brand-name teas, gourmet foods and alcohol often dominate the list, while practices and products that bear lesser commercial value stand little chance of being added to the list.

Emphasis should be placed upon the uniqueness and rarity of the practices and products added to the list, Yuan said, suggesting that large, modern companies should be left off the list, while individual practitioners and craftsmen should be included.

Qi Qingfu, a member of the working committee on intangible cultural heritage protection, said that although market-oriented production of some intangible national treasures is conducive to their protection, priority should be placed on protection, rather than production.

"If 'hand-made' crafts are instead produced by machinery, they are no longer an intangible national treasure," said Qi.

The Tibetan tang-ka, a painted banner traditionally hung in monasteries or family altars, is an excellent example. It can take painters up to one year to finish a single tang-ka, but the banners are now produced en masse by printing machines to meet market demand.

Ma Shengde, director of the intangible cultural heritage department of the Ministry of Culture,  said that the production of intangible cultural heritage items should be observed to ensure that the items are all hand-made.

China's intangible cultural heritage list is created through a vetting process that includes recommendations by local cultural departments, assessments by experts and public reviews.

The State Council published its first 518-item list in 2006. The list included acupuncture, Shaolin-style kung fu and Peking opera. Another 510-item list was unveiled in 2008.

The publicization of the list was intended to give financial support for the protection of the items on the list and to increase awareness among the public of the value of the country's intangible cultural heritage.

In 2005, the State Council proclaimed that the second Saturday of June would be annually celebrated as China Cultural Heritage Day.