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World's longest epic still told, sung by folk artists in W China
( 2003-12-14 11:43) (Xinhua)

The longest epic in the world, "King Gesser," is still passed on through the mouths of folk artists in Qinghai Province and Tibetan Autonomous Region in western China, and the number of epic singers is increasing.

The latest statistics from the art library of Nagqu Prefecture of Tibet shows that there are now 18 people there able to sing theepic, and 16 of them emerged in recent years.

A 13-year-old boy named Sitar Doje recently drew the attention of experts as he could recite and sing six hours of Gesser. He is a student at a local elementary school in Qamdo Prefecture, Tibet.

In areas inhabited by Tibetans in Qinghai Province, another twoyoung artists who could recite and sing dozens of parts of the epic have recently come into public sight.

"The finding of so many new epic singers indicates that 'King Gesser' is still active in people's lives," said Puncog Cering, director of the nationality studies institute under the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences.

"It's of great importance for the protection of the epic and the research into Gesser," he said.

Telling the story of an ancient Tibetan king who conquered the devils of other Tibetan tribes and made Tibet stable, the 10-million-word epic has been passed down from generation to generation for a thousand years as an oral work of folk art.

China has about 140 Gesser epic singers nationwide, mainly fromthree ethnic groups that had some close relation with the legendary King in their ancient culture: Tibetans, Mongolians and Tu ethnic people.

Statistics show that the epic has more than 200 parts, but onlyten percent of it has been compiled in the written version and another 90 percent remains only in the minds of epic singers. Because of this, these epic singers are all now cherished as "national treasures."

But Cewang Jungme, president of the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences, still worries about the future of the epic. He said thatmost of these epic singers are found in remote areas where information is difficult to get. In a modern society like today, such a way of cultural spreading is doomed to decay.

The Chinese government has made great efforts to protect the epic from disappearing and has adopted modern tools, like recording and videotaping, to protect the original version of the epic.

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