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Call for preservation of traditional culture
Updated: 2004-05-16 13:45

Chinese awareness of preserving traditional culture was enhanced when their long-celebrated Dragon Boat Festival was threatened to become a heritage of the neighboring Republic of Korea (ROK).

The ROK was reported early this May to list the festival into its own national heritage, and prepare to introduce it to the world as a human oral and intangible heritage.

The Dragon Boat Festival, falling on May 5th of the Chinese lunar calendar, originated from the ancient agriculture in China, said Zhang Zhongyi, an archaeologist and researcher about Qu Yuan, an ancient thinker and poet more than 2,000 years ago.

There was a great deal of rainfall in May, which ruined the seedlings of crops, said Zhang, so farmers cast rice and wine into the water on that day, worshipping the god of rivers so he would bring them a harvest.

In 278 B.C. when China was at the Warring States period (475 B. C. to 221 B.C.), a famous poet named Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Miluo River on the influential lunar May 5th, hoping that his death could awaken the king to revitalize their kingdom.

Then the festival became a day in memory of the poet, on which people would have dragon boat races across the country, said Zhang.

"The annual dragon boat race here is the best proof that the festival belongs to China," said Li Biyan, a former government official of Yueyang, central China's Hunan province.

On May 12, nearly 10,000 people of Yueyang, university students mainly, took part in a signature activity, as an appeal to protect this traditional Chinese festival.

However, experts say that the ROK is not to blame for its efforts to push forward the Dragon Boat Festival, which arrived in the country over 1,000 years ago, as a world heritage of the whole human race.

First of all, nothing illegal was found during the ROK's application process, said Gao Bingzhong, sociological professor of Beijing University.

It was different from the registration of normal brands, he said, and there was no need for the rush registration.

"Some people charged the ROK with stealing our own cultural heritage, which was not appropriate," Gao said.

On the contrary, Gao said the incident indicated traditional Chinese cultures had been recognized and accepted to a large extent by other countries and that was good news to Chinese.

He said the vocal and non-material heritage chiefly focuses on the cultures belonging to the whole human race, so that they can be cherished and protected by all the countries in the world.

As a matter of fact, Matouqin, a bowed-stringed musical instrument with a scroll carved like a horse's head, has been approved to be the cultural heritage of Mongolia last year, and the shadow play with typical Chinese characteristics is now the heritage of Indonesia.

Instead of blindly claiming sovereignty of the festival, Chinese should pay more heeds to the preservation of traditional culture, said Wu Bing'an, vice-chairman of Chinese Folklore Society.

China should preserve and restore its traditional culture through establishing a more effective mechanism.

"We do not have a systematic and authoritative set of laws on the protection of our traditional culture," said Wu, "whereas legislation of this field has been instituted in Japan and Republic of Korea as early as the mid-20th century."

On the other hand, education is needed to let more young people in China know and respect various forms of Chinese culture, Wu said. The traditional festivals originating from the grand civilization of China are the incarnation of the national spirits.

However, these festivals seem to be in an inferior position compared with those imported from the West.

He said it is necessary to extend cooperation with other countries on the preservation of cultural heritage while endeavoring to introduce traditional Chinese culture to the international community.

Sources with the municipal government of Yueyang said that the city will also submit an application to make the Dragon Boat Festival as a human vocal and non-material heritage.

Experts also suggest that the government set traditional festivals as public holidays.

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