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Ethnic art facing life or death
( 2003-12-10 23:39) (China Daily)

China is working hard to salvage and preserve some of its diversified ethnic cultures threatened with extinction as a result of modernization.

Zhao Weisui, vice-minister of culture, said the folk culture of the country's 56 nationalities -- including art, literature and custom -- are suffering unprecedented challenges and destruction with the rapid speed of globalization and modernization.

Zhao said his ministry had launched a massive project to save folk cultural heritage in print, photos and on video.

"Saving and preserving the folk culture of ethnic minorities is very urgent and the project needs more field research at grass-roots levels,'' said Zhao when he addressed at a three-day international symposium on ethnic culture protection which was closed yesterday in Beijing.

Around 200 artists, scholars and officials from home and abroad participated in the workshop, exchanging views and experiences on the protection of endangered cultural heritage, such as ethnic and folk dances, music and their instruments, folk fine arts and traditional handicrafts like cloth weaving and dying, embroidery and paper cutting.

Liu Xiaochun, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, expressed her concern on the survival of the culture of the Oroqen ethnic group who have been living in the deep forest in Northeast China since ancient times.

As a member of the Oroqen minority with a small population of around 8,000 people, Liu said her ethnic group is good at singing and dancing. However, when she was on a survey trip to a Oroqen dominated village in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, she founded that few people under 50-year-old can sing their folk songs.

Moreover, the lip harp is a traditional musical instrument of the Oroqen people, but only one of these instruments was found in the village, and few people can play it.

"The Oroqen ethnic group has its own particular language but without written words. Therefore, its preservation and inheritance is very difficult. If nothing is done to it, the Oroqen language and its talking and singing art will become extinct,'' said Liu.

She suggested that the central or local government establish a training organization in the area to train folk artists and set up special funds to save important aspects of folk culture.

Zhou Xing, an professor with the Aichi University in Japan, called for the preservation of culture and art heritage in local communities.

"With support from the community, ancient art forms can have a better chance of surviving and being passed on to future generations. Heritage can only be passed on from generation to generation when the whole community realizes the value of this heritage,'' said Zhou.

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