Plan Aims to Save Dying Folk Culture

Original text special to china.org.cn

In a few years' time, people will be able to go to nearby folk culture centres or museums to help protect traditional folk culture. 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.

Struck by modern lifestyles, unique folk cultural items are disappearing unbelievably fast.

"Almost every minute some folk culture is dying and we are racing against time," said Zi Huayun, senior research fellow with the China Arts Academy and an adviser to the project.

For example, local operas are disappearing in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region due to a lack of attention.

Statistics showed Guangxi had 18 local operas 50 years ago, but only the four major ones are still alive today.

Many other folk arts, like paper cut in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, are dying at the same rate as elderly people as the younger generation loses interest in inheriting the culture and would rather work in cities for more money.

"If there is only one radio in a remote village, young people there want to hear rock or pop songs. Girls wish to own a pair of high heels," said Zi, who has been to the hinterland of China many times.

In addition to the influence from lifestyles and globalization, experts also noted folk culture, as opposed to cultural relics, are believed by some people to be in bad taste.

"Such prejudice will make people feel numb to the loss of folk culture," said Bai Gengsheng, vice-chairman of China folk artist association.

Left with countless endangered folk culture elements, the country established a national centre last February at the China Arts Academy responsible for planning and implementing the protection project.

The draft of a law on folk culture protection is also in the works.

"The day of passing this law on folk culture protection is not far off," said Zhou.

At present, the project has carried out trial protection projects on 10 folk arts to learn more about folk culture protection.

The 10 varieties of folk arts include New Year pictures made in Wuqiang of Hebei Province, traditional cotton spinning technique of the Li minority in Hainan Province and shadow play from Qingyang County of Gansu Province.

The central government has earmarked 20 million yuan (US$2.4 million) this year for the project, part of which will directly benefit the 10 folk arts, Zhou said.

Despite the government's efforts, the vice-minister stressed that raising the public's awareness of the importance of protecting folk culture.

"Experts like me act like a bridge," said Zi. "After we and the masses have fully understood each other in the field, I believe people can always think of better methods to protect the endangered folk culture."

·Beijing Revives Tianqiao Folk Art

As Beijing is undergoing tremendous changes on its way to becoming a modern metropolis, traditional Tianqiao folk art, an art representing the Old Beijing Culture for the general public, is gradually disappearing from people’s minds. Now someone is trying to save it. Mr. Wang Shusheng, a renowned painter and a member of the Chaoyang District Committee of China’s top advisory body the CPPCC, is working hard for the revival of the Tianqiao folk art. In response to his call, the Huasheng Tianqiao Folk Art Culture Street was recently founded in east Beijing, with the aim to bring the old folk art back to life.

Between the end of the Qing Dynasty and the early period of the Republic of China, Tianqiao (Bridge of Heaven) was a bustling place, where folk artists entertained the public with their amazing acrobatic feats or wrestling skills, and small theaters,

teahouses, and antique shops proliferated. Shops that sold flowers, birds, insects, and goldfishes thrived. Many renowned folk artists, such as Liu Baoquan, Hou Baolin, Liu Baorui, and Xin Fengxia, gave their performance here for quite some time.

The newly established Huasheng Tianqiao Folk Art Culture Street covers an area of 35 mu (just over two hectares) near Panjiayuan and inside the street, traditional folk arts are performed once again. One can find almost every type of the Old Beijing folk art here, in the wrestling arenas, small theaters, teahouses, storytelling rooms, etc. Antiques, traditional Chinese paintings, calligraphy scrolls, shops selling lovely plants, flowers and pet animals can be found here. Acrobats perform acrobatics and street hawkers sell a variety of snacks to audiences. Some shops also sell traditional local products. The culture street has become a new place for people to enjoy traditional Old Beijing folk culture.

To Mr. Wang, he really wants to keep and display the genuine elements of the folk art. At present, several hundred oldtimers and their apprentices have moved to the culture street to display their unique skills to the public, such as stabbing the throat with two spears, sawing the stomach with a steel knife, hitting the head with steel blades, rolling water jars, swallowing the iron ball and sword, face changing, performing lion dance, and juggling with a big pole.


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