The Hot Zone
China's newly announced air defense identification zone over the East China Sea aims to shore up national security
Current Issue
· Table of Contents
· Editor's Desk
· Previous Issues
· Subscribe to Mag
Subscribe Now >>
Expert's View
Market Watch
North American Report
Government Documents
Expat's Eye
Photo Gallery
Reader's Service
Learning with
'Beijing Review'
E-mail us
RSS Feeds
PDF Edition
Reader's Letters
Make Beijing Review your homepage
Hot Links

cheap eyeglasses
Market Avenue

Heritage Protection
Special> Living Legacies> Heritage Protection
UPDATED: July 4, 2008 NO. 27 JUL. 3, 2008
A Disappearing Culture
Efforts to preserve the dying culture of China's Qiang ethnic group were severely damaged by the Sichuan earthquake

"The Qiang flute needn't play the melody of the weeping willow, for the Yumen Pass shut out the vernal wind below." This ancient poem, usually accompanied by Qiang flute, is well known across China. The flute is difficult to play and few have mastered it.

The Qiang folk song and drum are also specific to their culture, and gradually disappearing as younger generations look to more modern forms of music. The earthquake claimed the lives of a number of Qiang flute players, drummers and folk singers.

The Qiang language has no written form, so customs can only be passed down by word of mouth or demonstration. A number of Qiang elders, renowned for their cultural knowledge, were killed in the earthquake. "There were more than 10 Qiang elders in Wenchuan County, the epicenter of the quake, who knew a lot of things about Qiang culture and history. They are regarded as walking history books of the Qiang nationality. However, several of them were killed by the earthquake," said Hou Bin, a professor at Southwest University of Nationalities.

The Qiang villages are usually built on mountains, a fact that has earned them the name "villages in the clouds." Traditionally they had watchtowers, or Qiong Long, that looked out over the surrounding terrain. Qiang people have a history of building watchtowers for more than 2,000 years. But the earthquake destroyed several of their watchtowers, and left others severely damaged with badly cracked walls.

While the earthquake has drawn extra attention to the protection of Qiang culture, it has in fact been an issue in China for some time. Last year the government of Mianyang City, Sichuan Province, allocated 100,000 yuan (some $14,500) for the collection of Qiang cultural relics. "Nobody could have imagined that this collection would just lead to more relics being destroyed by the earthquake," said Gao.

After the earthquake, many Qiang people lost their homes and had to leave their villages. For a lot of the survivors, it was the first time they had seen the outside world. "Since Beichuan was totally destroyed, Qiang people have had to find other places to build new houses. This might separate the Qiang people into many places, and add difficulty to the passing on of Qiang culture," said Gao.

Premier speaks

On May 24, during a visit to Beichuan County, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said that the ancient culture and civilization of the Qiang people must be protected.

On May 30, the Forum on the Protection of Qiang Culture in Earthquake-hit Areas was held in Beijing. In June, the Forum of Emergent Protection of Qiang Cultural Relics was held in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Many experts from different universities and associations sat together to discuss how to protect Qiang culture, which is in the danger of extinction. They suggested that the protection of the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the Qiang should be an important part in the reconstruction of the quake-hit areas. A similar cultural environment should be created in the relocation of the Qiang people.

"Qiang culture has a history of more than 3,000 years, and now the population of Qiang people is just 300,000. It is hard to tell to what degree Qiang culture influences other nationalities," said Feng Jicai, Chairman of Chinese Folk Literature and Art Society. "Folk art is our mother culture. Now our mother is buried under the ruins, we have to save her."

"Now we have the regulations on the protection of tangible and intangible cultural heritage, and we will follow the regulations in the protection work," said Gao. He has been busy searching for relics under the ruins.

"We are planning to build another large-scale Qiang Folk Museum. The location of the new museum has not yet been decided, but it will not be long," Gao said. "I believe as long as we are here and never give up, there will be a hopeful future for Qiang culture."

   Previous   1   2  

Top Story
-Protecting Ocean Rights
-Partners in Defense
-Fighting HIV+'s Stigma
-HIV: Privacy VS. Protection
-Setting the Tone
Most Popular
About BEIJINGREVIEW | About beijingreview.com | Rss Feeds | Contact us | Advertising | Subscribe & Service | Make Beijing Review your homepage
Copyright Beijing Review All right reserved