The Collected Eternal Legacy

China boasts a great variety of time-honored intangible cultural heritages: Taiji shadow boxing, the legend of the White Snake, shadow play, purple sand pot, to name just a few. However, with the acceleration of social modernization and the impact of foreign cultures, the intangible cultural heritages in China are facing ever increasing impairment and destruction, and some even on the verge of distinction. How to protect these intangible cultural heritages has become an issue that badly needs us to tackle with.

Intangible Cultural Heritage

According to the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) – or living heritage – is the mainspring of our cultural diversity and its maintenance a guarantee for continuing creativity.
The Convention states that the ICH is manifested, among others, in the following domains: 
- Oral traditions and expressions including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage; 
- Performing arts (such as traditional music, dance and theatre); 
- Social practices, rituals and festive events; 
- Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; 
- Traditional craftsmanship.

The 2003 Convention defines ICH as the practices, representations, expressions, as well as the knowledge and skills, the communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.

The definition also indicates that the ICH to be safeguarded by this Convention: 
- is transmitted from generation to generation; 
- is constantly recreated by communities and groups, in response to their environment, their interaction with nature, and their history; 
- provides communities and groups with a sense of identity and continuity;
- promotes respect for cultural diversity and human creativity; 
- is compatible with international human rights instruments; 
- complies with the requirements of mutual respect among communities, and of sustainable development.

The ICH is traditional and living at the same time. It is constantly recreated and mainly transmitted orally. It is difficult to use the term authentic in relation to ICH; some experts advise against its use in relation to living heritage.

The depository of this heritage is the human mind, the human body being the main instrument for its enactment, or – literally – embodiment. The knowledge and skills are often shared within a community, and manifestations of ICH often are performed collectively.

Many elements of the ICH are endangered, due to effects of globalization, uniformization policies, and lack of means, appreciation and understanding which – taken together – may lead to the erosion of functions and values of such elements and to lack of interest among the younger generations.

Chronicle events of intangible cultural heritage protection in China

In 2001, 19 items of the world's cultural activities and oral representation forms were granted the title of "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by the UNESCO, in which the Kunqu Opera from China was also included.

In October, 2003, the 32 Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee passed through the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. In November of the same year, another 28 items were granted the title "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity", in which China's Guqin was included.

In April, 2004, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Finance jointly issued the Notice on the Implementation of China National and Folk Culture Protection Project.

In 2005, another 43 items were added to the list of "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by the UNESCO, including the Muqam of Xinjiang as well as the Urtiin Duu jointly applied by China and Mongolia. Up until then, the "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" list has reached as many as 90.

In December 2005, the State Council issued Notice on Strengthening Cultural Heritage Protection, putting up specific requests on the protection of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. And the second Saturday of each June has been designated as the "Cultural Heritage Day".

In May 2006, the State Council approved the First National Intangible Cultural Heritage List (totaling 518 items) submitted by the Ministry of Culture.

In June 2007, the Ministry of Culture declared the 226 representative successors to the First National Intangible Cultural Heritage Projects.

In June, 2007, after the inscription of "South China Karst" to the World Natural Heritage List, "Kaiping Diaolou and Villages" of Guangdong was added in the World Cultural Heritage List. By far, the number of China's world heritages reached to 35.

In February 2008, a press conference was held in Beijing to issue the certificate to the representative successors to the national ICH projects, and special performance was staged by the ICH successors.

In March 2008, the State Council approved the first batch of National Rare Books List (2392 volumes) and National Rare Books Key Protection Units List (totaling 51) submitted by the Ministry of Culture.

In May 2008, Qiang Ethnic Cultural Heritage Protection Project entrusted by the State Ethnic Affairs Commission to the Chinese National Museum of Ethnology was launched.

In June 2008, the State Council approved the second National ICH List (totaling 510) as well as the first National ICH Extension List (totaling 147) submitted by the Ministry of Culture.

In July 2008, at the 32 Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, the unique folk residence – "Fujian Tulou" and Mount Sanqingshan National Park of Jiangxi were officially inscribed in the World Heritage List.

In February 2009, "China Intangible Cultural Heritage Exhibition"raised its curtain in the National Agricultural Exhibition Center of Beijing.