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Ancient villages in China in danger of losing their souls

From: People's Daily Online

Updated:2012-09-25 10:52

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(Photo/Xinhua)

China is carrying out protection on its intangible cultural heritages in recent years. As an important part of traditional cultural resources, ancient villages are attracting wide attention. However, in the course of the integration of urban and rural areas, ancient villages are being impacted by urban culture, external culture and mainstream culture and their integrity and cultural elements are facing unprecedented challenges. 
According to surveys and records by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development of China, the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Society and the Rural Architecture Research Office under the School of Architecture at Tsinghua University, China had about 5,000 ancient villages reflecting its farming culture, including villages of folk houses, folk cultures and intangible cultural heritages in 2005. By June 2012, the number had decreased to less than 3,000. 
Currently, China's protection of ancient villages tends to emphasize tangible cultural heritages including the appearance, scenic spots and architecture. However, we should realize that an ancient village is an integrated entity with its external appearance, internal core and soul. Every ancient village is an inseparable combination of tangible and intangible cultural heritages depending on each other. If we protect only the material part and ignore the spiritual one, then we are just protecting specimens without souls and lives. We must fully realize the value of intangible cultural heritages of ancient villages.

(Photo/Xinhua)

Ancient villages present intangible cultural heritages in an integrated, systematic, comprehensive, practical, ecological and vivid manner. Feng Jicai, director of the Committee of Experts for Protecting Intangible Cultural Heritages, said, "The deepest root of the Chinese nation is in the villages and the brightness, diversity, originality and creativity of the Chinese culture are also there."
Ancient villages are museums of folk cultural ecosystems and a living cultural heritage that is still being passed down. However, many intangible cultural heritages are disappearing in these villages. Taking folk language as an example, in most ancient villages of minorities in remote regions, there was no written language in the past so its collective wisdom was spread through an oral culture. There is no written record of these oral cultures and as society develops, many young people have left their villages and their interests turn to popular culture. As inheritors of these folk cultures pass away successively, these cultures are facing extinction. Currently, epics from many remote regions are not inherited and sung by local youths but by tourism developers. Since these outsiders do not deeply cherish and understand these cultures, it is hard for them to showcase the essence and core of these cultures, leading to "fake cultures" and "fast food cultures" in some areas. Therefore, Feng believes that these folk cultures accumulated in the past hundreds or thousands of years are shaking and collapsing.
People living in the villages are consciously or unconsciously creating cultures that have characteristics of the times, leading to the diversity of local cultures. It is an impetus and source of ceaseless human development. The tangible and intangible cultural heritages of ancient villages both contain abundant and profound historical and cultural information and these diversified village cultures reflect the richness and profundity of Chinese culture. Therefore, we must realize that besides protecting a silk handicraft, a story or an artist, the diversity of human cultures should also be protected in the future. In the long run, it will lay a solid foundation for the scientific, healthy and sustainable development of Chinese culture.

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