Opera beats kung fu for Unesco listing bid

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 12:00am

A form of opera originating in Xinjiang has defeated Shaolin kung fu in the battle to become China's sole nomination for Unesco's intangible heritage list, the Ministry of Culture announced yesterday.

Even though adherents of the ancient martial art from the famed Shaolin Temple in Henan had conducted a high-profile campaign for it to be nominated, authorities settled on the mukamu opera form. Unesco is expected to announce its results in November.

Two items from China are currently included on the 47-item Unesco list established four years ago: a six-century-old Jiangsu opera form, kunqu, and a seven-stringed instrument more than 3,000 years old, the guqin.

Vice-Minister of Culture Zhou Heping said Shaolin kung fu missed out because each country could only put forward one nomination.

'[This quota] is really a problem for us, as China is a country with rich intangible heritage,' he said. 'We would like to bring this to the attention of Unesco and discuss it.'

Mr Zhou said Beijing had started compiling its own list of intangible heritage treasures in an effort to protect endangered folk cultures. The process involves governments at the state, provincial, municipal and county levels.

The move was hailed by academics, who noted that intangible heritage like operas had always received less attention and interest than tangible treasures such as buildings.

'The very fact that they are intangible means they can be ignored easily. This is why the public apathy has come about,' said Li Yaozong , from the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing.

'Besides, the Cultural Revolution destroyed most of China's folk culture.'

Since the 1980s, Professor Li has been contributing to an encyclopaedia of Chinese folk cultures being compiled by three state departments. The book will be published next year.