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Feng Jicai: Ineffective Protection of Folk Cultural Heritage
Lies in the Lack of Cultural Awareness

Source: www.rmzxb.com.cn Author: Zhao Yingying Date: 2015-03-16

According to a report carried by www.rmzxb.com.cn in Beijing on 13 March, the government work report points out that to development smart cities, it is necessary to protect and inherit historic and regional cultures. During the NPC and CPPCC sessions this year, protecting traditional villages and recover the “nostalgia” became a hot topic among the deputies. 

“There were 3.6 million ancient villages nationwide in 2000 and 2.7 million in 2010. That is a loss of 900 thousand in ten years. Now there are only about 2 million natural villages.” Giving the above figures, Feng Jicai frowned with a worried look. He continued, “Ancient villages have fostered traditional Chinese culture and carry our nostalgia. But with the progress of industrialization and urbanization, a lot of the traditional villages are disappearing rapidly.”

Last year, with the funding of 10 billion RMB from the State Council, a project was jointly launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, the Ministry of Culture and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage to protect traditional villages, thus starting a comprehensive investigation of ancient villages in all provinces and ethnic areas. In the past year, Feng Jicai personally led teams to do research and archiving in Hebei and other places. The archives feature both words and pictures and provide a comprehensive and clear recording of the diversified original status of various traditional villages from the perspectives of anthropology, history, folklore and heritage studies in an effort to count and rescue the traditional villages.

Feng Jicai told the reports that based on the criteria set by experts, now a total of 2,550 traditional Chinese villages have been identified in three batches. He said, “My expectation is that 5,000 traditional villages will be identified. Once identified as important historical heritage from the farming civilization, the villages will allow no more changes. And what remains to be done will be to formulate plans for protection.”

“Most of the over 1,300 items of national-level intangible cultural heritage are in those ancient villages and more importantly, the intangible cultural heritage of ethnic minority groups are all in villages.” To Feng Jicai, the value of ancient villages is no smaller than the Great Wall. “The effort to rescue ancient villages is a race with time”. The fact that a huge number of villages remain to be archived and investigated really makes him anxious.

The outflow of migrant workers has led to left-behind families in more and more villages. Some ancient villages have gone into disrepair, some are in the process of rash development for tourism and others even have disappeared from the map. “Now we have national criteria for identifying ancient villages. What we need is a scientific system of protection”. Feng Jicai underlined the requirement for accountability, a supervision mechanism, long-term plans and legislation. “We have the National Cultural Heritage Law for tangible assets and the Law on the Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage for intangible assets. And naturally there should be a law on the protection for ancient Chinese villages.” To him, keeping the aboriginals is as important as legal protection. As he put it, where would nostalgia come from with the absence of a hometown?

Feng Jicai believes that the protection of folk cultural heritage remains ineffective, not least because there is a lack of cultural awareness among the officials, experts, scholars and common people. And cultural awareness is about not just what we say but also what we do. On the basis of protection ancient villages, we should also enable livelihoods for the local residents and enable them to enjoy the convenience of modern scientific civilization as enjoyed in cities so that the villagers can live a convenient and easy life.

“The protection of ancient villages should not be the yardstick for officials’ performance or research achievements of scholars or the resource for developers.” To this end, Feng Jicai calls for law enforcement in cultural heritage protection to be incorporated into evaluation of officials and for the establishment of an accountability mechanism. He said, “How to awaken the aboriginals to the cultural value of their villages or arouse the cultural awareness in them? That is a job of the government. And that is also the most difficult thing to do.”