Fakes or authentic?

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Well, there's a Chinese intangible cultural heritage show in Beijing at the National Agricultural Exhibition Center.

The facts:
The expo displays more than 2,300 artworks in nine categories and features live demonstrations from more than 130 major groups of Chinese intangible cultural heritage.

The context:
China now has 1,028 items on its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage under State protection, including 186 traditional skills and crafts.

Short history:
Since 2006, a total of 777 ethnic and folk artisans have been named "typical inheritors of key intangible cultural heritage" and many have benefited by selling their products or showing their skills to tourists.

However, not everybody is happy:
Some scholars point out that not all works embodying a nation's cultural heritage are suitable for commercialization.

"In some places, excessive commercialism has ruined ethnic and traditional arts and crafts," says Qi Fuqing, a cultural heritage researcher with China Central University of Nationalities.

"As local people in some areas rushed to earn quick money, they ignored quality control and even worse, they ignored a systemic transmission of skills and the fostering of qualified younger artists."

A local example:
Zhao Yaoxin, a Bai ethnic artist from Dali, Yunnan province, is also greatly concerned about the future of some of the province's intangible cultural heritage such as the traditional paintings of the Naxi ethnic people.

"The paintings and souvenir scarves, bags with strange looking Naxi characters you find in Lijiang are actually done by vendors from Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces," he says. "They make good money but they do not really know about Naxi art and history."

Lack of funds, education, personnel and most importantly, legal advice "has greatly discouraged us as watchers of cultural treasures at grass-roots level," complains Zhao, who has worked to preserve folk and ethnic art for more than 30 years.

A solution of sorts:
To Zhao's relief, a law on the protection and preservation of intangible cultural heritage is on the agenda at next month's People's Congress.
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