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Intangible Cultural Heritage Law implemented on June 1

The Intangible Cultural Heritage Law of the People's Republic of China (Hereinafter referred to as the ICH Law), which was adopted at the 19th Session of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People's Congress, came into effect on June 1, 2011. Efforts to protect Chinese intangible cultural heritage (ICH) have a law to go by. The ICH Law features Chinese characteristics, such as distinguishing the protection of ICH from the preservation of ICH; primarily defining the "exit mechanism" for heritage and prohibiting using ICH in a distorted or derogatory manner.

Adopted at the 19th Session of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People's Congress on February 25, 2011, the ICH Law legally defines the scopes of ICH and regulates ICH investigation actions. It comprises 45 articles of 6 chapters as follows:

Chapter I General Provisions
Chapter II Intangible Cultural Heritage Investigation
Chapter III Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage Projects
Chapter IV Inheritance and Dissemination of Intangible Cultural Heritage
Chapter V Legal Liabilities
Chapter VI Supplementary Provisions

The spirit of ICH Law  

Minister of the Ministry of Culture Cai Wu elaborated in details three spirits of the ICH Law.

First, the ICH Law defines "one aim", that is, inheriting and carrying forward the brilliant traditional culture of the Chinese nation is to promote the construction of socialist spiritual civilization and strengthen the protection and preservation of ICH.

Second, the ICH Law puts forward "two principles" in ICH protection. The protection should focus on the authenticity, completeness and inheritance; should help strengthen the recognition of Chinese cultures, maintain the country's unification and ethnic unity and promote social harmony and sustainable development.

Third, the ICH Law provides "three systems", namely, investigation system, representative projects list system and inheritance and dissemination system.Investigation is central to ICH protection. People's governments above the county level, related departments, citizens, legal entities, other organizations and foreign organizations or individuals shall allow to be investigated according corresponding regulations. Listing representative projects is to bring together limited resources to protect intangible cultural heritage which embodies the fine traditional culture of the Chinese nation with historical, literary, artistic and scientific value. People's governments at all levels, relevant departments and universities, media and public cultural organizations shall bear the responsibility to enhance the publicity in relation to intangible cultural heritage protection and increase public awareness of intangible cultural heritage protection. In addition, the government encourages and supports to apply ICH representative projects in exploring cultural markets and cultural services with local ethnic characteristics.

Realistic problems

1. "Application is superior to protection"

In recent years, the phenomenon of "Application is superior to protection" arising from the protection of Chinese intangible cultural heritage has attracted considerable attention from the government as well as specialists and scholars.

Feng Jicai, an author who has been focusing most of his works on writing stories which explain historical events that have occurred in his hometown Tianjin, China, held that selecting out ICH and listing them in the ICH directory were not the ultimate goal; specialists and scholars had more to do. Currently, dubbed as "vanity projects", ICH was eventually industrialized. For example, though Shaanxi Shadow Play was once listed in the ICH directory, shadow puppets were pressed by machines instead of being hand-carved. Handicraft civilization faded out and industry civilization took its place.

2. Intensifying management on ICH inheritors

The protection on ICH inheritors is central to the protection of ICH. In 2011, the Ministry of Culture increased the subsidies of representative inheritors from 8,000 yuan to 10,000 yuan annually. During the period of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, inheritors are expected to enjoy more financial support.Government subsidies mean nothing to the rich but significant to the poor. The ICH Law should intensify the management on inheritors. A law is not born perfect but can be improved in the enforcement.

3. Half of ICH have no access to specialists' guidance

"There are 1,038 national ICH projects and over 4,962 provincial ICH projects. Half ICH have no access to specialist guidance. Taking New Year paintings for example, 70% of the paintings have no chance to be guided by specialists. Such a kind of protection without the support of specialists was not scientific and even wrong." said Feng Jicai.

Feng was worried about the protection of ICH. He said, "There is no payment for ICH protection. Who would like to join?" "Are there such intellectuals as when national civilization baffled he or she will stand out to do anything? We once set memorial plaques for the beholders of ICH, but few in number. More young people are expected to join."

4. Related theories

Ma Shengde, Deputy Director of the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage under the Ministry of Culture, said the theoretical research of ICH remained blank on ICH value and the law of inheritance as well as the categorization of ICH types.

Ma said, we proposed different kinds of protection from the perspectives of salvation, production,  integration and legislation. But such protection lacked implementing measures to operate. It's necessary to further research how to balance the relationship among regional culture, tourism development and industrialization. The denotation and connotation of cultural and ecological preservation areas should be identified.

The latest data

"China will announce the third batch of 190 pieces of national ICH. Compared to the first batch and the second bath totaling 1,028 pieces, the third batch witnessed an obvious reduction in number." said Officials from the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage under the Ministry of Culture.

Ma said, "The ICH applications reached 3,000 and only 190 were granted, which proved the selection was strictly controlled."

He further remarked that the strict control over the selection of ICH projects was targeted to secure strict protection, thus promoting ICH projects with cultural ethnic value and meaning paradigm.

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