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Great achievements have been made in the protection of cultural heritage of China"s ethnic minorities since the reform and opening-up was initiated in 1978. Along the way, many minorities" cultural relics have been collected for better protection and restoration, and numerous museums and protection departments established. In addition, a legal system for the same purpose also came into being.
However, the cultural heritage of China"s ethnic minorities is still suffering from rapid loss and being shipped overseas in large quantities. The collections in museums are also plagued by a shortage of managerial staff with sufficient expertise.
China is a unified multi-ethnic country. Its 56 ethnic groups all have long histories and colorful cultural heritage, which includes immovable heritage such as ancient tombs, temples and folk houses, as well as movable relics collected by museums, such as utensils, costumes, paintings and religious objects. At present, among the 1.2 million pieces of cultural relics in the collection of the National Museum, there are more than 50,000 pieces from ethnic minorities. They are of high artistic value and are precious for the study of the history of the Chinese nation.
Though precious, many ethnic minorities" cultural relics have still been discarded or become lost in large quantities with the passage of time. Scattered in the relatively backward western regions, they are susceptible to natural environment, social environment, policies, laws and regulations, as well as people"s views and values.
Production tools, utensils and even clothing of many ethnic minorities have faded away rapidly. In particular, China"s 22 ethnic groups with a population of less than 100,000 are facing a grim situation in the protection of their cultural relics. Therefore, how to rescue and protect minorities" cultural relics are our top priority.
In this regard, China"s social organizations have made great progress in the past four decades.
Born in the public and close to the public, they are endowed with the ability to mobilize the public in ways that can"t be matched by the market. For example, they are able to obtain first-hand material in the protection of local ethnic cultural relics and organize individuals and groups to participate in the protection effort. At the same time, as different social organizations are set up for different goals, they are complementary to each other while providing protection in a targeted area.
Social organizations could play a role in the following respects. First is facilitating the efficient communication between individuals and the government, so make it possible to protect the cultural relics in a more effective way. What"s more, social organizations could also promote the communication between China and foreign countries in the preservation of cultural relics, so sharing the experience and lessons worldwide.
Second, social organizations can urge and supervise the government to make the decision making more scientific and democratic, such as smoothing channels among different parties, optimizing the process of implementation and protecting citizens" interests.
Third, social organizations have strong ability of fund raising. To be sure, the protection and maintenance of cultural relics is first and foremost a responsibility of the government. However, the government"s appropriation is only a drop in the bucket as the task is huge. To solve this problem, governmental departments are first required to reform. In addition, social organizations such as national cultural relic protection funds, non-public funds, non-governmental museums and folk villages need to be established as fundraisers. Foreign public welfare funds are also welcomed.
Equally important is the public awareness of the protection of cultural heritage, as the protection, in the final analysis, reflects the recognition of traditional culture of a nation or an ethnic group. Education in this aspect should involve all-around participation from schools to the society, from formal education to short-term training, as well as extensive, in-depth, lasting and diversified publicity by civil groups.
As mentioned, the role social organizations play in the protection of cultural heritage is essential and should be highlighted.
Yu Jin is executive vice chairman of China Association for Preservation of Ethnic Minorities" Relics (CAPEMR). The author contributed this article to China Watch exclusively. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of China Watch.
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