China

Made in China: Intangible Cultural Heritage

“In Chinese, there is a saying that intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is the homeland of our spirit. With ICH, we know where our home is.” —Yang Zhi, director, International Training Center, UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in Asia

Intangible cultural heritage (ICH) encompasses oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, and knowledge and skills surrounding traditional crafts. It is culture rooted in community, passed down from generation to generation and adapted to remain relevant in today’s society. In 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established an international framework for protecting cultural diversity throughout the world. In 2014, there are more examples of Chinese ICH forms and practices on the UNESCO Representative List for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage than from any other member state.

In the past decade, China has implemented UNESCO’s safeguarding measures at municipal, provincial, and national levels. This reflects official recognition of the importance of traditional culture and an enormous effort to mitigate the disruption of traditional arts that occurred in 20th-century China and to promote cultural heritage in the new millennium. Hundreds of thousands of researchers have surveyed the country’s tradition bearers. More than 200,000 hours of audio documentation and 4 million photographs have been collected in 140,000 research volumes. A national list of heritage items has been compiled and more than 1,400 master artists have been formally designated as “representative culture bearers” charged with transmitting their knowledge and skills to the next generation.

As we continue this important international work, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival celebrates the dynamism of tradition and creativity and honors the individuals and communities in China who are ensuring the vitality of diverse traditions for the future.