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Beijing to build incubator to preserve intangible heritage

Wang Kaihao
Updated: Aug 4,2015 3:37 PM     China Daily

The Qianmen area in the heart of Beijing is set to become the National Intangible Cultural Heritage Exposition District by 2016.[Photo/China Daily]

The capital is building an incubator in historic Qianmen to devise inventive systems to preserve intangible heritage.

Beijing’s new National Intangible Cultural Heritage Exposition District aspires to innovate upon traditional culture in the same way Silicon Valley develops information technology.

The ambition is to update ancient folk culture’s software to better operate in the circuit board of contemporary society.

Authorities of the 400,000-square-meter park will select 200-300 representative intangible cultural heritage inheritors to publicize traditional techniques, train disciples and develop brands.

The project was officially announced at the 5th International Forum of NGOs in Official Partnership with UNESCO in Beijing last week.

About 24 billion yuan ($3.9 billion)-half of which comes from Dongcheng district’s government-has been invested in the project, says Li Yongjun, board chairman of the exposition district’s main developer, Yongxin Huayun.

Part of the project will open in October. All construction is slated for completion by 2016.

Qianmen will take on a new look, with the construction of a 400,000-square-meter park, with an investment of about 24 billion yuan ($3.9 billion).

Li says he’s confident the investment will turn profits. The park will become an incubator for ICH inheritors’ small businesses. The cultural-industry hub will also host auctions, expositions and trade fairs, and draw tourists.

“Publicizing folk-art techniques isn’t enough to preserve tradition,” Li says. “We must put ICH into the DNA of everyday life.”

The e-commerce site Efiyi.com was launched last week to help the new park involve more such inheritors. It’ll not only serve domestic successors but later also establish a database for overseas peers.

But the Qianmen area is meant to be the headquarters for an international network of comparable parks.

Yongxin Huayun plans to build 15 to 20 affiliates over the next decade. Branches will open in France and Los Angeles. Domestic candidates include Shandong province’s Qingdao, Jiangsu province’s Suzhou and Hainan province’s Sanya.

China has inscribed nearly 870,000 ICH items from county to national levels since the list was established in 2006, China Art Research Institute director Wang Wenzhang says.

A government-led preservation model has steered the past decade’s efforts.

“(But) master craftsmanship and spirit is at the protection’s core,” he told the Beijing forum.

“Some people have learned certain techniques from masters but are unqualified to preserve ICH because they don’t immerse themselves sufficiently in the history and cultural backgrounds of these traditions’ origins.”

It’s crucial for young people to develop mechanisms of sustainable preservation, Wang believes. Folk arts must adapt to modern aesthetics and commercial operations to survive.

“Inadequate capital is the bottleneck,” printmaker Wei Lizhong says.

Wei, who will work in the Qianmen park in future, is the director of Shizhuzhai Art Museum in Hangzhou. Shizhuzhai wood-and-water prints were included in the list of national ICH items last year.

China’s ICH protection association’s deputy director Ma Wenhui explains: “Countries like France don’t use the term ICH as often as China. That’s because they’ve successfully merged traditional craftsmanship into modern design to create globally leading luxury brands. French people take ICH for granted as part of life.”

Ma expects the Qianmen park to also incubate internationally influential brands but expresses concerns that some similar districts elsewhere in China were purely real-estate projects that failed as cultural institutions.

“Such projects are meaningless if ICH isn’t their crux,” he says.

“So we’ll develop a supervision system to increase discipline. Everyone must ensure they’re preserving authentic tradition rather than gimmicks before entering the market.”

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