The three major heroic epics of China's ethnic minorities have increasingly attracted international attention as the Chinese government continues collecting and studying them in an organized and programmed manner,folk epic experts say.
In the early 1950s and again since the late 1970s, the central government devoted large manpower and material resources and set up special institutions to save and study the Tibetan epic Gesar and the Mongolian epics Jangar and Kirgiz Manas, commonly hailed as China's three major ethnic heroic epics.
Saving and studying the 20-million-word Gesar, known as the Oriental Iliad after the Greek epic poem by Homer, has been a major field of study of China's philosophy and social sciences for the past 20 years.
To preserve the epic, China set up a special national group to promote and oversee the work. Special offices have been set up in the seven provincial regions in China, including Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Sichuan.
"The move is unprecedented in the history of Tibetan culture and is rare in the history of China's multinational cultures," said Gyambian Gyaco, a noted expert on the epic.
China has published more than 100 versions of the epic in Tibetan with a total of 4 million copies, one for every Tibetan adult.
"Though China started its collection and study on the large-volume epic Jangar pretty late, it has achieved a lot in the field," said Zager, a professor with the Inner Mongolia Normal University.
Two latest versions of Jangar in Chinese have just been published in northwest China's Xinjiang, according to Zager.
China has published nearly 10 versions of Jangar since late 1970s. A special working group was organized in Xinjiang in 1980, which visited more than 100 Jangar ballad singers over four years to record the epic.
China sponsored a census on the Mongolian epic Manas in the 1960s and has discovered more than 80 ballad singers.
In recent years, China has sponsored several international conferences on the three epics.
According to the Institute of Ethnic Literature under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the story of King Gesar is known in about 40 countries and regions. Jangar has been translated into German, Russian, Japanese and other foreign languages, and Manas has been translated into many foreign languages, including Russian, Japanese and English.
In 2001, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization designated 2002 and 2003 as the years to celebrate the millenary of the creation of the epic Gesar. China is preparing to apply for the world cultural heritage for the epic.
"The big success of the Chinese government and experts is in making the research of the three epics an international topic in addition to its protection in China," Zager said.
China has 55 ethnic minority groups, with their population totaled about 104.5 million, accounting for 8.41 percent of China's total population.