Extinction-threatened Qiang culture calls for protection after devastating earthquake

11:14, June 20, 2011      

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Although Wei Jun comes from Beichuan Qiang Autonomous County, the worst hit county of the 2008 earthquake in China's southwestern Sichuan Province, neither does she know the origin of her ethnic symbol flower, nor does she speak the Qiang language.

The 25-year-old girl realizes her identity as a Qiang person only when she sings a toast song in the traditional Qiang clothes with unique Qiang embroidery floral patterns during festivals.

The Qiang ethnic minority, with a history of more than 3,000 years, is one of the original ethnic groups in China. It has a population of around 300,000, who mostly inhabit mountainous areas in the Aba-Tibetan Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan.

The Qiang people have created a unique culture, which consists of a variety of invaluable intangible cultural heritage.

It is not weird that Wei is unfamiliar with her ethnic tradition since she has been set adrift due to her parents' frequent migration for a living.

More and more Qiang people have left their remote hometowns for big cities to seek fortune. Therefore, they have grown gradually apart from the original Qiang culture.

"Along with social transformation and modernization, the Qiang culture faces the edge of extinction," says Tan Jihe, an expert on Qiang ethnic minority.

The vulnerable culture suffered from even worse destruction after the Qiang areas were stricken by the fatal earthquake on May 12, 2008, which left a total of 87,000 people dead or missing and millions homeless.

All of the six Qiang counties in Sichuan Province were affected in the disaster. The traditional Qiang buildings, cultural heritage and sites were destroyed. What was worse, 224 ancient buildings in the oldest and largest Qiang stockade village, Luobozhai Village, collapsed in the quake leaving only rubble.

The Qiang population has declined by about 10 percent. Many elderly who knew the Qiang language and culture were killed or seriously injured in the quake and as a result the extraordinary skills of Qiang embroidery, carving crafts, and flute playing were diminished.

"The unique characteristic of Qiang culture is that the Qiang people have no written scripts but rely on oral communication only," says Zheng Xiaoxing, director of the Sichuan Provincial Department of Culture.

The Qiang culture faces an unprecedented challenge brought about by the quake, according to Zhang.

The rebuilding plan worked out by the Chinese government has included rescue work of the endangered Qiang culture in the quake-stricken areas.

During the past three years, hundreds of Qiang stockade villages and watch towers have been renovated to maintain their original appearances. Some intangible cultural heritage museums were built in the Qiang areas.

"For sake of money, many young Qiang people are not so interested in their traditional cultures," says Chan Xi, vice head of Chenjiaba Town in the Qiang county in Beichuan.

However, a new trend of picking up the traditional Qiang embroidery skill has been seen with the encouragement from the local government.

Wei Jun has witnessed the change. She works in a local Qiang embroidery producing company.

"Since plenty of tourists visit our town, the Qiang embroideries are very popular to them," Wei says. "We can have more understanding of our culture and gain some money as well."

As an ambitious Qiang man, Chan Xi, who has a dream of fostering and enhancing the Qiang culture, has created two websites about Qiang culture.

He believes that young people from the Qiang ethnic minority are obligatory to inherit the splendid culture with confidence and identification.

Source: Xinhua
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