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Heritage on the verge of extinction

By Xu Junqian (China Daily)

14:33, August 15, 2012

When a place in China is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is normally associated with money making, where tourists and cash are expected to flow in, and jobs created.

But Nanxijiang, a 1,000-year-old town with 27 intangible cultural heritages designated by the country and UNESCO, is an exception.

There is no trace of prosperity - only some weather-beaten houses - and not much tradition is left.

Home to 900,000, many of the town's cultural heritages are on the verge of extinction. They include Yongjia Kunqu Opera and nanquan (Southern Boxing), according to the Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Center of Yongjia county, the administrative body of the area.

"In the past, the area was abuzz with bread-making handicrafts and other local entertainment. But now, nobody cares," says Wang Lingxiao, vice-director of the center.

"Both the practitioners and audiences are few in numbers and old. But they are the most precious and unique cultural wealth of our nation. We need to pass it down to the next generation."

According to the latest national survey about intangible culture heritage, one-third of traditional operas that originated in Zhejiang province have died out over the past 60 years and 30 percent of traditional dances have disappeared.

Wu Shouwu, a 49-year-old practitioner of Southern Boxing, describes the situation as embarrassing.

The descendant of a family with the tradition of practicing and teaching Southern Boxing since the Song Dynasty (960-1279) has been giving free lessons to youngsters for more than two decades. But the number of students has diminished over the years. He has only three to four students now - all from families with martial arts backgrounds.

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