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Intangible Cultural Heritage of Xinjiang

Xinjiang is a region rich in intangible cultural heritage. Folk cultures are respected and preserved. Xinjiang embraces cultural diversity and inclusiveness, and upholds mutual learning among cultures. The region fully respects and protects folk cultures, thus realizing the harmonious coexistence of different cultures and enabling the effective protection and preservation of the best traditions of all ethnic groups. All people in Xinjiang have the right to observe their own statutory festivals such as the Spring Festival, Qingming Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, Ramadan, and Corban. They celebrate the festivals in many forms, such as playing music, dancing, and holding traditional sports events. Among popular folk festivals are the Lantern Festival, the Uygur’s Meshrep, the Kazak’s Aytes , the Kirgiz’s Kobuz Ballad Singing Fair, the Mongolian Nadam Fair, and the Hui people’s Hua’er Folk Song Festival. The local government promotes mutual respect for folkways among all ethnic groups while encouraging appropriate and healthy lifestyles, wedding and funeral practices, and customs and rituals.

The Uygur Muqam of Xinjiang and the Kirgiz epic Manas were registered on the “UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity ”, and Uygur Meshrep on the “List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding”. Xinjiang has 83 items on the national representative list of intangible cultural heritage and 294 items on the autonomous-region list, as well as 112 state-level representative trustees and 403 autonomous-region representative trustees of its intangible cultural heritage.

The Xinjiang Uygur Muqam is the general term for a variety of Muqam practices widespread among the Uygur communities. Xinjiang Uygur Muqam includes songs, dances, folk and classical music and is characterized by diversity of content, choreography, musical styles and instruments used. The songs vary in rhyme and meter and are performed solo as well as by groups. The lyrics contain not only folk ballads but also poems written by classical Uygur masters. Thus, the songs reflect a wide range of styles such as poetry, proverbs, and folk narrative, bearing witness to the history and contemporary life of the Uygur society.

In Muqam ensembles, the lead instruments are made from local materials and vary in form (they may be bowed-stringed, plucked or wind instruments). The dancing skills involve unique steps, rhythms and formations as well as figures such as flower-picking-by-mouth, bowl-carrying-on-head and imitation of animals in solo dances. The Xinjiang Uygur Muqam has developed four main regional styles, namely the Twelve Muqam, Dolan Muqam, Turpan Muqam and Hami Muqam.

Found among the Uygur people concentrated largely in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Meshrep constitutes the most important cultural carrier of Uygur traditions. A complete Meshrep event includes a rich collection of traditions and performance arts, such as music, dance, drama, folk arts, acrobatics, oral literature, foodways and games. Uygur muqam is the most comprehensive art form included in the event, integrating song, dance and entertainment.

Meshrep functions both as a 'court', where the host mediates conflicts and ensures the preservation of moral standards, and as a 'classroom', where people can learn about their traditional customs. Meshrep is mainly transmitted and inherited by hosts who understand its customs and cultural connotations, by the virtuoso performers who participate, and by all the Uygur people who attend.

In Xinjiang, intangible cultural heritage is effectively protected. The central government and the local government of Xinjiang have made a continuous effort to strengthen the legal system for the protection of the region’s intangible cultural heritage. The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Intangible Cultural Heritage provide important legal protection for the diverse cultural heritage of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Under the guiding principle of giving priority to both preservation and restoration, and pursuing sound utilization and development, the policy and legislation for protecting intangible cultural heritage have been strengthened. In 2008 the Regulations of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on the Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage were enacted. In 2010 the Regulations of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on the Protection of Uygur Muqam Arts were promulgated and put into force. In addition, Xinjiang has introduced a number of rules for protecting its intangible cultural heritage, which provide institutional guarantees for rescuing and preserving this heritage in a coordinated and systematic manner.

In 1951 and 1954 the central government made recordings of the music of the Twelve Muqams to rescue the Muqam arts. Since the 1960s, firm funding and manpower support from the government has enabled the publication of works of folk literature, including the Kirgiz epic Manas and Mongolian epic Jangar. The Collection of Chinese Ethnic and Folk Dances (Xinjiang Volume), Collection of Chinese Folk Songs (Xinjiang Volume), and Collection of Chinese Folk Tales (Xinjiang Volume) have been compiled and published to introduce the folk music, dances, drama and other arts of the region.

The program for protecting and preserving Xinjiang’s intangible cultural heritage as part of the initiative to promote Chinese cultural traditions is well under way. By the end of 2017, to rescue and preserve its intangible cultural heritage, Xinjiang had completed the recording of intangible cultural items presented by 23 state-level representative trustees in the form of written texts, images, audios and videos. Furthermore, the region had established three state-level demonstration bases that produce Uygur musical instruments, carpets and Etles silk for the preservation of these intangible cultural items. In addition, the region had set up 91 autonomous-region level bases for preserving and handing down its intangible cultural heritage.