China unveiled its premier Encyclopedia of Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage (中国非物质文化遗产, 史诗卷) on June 12, reports China Daily (Released). This is the first of three volumes, and is dedicated to three great oral epics of the Tibetans, Mongols and Kyrgyz, respectively: King Gesar, Jangar and Manas.
The cover is in Chinese and English, but I do not know if the content itself is bilingual. For a fuller press release in Chinese, see 首发式.
Compiled by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, the volumes will document China’s vast treasure house of ancient culture in the fields of folklore, traditional music, dance, opera and even herbal medicine. I have not seen the book, and it is not clear from the article whether the 1,219 items to be cited will be ones that have been registered with UNESCO, or simply ones that China has unilaterally categorized as its “intangible cultural heritage.”
China has been very pro-active in winning international recognition of its intangible cultural heritage, particularly traditions of its non-Han ethnic minorities, and some of its neighbors are less than pleased about it. For instance, China initially registered the Epic of Manas as an Intangible Cultural Heritage with UNESCO back in 2009. This has since been vigorously contested by Kyrgyzstan officials — who maintain they were not informed about China’s application for recognition — since they consider it “an artifact of Kyrgyz nationhood.” See UN Recognition.
The larger issue here, of course, is whether this flurry of registrations and publications represents China’s desire to embrace and celebrate its multi-ethnic society, or whether it intends to possess and monopolize — “appropriate,” if you like — the outstanding cultural achievements of peoples such as the Mongols, Tibetans or Kyrgyz, some of whom do not perceive of themselves as “Chinese” no matter which side of the border they live on, and who fear, rightly or wrongly, colonization or a less obvious form of cultural genocide.
Representatives of five of China’s northwestern provinces met June 15 in Xining to discuss how to benefit from the “Silk Road Fragrant Books Project” (丝路书香工程). This is a global publishing initiative, given the stamp of approval by China’s Ministry of Propaganda, which is designed to stimulate the translation and publication of great literary, historical and cultural works that are grounded in the cultures of peoples along the ancient Silk Road. Details can be found in this Chinese news piece (西北五省).
The project plan for 2014-20 includes translation subsidies, translations between Chinese and various foreign languages, international exhibitions, and a database of Silk Road publications.
The definition of “silk road” is quite broad, including both the original land-based caravan routes from Xi’an through Central and West Asia, the Middle East and Europe, as well as the so-called Maritime Silk Road that linked the South China Sea, South Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
Predictably, China publishers have rushed to cash in by offering to translate and publish politically correct tomes. The Nationalities Publishing House (民族出版社), for instance, has put in a bid to translate Xi Jinping’s The Governance of China (习近平谈治国理政) into Kazakh.
Meanwhile, some titles targeted for translation leave one scratching one’s head.