Interview about Beijing’s Regulations for Safeguarding ICH

Beijing Opera ⓒ 2009 by Zhao Yiping Beijing Bureau of Culture via UNESCO

New regulations to safeguard intangible cultural heritage (ICH) in Beijing were approved last month by the Beijing Municipal People’s Congress. According to Chinese media such as Xinhua, CGTN, and Beijing Qianlong, these regulations are scheduled to be implemented in June this year. By the end of June, last year, Beijing registered over twelve thousand ICH items, including Kunqu Opera and Peking Opera. To get information about how these new legal measures would change the topography of ICH safeguarding in Beijing as well as in China, Jinhee Oh, an ICHCAP staff member, interviewed Zhu Gang, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Literature, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Jinhee Oh: Could you explain what it means for Beijing making local regulations for safeguarding ICH?

Zhu Gang: The recently approved Beijing Municipal Regulations of ICH sets up a landmark for implementing the UNESCO 2003 Convention in China. In accordance with the spirit of the Convention as well as with that of ICH law of the People’s Republic of China that was put into force in 2011, the current regulations aim to ensure the transmission and enhancement of Chinese traditional culture through safeguarding ICH presented in Beijing and neighboring areas.

Jinhee Oh: How are the regulations organized and on what were they founded?

Kun Qu opera © Chinese Academy of Arts via UNESCO
Zhu Gang: The regulations follow the general principles and ideas of the national law of China. For example, its aims, ICH domains, chapter structure, and defined legal responsibilities are in line with existing national ICH law. However, it would be inaccurate to conclude that the current regulation is simply another local duplicate of the national law. As suggested by the 2017 annual report of ICH in China released by the National Center for the Safeguarding of ICH, the national law passed in 2011 provides a legal scheme for safeguarding ICH in China, but it is also necessary and important to elaborate an instrument to more concretely implement the law for better ICH safeguarding and sustainable development at the national level. Therefore, the emergence of the regulations is timely and should be considered a concrete implementation of the national law.

Jinhee Oh: What do you think is the most significant feature of the regulations?

Zhu Gang: The regulations define the general principles and related mechanisms for recognizing  representative bearers at the local level. Moreover, the concept of a representative bearer covers not only individuals but also groups. It is the first time in China that a legal instrument mentions the concerned groups who could be identified as representative bearers. Following the spirit of the 2003 Convention, which places communities, groups, and individuals as its central focus, the current regulations pay great attention to ICH practitioners and provide them with both legal rights and obligations for transmitting ICH.

Jinhee Oh: Could you tell us more about something new or different in the regulations in comparison to the national law? Moreover, how do you think the regulations may influence the Chinese ICH safeguarding environment at local and national levels in the future?

Zhu Gang: The regulations mention the monitoring of the implementation of safeguarding plans proposed by various bodies. This regulation will have great effects for safeguarding ICH at the municipal and district levels. Relevant mechanisms for evaluating the implementation of safeguarding measures would be established. According to the regulations, if illegal behavior is confirmed through serious evaluation, the included elements could be removed from the representative list or the already identified representative bearers could lose their official titles. This is also something new and different from the national Law.

In general, Beijing Municipal Regulations of Intangible Cultural Heritage are believed to serve  as a solid legal framework for safeguarding ICH in Beijing. Comparing to the national law, it follows the basic principles but is more concrete. In the long run, implementing the regulations would provide valuable lessons for China to elaborate its own version of the 2003 Convention’s Operational Directives.