From Chinese opera to Bolivian carnival - International Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention

November 2003 -

At the 32 nd meeting of the Unesco General Conference (29 September-17 October) the member states adopted the Intangible Cultural Heritage Treaty. In this context intangible legacy means oral traditions including the language, as employed in arts such as (music) theatre, rituals, celebrations and traditional craftmanship. The General Conference meets every two years in Paris to draw up the program and budget for the coming two years.

Under the terms of the treaty the member states promise to map out their own country's intangible legacy, to facilitate access to documentation about this legacy, and to inform the populace about this legacy. The member states also want to draw attention to preserving this legacy as a part of technical, artistic and scientific education.

The Chinese Academy of Arts (CAA) immediately set up about fifteen groups of domestic and foreign experts and put them to work inventorying the oral and intangible Chinese culture. A comprehensive database is to be created within five years.

At the international level Unesco has drawn up a list containing the world's most important intangible legacy: The Representative List of Humanity's Intangible Heritage. The purpose of this list is to increase the visibility of the somewhat intangible items of cultural significance, and to serve as a stimulus for organisations who work to preserve this cultural heritage. The list contains such items as the Sicilian puppet theatre, the Korean ritual for royal ancestors, Gregorian polyphonic singing, the Chinese kunqu opera, and the Bolivian Oruro carnival. A list of intangible culture that is in jeopardy of quickly disappearing has also been compiled: The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

The convention is a supplement to the existing treaty that protects material cultural heritage in the country, such as monuments and natural areas, and under water, for example shipwrecks.