Xinhua Headlines: Preserving Xinjiang’s cultural heritage, the young take relay


* More Chinese youngsters are carrying on the heritage of traditional arts and techniques.

* Traditional arts and techniques help younger generation gain economic benefits.

* Xinjiang takes multiple measures to strengthen the protection and inheritance of its intangible cultural heritage.

URUMQI, May 15 (Xinhua) — With his target in sight, Zhao Hu pulled the string of a traditional bow. The arrow hit the bull’s eye and was followed by a roaring cheer from the audience.

They were cheering not only for Zhao’s skill, but also for the bow, hand-made by the 31-year-old archer of Xibe ethnic group.

“I love making bows and arrows, as my hometown has a long tradition of archery,” said Zhao, who works as a guide in a museum in Qapqal Xibe Autonomous County of northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

A fashion designer, he became fascinated with archery, a tradition of his ethnic group: the Xibe people used bows and arrows as hunting weapons long before archery became a sport.

In 2019, he returned to Qapqal, where many local archers have won medals in major competitions at home and abroad. He started systematically learning from his father Xibe ethnic bow- and arrow-making, which was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in 2008.

Zhao was not alone.

According to Zhou Qingfu, head of the Chinese National Academy of Arts, an increasing number of young people are carrying on the heritage of traditional arts and techniques.

“The traditional arts and techniques, through which it is viable to gain economic benefits, are highly relevant with activities of the younger generation,” he said.

This photo taken via a mobile phone shows Zhao Hu pulling the string of a traditional bow he made in a museum in Qapqal Xibe Autonomous County of northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, April 4, 2023. (Xinhua/Zhao Chenjie)


Talking about his experience of learning bow- and arrow-making, Zhao said: “keep trying, constantly failing, and progress inch by inch.”

The process of making traditional bows is complicated, using more than 10 types of materials and dozens of tools. One needs to go through cutting, grinding, shaping, gluing, painting and other procedures before a bow takes shape.

Zhao noted that in the past, limited by materials, tools and weather conditions, it could take as long as a year to make a bow. Machines and tools have now shortened the production process, but bow-making is still anything but easy.

“Before a bow is made I sometimes have to fail twice,” he said, adding that success was gained through experience.

After five years of study, Zhao has become an adept craftsman. He has now taken on another role: a guide of the bow and arrow museum in Qapqal. He started a bow-making workshop inside the museum to give lessons to local primary and middle school students.

“Within a 45-minute session, students can fit together the half-finished parts to produce a bow and try it themselves on the archery field,” he said.

This photo taken via a mobile phone shows visitors selecting cultural and creative products in the Xinjiang pavilion during the 2nd China (Wuhan) Culture and Tourism Expo in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, April 20, 2023. (Xinhua)

Gao Juntao, vice president of the federation of literary and art circles in Qapqal, said: “We provide Zhao with a venue to design, produce, perform and exhibit bows and arrows, so that the visitors can thoroughly learn about the Xibe culture.”

China has been supporting the establishment of intangible cultural heritage workshops in recent years, a move encouraged by a document jointly released at the end of 2021 by three government departments including the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Xinjiang now boasts 120 regional-level intangible cultural heritage protection and inheritance bases, six Uygur Muqam art inheritance centers, and 10 inheritance centers for other types of art.


An iconic form of intangible cultural heritage in Xinjiang is Muqam, which means classical music in the Uygur language. A traditional art of the Uygur ethnic group, it integrates songs, dances, and folk and classical music. In 2005, the Xinjiang Uygur Muqam Arts of China was approved by the UNESCO as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”

Wang Jiangjiang, 38, has been engaged in documenting and recording intangible cultural heritage in Xinjiang for 13 years. He said it was a predestined fate for him to come to the region from his hometown in Hebei Province, nearly 3,000 km away, to witness Muqam and other cultural features.

Wang Jiangjiang (2nd L) poses for photos with Uygur folk artists in Makit County, Kashgar Prefecture, northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, in October 2021. (Xinhua)

“The first time I heard and watched this impassioned performance, I was fascinated by the unpredictable melody and the passionate performers. Thus, I hoped to learn more about this art,” he said.

With curiosity and passion, Wang arrived in southern Xinjiang in 2010, where he befriended local people and learned the Uygur language.

Gradually, he became aware of a problem: most of the video documentaries of Muqam were about group performances, rather than individual artists.

“Without musical scores, people only learned the art orally and seldom could one sing the entire piece,” he said. “At the time, most of the Muqam artists in Xinjiang were very old, so I had the idea to ‘retain’ them through video, pictures and sound.”

In 2017, Wang began to document inheritors of intangible cultural heritage in Shache County in Kashgar Prefecture, using video cameras to digitize their art, and recorded 318 folk artists over six months.

“There was only one college student who helped me back then. Now we have a team and have established a studio,” he said.

This photo taken via a mobile phone shows Wang Jiangjiang (2nd L, front) and his team recording a performance by Uygur artists in Turpan, northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, March 23, 2023. (Xinhua/Zhou Ye)

Starting in 2020, with the support of the regional government, Wang and his team began to re-record Muqam art in a more detailed and in-depth way. Currently, 45 varieties of Muqam and oral biographies of 77 Muqam inheritors have been completed. They have traveled to over 300 villages and towns in Xinjiang and formed a “resume” for Muqam art through videos, photos, sounds and biographies.

Apart from Muqam, Wang and his team are also recording other art forms of intangible cultural heritage in Xinjiang like songs and dances, and have collected the information of over 2,000 folk artists from different ethnic groups.

“The records can provide inspiration for musicians, which could also be used for future generations to study and spread our culture and art,” he said.


While people like Wang are busy recording the old art forms, some others are injecting vitality to the traditional arts with creative cultural products or livestreaming.

Cui Yang is founder of the Onetone designing firm. Their poster series combining the exhibits from the Museum of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and the 24 traditional Chinese solar terms won a national design award earlier this year.

This aerial photo shows Cui Yang (C, back row), founder of the Onetone designing firm, and his team in Urumqi, northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Aug. 26, 2021. (Xinhua)

Cui noted that Onetone has some 30 employees with an average age of 28, while their museum counterpart consists of 12 people, almost all of whom are from the post-90s generation.

“Our cultural relics should not only be preserved in the museums, but also brought to the young people in creative ways, so that they could easily learn the culture behind them and spread them on social media,” he said.

Guan Yi who is in charge of the museum’s cultural and creative products development, said: “Giving full play to our professional advantages, we excavate stories behind the culture relics.”

The museum also hosted various events to bring the intangible cultural heritage to visitors, including shadow puppetry, paper-cutting and calligraphy.

“Trying to revive the ancient people’s daily life, this sounds probably romantic to the Chinese people today,” said Guan. (Video reporters: Zhang Xiaocheng; video editors: Liu Xiaorui, Zhang Yuhong, Zheng Xin)■

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