August 11, 2008

In Touch With the Intangible in China’s Olympics Green (1)

In touch with the intangible in China's Olympics Green (1) By Yang Jianxiang, Xinhua writer

BEIJING, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) -- You can buy a brightly-colored mask, with its exaggerated expression, at any souvenir shop here. It can become a child's toy or a decoration in your home, a souvenir of your trip.

But you might want to know more about its origin, use, meaning and production. The answers lie in history, technique and artistry. The mask is material, the answers are not. They comprise China's intangible cultural heritage.

And how do you find out? Ask the seller, perhaps, or visit a library. Even then, you could have more questions. But if you visit Beijing these days, it's all there, courtesy of the Olympics.

Visitors to the Olympic Green central zone will find some 30 small cabins. They're draped in white cloth, with peaked blue and yellow roofs that signify "the Lucky Cloud". In the center there's the image of a red lantern marked "Beijing 2008" and the phrase "China Story" in Chinese and English. Many cabins bear the names and images of their home regions. Inside, each is unique. The governments of the participating regions are all eager to show off the best of their intangible culture.

"The selection was strict," said Olympics' Cultural Activity Division chief Wang Pingjiu. The local sponsors submitted nominations, which were scrutinized by experts before the managers gave final approval.

The selection isn't meant to be totally representative of Chinese culture. "It's a small-scale show, selective but excellent," said Wang. The goal is to give visitors at least one lasting memory for each region.

In the Chongqing Municipality exhibit, visitors will get a variety of images. Ther's Chuanjiang Haozi, for example, which is a high-pitched tune sung by the leaders of boats working the Sichuan section of the Yangtze River. There are images of Sichuan Opera and of Liangping wood carving, which is famed for New Year wood-block prints. And sugar art yields images of the natural and imagined worlds, such as birds, animals, flowers and clouds in melted brown sugar.

The drums and trumpets on display in the Chongqing cabin can be found elsewhere in China, but the music played with them -- available at the push of a button -- is unique to the region.

Collectively, the China Story is richly varied, a feast of folk art from all corners of the country, produced by various ethnic groups. Here you may see the shadow puppet show from Shaanxi; hear the horse-headed fiddle music from the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, see the daring Wuqiao acrobatics from Hebei; view the Wudangshan Taoist Temple Kungfu from Hubei; savor the technique of making Pu'er tea from Yunnan; listen to Muqam team music from Xinjiang or Hua'er folk songs from Ningxia; and admire Thangka paintings from Tibet or crystalline Liuli artifacts from Taiwan.

The organizers tried to avoid clutter and provide many ways of telling the story: words and pictures, audio, video, real objects, narration in Chinese and English and live performances.

The performers are all the real thing. Among them is Wu Xiulan, 65, reputed to be the only living woman boat-tracker leader in Sichuan.

In the Beijing cabin, there are seven of the capital's eight specialties. One display involves the making of Kongzhu or diabolo, a pin-shaped fitness toy usually made of bamboo and wood. You play with these by making them spin, using a thin rope attached on the ends to two short rods.

A craftsman can play the diabolo using intricate moves. Spectators can have a try. But don't expect success with five tiny black wood diabolos in the image of the Fuwa dolls, the Olympics mascots. They were specially made for the Games and require a master's skills to play. (more)

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