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Chinese intangible cultural heritage adapts, thrives in modern times

People's Daily Online| Updated: June 28, 2023 L M S

Chinese intangible cultural heritage (ICH) products are becoming mainstream, merging with modern life through systematic protection, creative transformation and development. Chinese ICH products are becoming increasingly more fashionable thanks to their fusion with cultural and creative products, TV and films, short videos and new technologies.

The rise of guochao, a fashion trend melding modern designs with traditional Chinese cultural elements, has pushed ICH-themed cultural and creative products into the limelight, especially among young Chinese people.

According to an industry report on ICH consumption in 2022, there were 32,853 ICH-related stores on the leading Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao last year, up 9.5 percent from 2020. Meanwhile, the transaction volume of ICH-related products increased by 11.6 percent from 2020. Consumers of ICH-related products now exceed 100 million, with younger generations, particularly those born after 1990 and 2000, becoming the leading consumer group.


The upper part of this combo photo shows a model presenting cosmetics products of the Chinese beauty brand Huaxizi, or Florasis in English, during the New York Fashion Week in New York, U.S., while the lower part shows the brand's cosmetic products. (Photo/People's Daily Overseas Edition)

Chinese beauty brand Huaxizi, or Florasis in English, is among the entities leveraging this trend. It has launched numerous cosmetics products featuring traditional Chinese crafts, which have not only gained popularity among young Chinese women but also in mature cosmetic markets such as North America, Japan and Europe.

Similarly, China's sportswear giant Li Ning has rolled out several product series featuring ICH elements in recent years. For example, a series of products combining the traditional handicraft of blue calico with street fashion has garnered considerable attention from young consumers.

Chinese time-honored brand enterprises are essential vehicles for promoting ICH. Of the 1,128 time-honored brands recognized by the Ministry of Commerce, 822 feature ICH elements.

These enterprises are cultivating new consumption scenarios, infusing their brands with fresh vitality. Tong Ren Tang, China's largest producer of traditional Chinese medicine, has made strides with young consumers through its cafes, which offer drinks and healthcare services. The company has opened 11 stores in Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Chengdu, providing a variety of coffee drinks infused with herbs such as wolfberries.

The influence of ICH is also seen in the media. Variety shows that explore the depth of Chinese civilization and the preservation of ICH, such as "National Treasure," along with TV dramas that showcase ICH, like "The Longest Day in Chang'an" and "Meet Yourself," have become immensely popular in China.

To celebrate this year's Qingming Festival, or Tomb-Sweeping Day, a traditional Chinese festival in which people honor their ancestors, Henan TV aired the program "Adventures on Qingming Festival 2023," continuing its Chinese festival series. The show featured various elements of ICH, including the qipao, a traditional Chinese dress for women, showcased in the women's group dance "Lyrical Life in Spring Days." Additionally, the program highlighted Hami Muqam, a traditional folk-music genre from northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The recently released Chinese drama "Hi Producer," centered around China's ICH, delves into various aspects of cultural relics and traditional crafts. Its exploration of bronzeware, porcelain and UNESCO-listed kesi, a traditional silk tapestry weaving technique, has captivated viewers.

TV shows and films have played a vital role in spreading knowledge about ICH and increasing its popularity.

"Documentaries, variety shows, TV dramas and films have expanded the realm of artistic expression for ICH through bold endeavors," remarked Sun Jiashan, an associate research fellow of the Chinese National Academy of Arts.

More importantly, Sun emphasized that the profound artistic endeavors behind these mediums have delivered exceptional audio-visual experiences. In a subtle manner, they have introduced the beauty of traditional Chinese culture to young people, playing an integral part in effectively protecting and inheriting ICH, Sun added.

In recent years, new technologies and media have significantly contributed to the widespread dissemination of ICH.

The number of short video users in China exceeded 1 billion as of December 2022, accounting for 94.8 percent of all internet users, according to an audio-visual industry report released in March 2023.

As short video platforms continue to rise in popularity, many ICH inheritors have started hosting livestreaming shows to exhibit cultural heritage and sell ICH-related products.


A photo shows video content about the techniques of making Hangzhou fans on the Chinese short video platform Douyin. (Photo/People's Daily Overseas Edition)

Data reveals that in 2021, clips uploaded to the Chinese short video platform Douyin featured 99.42 percent of China's 1,557 national ICH projects. Throughout the year, videos related to national ICH programs on the platform garnered over 372.6 billion views and received 9.4 billion likes. Moreover, ICH-related vloggers conducted an average of 1,617 livestreaming shows each day.

In addition to short videos and livestreaming shows, online games have emerged as an important platform for ICH. For instance, the Chinese-made game "Honor of Kings" incorporates ICH elements, enabling more young people to experience the allure of traditional Chinese culture.

Meanwhile, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) - a unique form of digital asset on the blockchain - have played a prominent role in digitizing ICH since 2021. It has been reported that approximately 4.56 million ICH-related NFTs were sold in China in 2021, with a total value of more than 150 million yuan ($20 million). Notably, guochao ICH digital collectibles frequently sold out within seconds, showcasing the enthusiasm of young people for ICH digital products.

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