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China: Law on Intangible Cultural Heritage Adopted

(Mar. 2, 2011) On February 25, 2011, China's National People's Congress Standing Committee adopted a law on intangible cultural heritage (ICH) designed to preserve traditions considered to have historic, literary, artistic, or scientific value, including those traditions of the various minority ethnic groups in the country. It also extends protection to material objects and physical locations that are connected with ICH. Under the law's provisions, the State Council and provincial governments are directed to list ICH items in their jurisdictions and improve protection of those items. For ethnic minority regions and remote or impoverished areas, the national government will aid local authorities in protection efforts. In addition, the law promotes the transmission of ICH traditions to new generations through training of personnel and funding of special programs for those designated as “heirs” to ICH. (China Adopts First Law for Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection, ENGLISH NEWS.CN (Feb. 25, 2011).)

In addition to oral traditions and performances, ICH is defined to include crafts, medicine, and folk customs. It is the first legislation to cover ICH and went through three revisions before passage. It will come into force on June 1 of this year. Wang Wenzhang, the Vice Minister of Culture, commented on the new law, stating, “[i]t is a milestone for the country's ICH protection efforts.” He also praised another aspect of the law, that of promoting the use of ICH. He stated that some use is “a kind of productive protection for ICH,” and helps to transmit the traditions. (Id.)

Foreigners will need approval from at least the provincial-level authorities before they can conduct surveys involving ICH. Such research must be done in cooperation with Chinese research institutions, and reports must be made on the results. Copies of field notes and pictures must also be submitted to provincial cultural authorities. The previous draft of the law had only required official approval for the research. Individual foreigners who violate the rules may be subject to a fine of from 10,000 to 50,000 yuan (about US$1,500-$7,600), while for foreign organizations the fine may be ten times those amounts. (Id.; China Mulls Intangible Cultural Heritage Law, GLOBAL TIMES (Feb. 24, 2011).)