Online platforms connect intangible cultural heritage and modern life in China

By Zheng Haiou, Source: People’s Daily


The burgeoning online platforms in China have brought intangible cultural heritage (ICH) closer to people across the country, especially young people, who watch documentaries about ICH, buy ICH-related products, visit exhibitions of ICH, and enjoy the fun of handicrafts on online platforms.


On June 11, this year’s Cultural and Natural Heritage Day, ICH-themed activities were held across the country under the guidance of China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MCT), during which traditional food, handicrafts, music, among other types of ICH, attracted more people’s attention to and enhanced their knowledge about the colorful ICH-related cultures and distinctive practices in the protection of ICH.


Given their popularity among young people, online platforms were utilized extensively at these events to demonstrate and promote ICH.


In celebration of this year’s Cultural and Natural Heritage Day, a total of over 6,200 ICH-themed activities were held, among which more than 2,400 took place online, according to an official with the ICH department of the MCT.


This year, Chinese short-video sharing platform Douyin launched a thematic activity named “the adventures of intangible cultural heritage”. The online activity attracted many participants, including ICH inheritors, Internet influencers and representatives of ICH associations, who shared stories about ICH, unique ICH techniques, and ICH-related traditional cultures.


During a livestreaming show on Douyin, an inheritor of Kouji (oral stunts), a type of performing art and national-level ICH in China, imitated various sounds with his mouth and received widespread applause from netizens. Some commented that the inheritor himself can function as a dubbing team.


An inheritor of the craft of making wooden combs showed netizens his outstanding skills via online platforms and rose to fame on the Internet.


Video platforms in the country also created a special section for public-benefit resources of ICH-related works, gathering more than 2,300 images and videos of the inheritance of ICH and documentaries about ICH.


Besides getting a better knowledge about the wisdom and skills of ICH inheritors through livestreaming and other online activities, people can also buy ICH-related products via e-commerce platforms to share the fruits of ICH protection.


In an effort to promote the protection of ICH and help ICH inheritors and companies engaged in ICH-related businesses overcome the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for the purpose of winning the battle against poverty, relevant departments and bureaus of China’s MCT, Ministry of Commerce, and the National Rural Revitalization Administration have supported e-commerce platforms in holding an ICH-themed shopping festival on the Cultural and Natural Heritage Day since 2020.


During this year’s online ICH shopping festival, an inheritor of a city-level ICH item, traditional beef cooking techniques of Yilong county, Nanchong city, southwest China’s Sichuan province, introduced special homemade products to Internet users via livestreaming. The livestreaming show attracted nearly 22.47 million viewers and helped sell 8.36 million yuan (about $1.24 million) worth of products within one day.


Tapping into the influence of the ICH shopping festival, the local governments have ramped up efforts to promote the development of beef-related industries. Four beef processing companies, four beef cattle production bases, and a Sichuan pepper production base have been set up in the locality, helping 375 people from 137 families shake off poverty and enjoy prosperity.


Other provinces have also taken measures to stimulate the consumption of ICH-related products during the online ICH shopping festival. Focusing efforts on Internet-famous ICH inheritors, Zhejiang province in eastern China has encouraged ICH-related businesses to increase their online popularity by inviting netizens to virtual tours of their stores through livestreaming. In north China’s Hebei province, citizens were offered high discounts, more than 100 types of goods, and offline experience activities and were encouraged to go shopping for ICH-related products and take part in ICH-themed activities near their homes.


As an important event held on China’s Cultural and Natural Heritage Day, ICH shopping festival aims to consolidate the results of poverty alleviation and facilitate rural revitalization. It has attracted more than 7,500 stores and online e-commerce platforms selling ICH products and covered over 4,000 ICH items. The diversified activities held during the ICH shopping festival across the country have yielded important social and economic benefits.


“Over the past two years, ICH shopping festival has become a popular signature event for boosting cultural consumption. It can not only promote the inheritance of ICH, but also increase the respect and appreciation for the wisdom and talents of ICH inheritors and help people develop a stronger sense of cultural identity,” said an official with the ICH department of the MCT.


China sees a growing trend toward ICH’s integration with the Internet. While the emergence of online platforms and the rapid development of livestreaming shows have explored new channels for the promotion and sale of ICH products and effectively increased the income of ICH inheritors, various types of ICH products, such as food, artworks, and shows, are becoming an increasingly important part of people’s life.


In recent years, many ICH items which used to be neglected have started to gain increasing popularity in the country. At the same time, a good number of young people have not only become fans of ICH, but voluntarily joined the efforts to protect and inherit ICH and buy ICH products.


Thanks to these positive changes, China’s centuries-old ICH is brimming with renewed vitality and vigor in the modern world.