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UPDATED: September 6, 2010 NO. 33 AUGUST 19, 2004
Chinese Heritage

Many may not consider the history and value of things like the abacus, compass and oil lamp. But they were tools to count, get round and see in the dark before electronic calculators, radars and light bulbs. Liao Junqiao, Executive President of the World Chinese Entrepreneurs General Association (WCEGA), has coined the phrase "Chinese Heritage" and established a committee for the promotion and protection of antiquated Chinese technologies and cultural artifacts. During an exclusive interview with Beijing Review reporter Chen Wen, Liao explained the concept in detail.

Beijing Review: Could you expound on the concept of "Chinese Heritage"?

Liao Junqiao: When I say "Chinese Heritage" I refer to those tangible and intangible culture- and idea-carriers of Chinese people around the world. They bear historic and national characteristics.

What makes it different from "China's Heritage"?

"Chinese Heritage" has a broader connotation in terms of geography and artifacts. You know, Chinese heritages are found not only in China, but also around the whole world. There are many kinds of Chinese heritages, no matter how big or small, tangible or intangible. For example, Chinatowns, gradually established by overseas Chinese in the United States and other countries, have recorded the history of Chinese development in foreign countries. So they are important parts of "Chinese Heritage."

Why did you establish a Chinese Heritage Committee under the WCEGA?

Well, first, I think it has something to do with my personal experience. I majored in Chinese language and culture. And I have special interest in the study of cultures. For the past decade, I've been to lots of countries and regions and I'm very impressed by the Chinese culture overseas Chinese have kept. Historic culture is an important part of China and the world. It's necessary to know and protect those historic heritages.

The United Nations World Heritage Committee provides funds and helps countries protect heritages that are on the list of world heritages. But it also stipulates that a country, regardless of its area, history and population, can nominate only one or two heritage sites to the United Nations. This is not good enough for China, a big country with a long history, to develop and protect all of its cultural heritage.

We know that developing and protecting heritage require lots of money and human resources. The WCEGA has the ability to organize and provide capital for those projects. And what's more important is that we're willing to do so, as we do cherish our Chinese culture. So we have established the Chinese Heritage Committee to be engaged in the development and protection of Chinese heritage.

Can you give some examples of what you consider part of the "Chinese Heritage"?

We have a very detailed classification about the heritage. I can name some: natural ecologies, including forests, waterfalls, grasslands, rare plants, etc.; artificial ecologies, including farmland, temples, castles, etc.; daily-use articles for ancient emperors, folk art, military weapons, articles for merchants, like the abacus, and so on. I cannot name all of them in a short time, as there are so many.

Why do you think it's the time to make more people aware of "Chinese Heritage"?

Because we realize that if we continue to pay little attention to historic heritages, we'll suffer from irrecoverable losses. There are quite a lot of real estate developers who pursue economic benefits at the cost of historic sites. Once destroyed, these sites will be almost impossible to recover. Besides this, there are some unseen rare cultural heritages, mainly handed down verbally. Without much economic return, less people are willing to spread their culture. If there is no organization investing in the promotion of this kind of cultural heritage, it may gradually disappear.

The old generation of Chinese entrepreneurs took with them quite a lot of things with special Chinese characteristics as they went to other countries. As time goes by, more and more old overseas Chinese entrepreneurs pass away. I'm afraid that much of their culture may also disappear. I feel a sense of crisis. And I would like to call on the new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs, in China and abroad, to do something to protect our Chinese heritage.

What's your plan to carry out the project?

You know, this is a systematic work. First, we want to establish a comprehensive definition of "Chinese Heritage" as guidance. This will include classification of artifacts, values, etc. It will be in accordance with both the UN's system of world heritage and China's heritage system. We have invited experts from universities and institutions to work on this. I expect that this will be completed in two years.

We have detailed projects. We'll start with tangible heritages and work toward intangible ones, from small ones to large ones and from those in China to those in other countries, step by step. We plan to commercialize these heritages.

They can be used for tourism, exhibition, film production and so on. Take exhibition as an example. We exhibit those heritages so that more people will know them and enjoy them. By doing this, we also bring economic benefit, which, in turn, can be used in preserving the heritages. These two aspects facilitate one another.

Does the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) accept your "Chinese Heritage" concept and plan?

I'm preparing to submit our plan to [UN] Secretary General Kofi Annan during the 56th annual NGO conference, which is to be held in September.

Do you think that it will be accepted?

Sure. I'm confident of that. The system of "Chinese Heritage" with which we are now working is based on the UN's system of world heritage. But we have made it more detailed. I think the Chinese heritage is an important supplement to the United Nation's world heritage.

You attended the 28th Session of the World Heritage Committee in Suzhou as an observer. Could you comment on the conference?

UNESCO has played a key role in the development and protection of world heritages. You know, those heritages have their unique cultural and historic values to humankind, but those values need to be found, developed and, of course, protected. UNESCO is engaged in this and its work has won support and cooperation from governments, scholars and ordinary people in every country.

I was impressed by the rich discussion, incisive opinions and efficiency of the conference. Through this meeting, I learned the exact procedures, characteristics and goals of the World Heritage Committee. That's also one of the reasons that I decided to establish the project of "Chinese Heritage," following the model of the World Heritage Committee.

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