Schools give student hands-on experience of China's cultural heritage

China Plus Published: 2019-03-14 07:46:32
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Amid the push in China to maintain - and sometimes revive - traditional culture, a growing number of schools are actively promoting intangible cultural heritage education to their students through various courses.

"Paper-cutting, according to dictionary, is one of the most popularized types of traditional Chinese ornament art..."

Yan Xiaoyan teaches a student paper-cutting during an elective class on the traditional art form at the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing on Thursday, March 7, 2019. [Photo: China Plus]

Yan Xiaoyan teaches a student paper-cutting during an elective class on the traditional art form at the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing on Thursday, March 7, 2019. [Photo: China Plus]

A High School affiliated with prestigious Renmin University in Beijing offers an elective for students interested in learning more about the ancient Chinese art of paper-cutting.

Yan Xiaoyan has been given the challenge of trying to teach over 30 teenagers - raised in the cradle of today's most advanced technology - how a simple pair of scissors can create beautiful works of art.

A student practices paper-cutting during an elective class on the traditional art form at the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing on Thursday, March 7, 2019. [Photo: China Plus]

A student practices paper-cutting during an elective class on the traditional art form at the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing on Thursday, March 7, 2019. [Photo: China Plus]

"I find it's not as easy as I thought."

"It's interesting to hear the traditional culture behind paper-cutting. It's funny, and meaningful."

"I wanted to cut the character 'Fu' for good luck during the Spring Festival but didn't know how. After finishing this course, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to do it."

A student displays her paper-cutting of the traditional Chinese ornament design "Double Happiness" during an elective class on paper-cutting at the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing on Thursday, March 7, 2019. [Photo: China Plus]

A student displays her paper-cutting of the traditional Chinese ornament design "Double Happiness" during an elective class on paper-cutting at the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing on Thursday, March 7, 2019. [Photo: China Plus]

Paper-cutting is among roughly a dozen different electives being offered at the Remin-University affiliated high school connected to traditional Chinese culture.

A student happy with his creation in an elective class on paper-cutting at the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing on Thursday, March 7, 2019. [Photo: China Plus]

A student happy with his creation in an elective class on paper-cutting at the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing on Thursday, March 7, 2019. [Photo: China Plus]

Director of academic affairs, Huang Qunfei, says they've structured the classes in a way which gives the students a more rounded understanding of the cultural activities they're taking part in.

"The courses are taught with a lot of activities and exchanges of ideas, because we've found it's easier for young people to learn through experience. However, it's not enough to just sit and learn about cultural heritage in a classroom. We encourage them to learn more about intangible cultural heritage by forming their own student clubs and doing research on their own time," says Huang.

China's Minister of Culture and Tourism Luo Shugang and Deputy Minister Xiang Zhaolun along with officials from the Beijing municipal government visit the booth for the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China during the fourth Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Intangible Cultural Heritage Exhibition. The students were making "Cao's kites" at the event in Beijing in June 2018. Cao's kite is named after Cao Xueqin, the author of Chinese classic "Dream of the Red Chamber". [Photo provided to China Plus]

China's Minister of Culture and Tourism Luo Shugang and Deputy Minister Xiang Zhaolun along with officials from the Beijing municipal government visit the booth for the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China during the fourth Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Intangible Cultural Heritage Exhibition. The students were making "Cao's kites" at the event in Beijing in June 2018. Cao's kite is named after Cao Xueqin, the author of Chinese classic "Dream of the Red Chamber". [Photo provided to China Plus]

The cultural heritage electives at the Renmin University-affiliated High School have also managed to produce tangible benefits for some of their students.

Li Yiran took the paper-cutting course before he graduated, and has put on a number of exhibitions of his work, which he says combines ancient techniques with modern themes.

Paper-cutting works by Li Yiran. [Photo provided to China Plus]

Paper-cutting works by Li Yiran. [Photo provided to China Plus]

"I do paper-cutting based on my own experiences. I joined the dance association in middle school, so I tend to focus a lot on creating dance-related cutouts, because for me, dancing figures are beautiful. I think we need to encourage today's kids to do paper-cutting according to what interests they have in their daily lives," says Li.

Li Yiran shows a Spanish student how to make paper-cutting of the FC Barcelona crest during a group of Spanish students' visit to the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China. [Photo provided to China Plus]

Li Yiran shows a Spanish student how to make paper-cutting of the FC Barcelona crest during a group of Spanish students' visit to the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China. [Photo provided to China Plus]

Beyond passing along cultural knowledge to the younger generation, proponents of cultural heritage education say the programs can also instill a sense of national pride in the students.

Liu Xiya is the headmaster of the Xiejiawan Primary School in Chongqing, as well as a deputy to this year's National People's Congress.

She says she's been trying to educate her fellow lawmakers about the benefits that can be created by teaching cultural heritage to children in their formative years.

Pupils at Xiejiawan Primary School in Chongqing practice Chinese calligraphy. [Photo provided to China Plus]

Pupils at Xiejiawan Primary School in Chongqing practice Chinese calligraphy. [Photo provided to China Plus]

"When children present foreigners gifts they've made with our national characteristics blended into them, the reactions often include surprise, appreciation and even admiration in the eyes of foreign students and teachers. Our children see this, and they develop a sense of pride in being Chinese, and being able to pass along elements of their country to others," says Liu.

And while China's intangible cultural heritage is often steeped in traditions and histories dating back centuries, Liu Xiya says educators should also be embracing what today's China has to offer.

Pupils at Xiejiawan Primary School in Chongqing learn how to make zongzi, the Chinese sticky rice dumplings traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival. [Photo provided to China Plus]

Pupils at Xiejiawan Primary School in Chongqing learn how to make zongzi, the Chinese sticky rice dumplings traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival. [Photo provided to China Plus]

"There are numerous forms and methods that can be taught using modern technology. If we embrace this idea, it gives children a sense that intangible cultural heritage can advance with the times, making it more fun and dynamic to teach and learn. I think our traditional Chinese culture can - and should - be looked upon as fashionable and trendy," says Liu.

Adopting this concept, many of the schools in China which offer ICH courses are trying to use things such as digital documents, virtual reality and even online courses to provide a modern edge to preserving and promoting China's rich and diverse culture.

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