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November 7, 2010

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Qiang New Year's Fest in Sichuan

THE Qiang New Year's Festival in late autumn is an occasion for the Qiang people of Sichuan Province to offer thanks to heaven and pray for prosperity and a good harvest.

The festival is held on the first day of the tenth lunar month (late November, early December on the solar calendar).

The activities reaffirm the people's harmonious and respectful relationship with nature and promote social and family harmony.

The ritual sacrifice of a goat to the mountain and various deities is performed by villagers clad in their finest ceremonial dress, under the direction of a shibi (priest). This is followed by communal sheepskin-drum and salang dances, led by the shibi.

The festivities combine merrymaking with the chanting of traditional Qiang epics by the shibi, singing and wine drinking.

At the end of the day, the heads of families preside over family worship that includes sacrifices and offerings. Through the festival, Qiang traditions and cultural information are reaffirmed and passed on, including respect for all creatures, ancestors and the motherland.

Participation in the festival has declined in recent years due to migration, declining interest in Qiang heritage among young people and the impact of outside cultures. The 2008 Sichuan earthquake destroyed many Qiang villages and put the New Year's festival at grave risk. Efforts to sustain the festival include State financial assistance to the shibis, enabling them to transmit knowledge and traditions. State funding has also financed reconstruction of stone villages, stone towers and other sites associated with the festival and Qiang cultural heritage.

In June 2008, upon approval from China's State Council, the Qiang New Year's Festival was included in the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage administered by the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture.

In 2009, UNESCO listed the festival as a world intangible cultural heritage needing emergent protection.

(UNESCO website)


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