Cultural Protection and Development in Xinjiang

Updated: Sep 16, 2019 Print
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IV. Protecting and Carrying Forward Cultural Heritage

Xinjiang is a region rich in cultural heritage. The central government and the local government of Xinjiang have made a continuous effort to strengthen the legal system for the protection of the region’s cultural heritage. The Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics and the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Intangible Cultural Heritage provide important legal protection for the diverse cultural heritage of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang.

Protection of cultural heritage yields results. Xinjiang has formed a cultural heritage protection network comprising 189 institutions at all levels. The region has completed three surveys on fixed national cultural relics and one on movable national cultural relics, forming a comprehensive database. By the end of 2017 Xinjiang had 9,542 cultural heritage sites, of which six were World Heritage sites, 113 were key national sites, and 558 were at the autonomous-region level. Xinjiang’s cultural heritage system contains 93 public museums, including two national first-grade museums – the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Museum and the Turpan Museum, with a collection of 450,000 items.

Xinjiang has made great headway in protecting its historical and cultural cities, towns, villages and localities. The region now has five cities, three towns, four villages, and two localities that have been recognized as state-level historical and cultural divisions, as well as 17 traditional Chinese villages and 22 ethnic-minority villages with cultural significance. Over the years, the Chinese government has supported the repair and conservation of many cultural heritage sites, such as the Gaochang Ancient City Ruins, Beiting Ancient City Ruins, and new and old Huiyuan Ancient City, while rescuing and restoring more than 3,000 rare cultural relics.

Archeological findings attract wide attention. By the end of 2017 eight archeological programs, including the Niya Ruins in Minfeng County, Yingpan Cemetery in Yuli County, Xiaohe Cemetery in Ruoqiang County, 3rd-4th century brick graves in Kucha County, Dongheigou Ruins in Barkol County, and the Tongtiandong Cave in Jeminay County, had been listed among the National Top 10 Archeological Discoveries of the Year. The arm protector with the inscriptions of “Five stars appear in the East, sign of Chinese victory over the Qiang” and the silk quilt with inscriptions of “Marriages between princes and dukes bring prosperity to their posterity” unearthed from the Niya Ruins are national treasures.

Protection of ancient books has been strengthened. Xinjiang has set up a leading group and office in charge of the classification and publishing of the autonomous region’s ancient books, an ancient books preservation center, an ancient books restoration center, and a repository for ancient books and special collections of ethnic minorities. In 2011 the region’s Ancient Books Preservation Center started its first survey of ancient books, registering important and rare volumes and recording their content, physical condition, and preservation requirements. This was the first of several such surveys. By the end the 2017 the center had examined 14,980 books. Ancient books in its collection are written in 19 languages and 28 scripts, and fall into three language families: the Chinese language family (Chinese, Tangut, and Khitan scripts), the Aramaic family (more than 10 scripts, including the Kharosthi, Pahlavi, Manichaean, and Huihu scripts), and the Brahmi family (Sanskrit, Tocharian, Khotanese, and Tubo scripts). These books cover a wide range of subjects, including politics, the economy, society, religions, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and the arts. Digitalization of ancient books and related work are further strengthened.

The Chinese government has supported the translation, editing and publishing into Chinese and Uygur languages of Kutadgu Bilig (Wisdom of Fortune and Joy) and A Comprehensive Turki Dictionary, two works of the Karahan Kingdom period in the 11th century. The government has also organized experts in ancient books to carry out research and provide expertise in this field, and helped to arrange exchanges between Chinese and foreign professionals, researchers, and administrators engaged in the preservation of ancient books. In 2011 the Ministry of Culture and the local government of Xinjiang co-hosted an exhibition, titled “Recovered Treasures from the Western Regions: Progress in Preserving Xinjiang’s Historical Literature and Ancient Books”. More than half of the ancient books displayed at the exhibition were the only copies extant. This achievement was acclaimed by the widest range of interested parties.

Intangible cultural heritage is effectively protected. Under the guiding principle of giving priority to both preservation and restoration, and pursuing sound utilization and development, the policy and legislation for protecting intangible cultural heritage have been strengthened. In 2008 the Regulations of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on the Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage were enacted. In 2010 the Regulations of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on the Protection of Uygur Muqam Arts were promulgated and put into force. In addition, Xinjiang has introduced a number of rules for protecting its intangible cultural heritage, which provide institutional guarantees for rescuing and preserving this heritage in a coordinated and systematic manner.

In 1951 and 1954 the central government made recordings of the music of the Twelve Muqams to rescue the Muqam arts. Since the 1960s, firm funding and manpower support from the government has enabled the publication of works of folk literature, including the Kirgiz epic Manas and Mongolian epic Jangar. The Collection of Chinese Ethnic and Folk Dances (Xinjiang Volume), Collection of Chinese Folk Songs (Xinjiang Volume), and Collection of Chinese Folk Tales (Xinjiang Volume) have been compiled and published to introduce the folk music, dances, drama and other arts of the region.

The program for protecting and preserving Xinjiang’s intangible cultural heritage as part of the initiative to promote Chinese cultural traditions is well under way. By the end of 2017, to rescue and preserve its intangible cultural heritage, Xinjiang had completed the recording of intangible cultural items presented by 23 state-level representative trustees in the form of written texts, images, audios and videos. Furthermore, the region had established three state-level demonstration bases that produce Uygur musical instruments, carpets and Etles silk for the preservation of these intangible cultural items. In addition, the region had set up 91 autonomous-region level bases for preserving and handing down its intangible cultural heritage.

Uygur Muqam of Xinjiang and the Kirgiz epic Manas were registered on the “UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”, and Uygur Meshrep on the “List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding”. Xinjiang has 83 items on the national representative list of intangible cultural heritage and 294 items on the autonomous-region list, as well as 112 state-level representative trustees and 403 autonomous-region representative trustees of its intangible cultural heritage.

Folk cultures are respected and preserved. Xinjiang embraces cultural diversity and inclusiveness, and upholds mutual learning among cultures. The region fully respects and protects folk cultures, thus realizing the harmonious coexistence of different cultures and enabling the effective protection and preservation of the best traditions of all ethnic groups. All people in Xinjiang have the right to observe their own statutory festivals such as the Spring Festival, Qingming Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, Ramadan, and Corban. They celebrate the festivals in many forms, such as playing music, dancing, and holding traditional sports events. Among popular folk festivals are the Han people’s Lantern Festival, the Uygur’s Meshrep, the Kazak’s Aytes, the Kirgiz’s Kobuz Ballad Singing Fair, the Mongolian Nadam Fair, and the Hui people’s Hua’er Folk Song Festival. The local government promotes mutual respect for folkways among all ethnic groups while encouraging appropriate and healthy lifestyles, wedding and funeral practices, and customs and rituals.

V. Constant Development of Cultural Undertakings and the Cultural Industry

The core of cultural development is to satisfy people’s cultural and intellectual needs. The Chinese government has given steady support to Xinjiang in its efforts to improve the quality of public cultural services, promote progress in literary and artistic creation and the press and publishing, strengthen the cultural industry, protect citizens’ cultural rights, and enrich the cultural life of all ethnic groups. The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Protection of Public Cultural Service, Law of the People’s Republic of China on Public Libraries, and Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Promotion of the Film Industry among others have served as important legal guarantee to protect the basic cultural needs of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, provide them with public cultural services and promote the development of its cultural industry.

The quality of public cultural services is improving. In 1955, there were only 425 sports venues and one public library in Xinjiang. With the massive support of the central government, successive cultural projects have been launched in Xinjiang such as “conservation and renovation project of county-level cultural centers and libraries”, “cultural information sharing project” and “township cultural centers project”. By the end of 2017, Xinjiang had 112 public libraries, 173 museums and memorial halls, 57 art galleries, 119 cultural centers, 12,158 cultural stations, 302 radio and television stations (covering 97.1 percent and 97.4 percent of the population, respectively), and 29,600 sports venues, representing a comparatively complete public cultural service system at all levels.

Xinjiang has made efforts to ensure equal access to public cultural services for both urban and rural residents. Public cultural facilities such as cultural centers, libraries, museums and cultural stations are open to the public for free. The radio and television network covers almost every household. Movie projection is available in all administrative villages. Theatrical performances of various types are given in impoverished villages with the support of government funds. A reading campaign is encouraged by ensuring full coverage of rural libraries over all administrative villages. By the end of 2017, 13 sports meetings, eight traditional ethnic minority sports meetings, five games for senior citizens and six games for disabled people had been held in Xinjiang. Fitness projects for farmers and herdsmen cover all villages. Gym equipment of all sorts is available even in remote villages. Rich and interesting sports events and fitness activities are popular with people of all ethnic groups.

Literary, artistic creation, press and publishing are booming. A variety of brilliant works of literature and art created in Xinjiang demonstrate the glamour of Chinese culture. The following have all won national prizes such as the Best Works Award, Lu Xun Literary Prize, China Movie Awards, and the first prize in International Acrobatic Festival:

•Soldiers from the Snow Mountain (novel),

•Holy Mountain (poetry anthology),

•In Xinjiang (collection of prose writings),

•Western China: Literary Writing in Remote Provinces (collection of literary review),

•Praying on Plateau, Chinese Mourning Day on May 19th (oil painting),

•Braving the Storm (photography),

•Grand Bazaar (drama),

•Dance Steps in the Sun and Young Blood in Gobi Desert (dance drama),

•A Uygur Mother and Visitors on the Icy Mountain (musical),

•Hello, Advanti (musical and acrobatic drama),

•My Parents Stationing and Reclaiming Wasteland in Xinjiang (song),

•A Nuclear Scientist’s Story in the Desert (radio play),

•The Great River, Flower, Genuine Love, Life and Death in Lop Nor, Taklimakan’s Drumbeat (movie).

•Travel of Life (acrobatic show),

•Somersault on Balance Beam (acrobatic show).

In 2006, Xinjiang Radio, Film and Television Translation and Production Center was set up, establishing branches in 11 prefectures, Yining City, Shache, Kucha and Yutian counties. Currently, about 6,200 episodes of translated ethnic film and television programs are being produced every year. There were only two newspapers in Xinjiang before the founding of the People’s Republic of China. But by the end of 2017, Xinjiang had 126 newspapers, 223 periodicals, and publishes around 10,000 titles of books, audio and video products and electronic publications every year.

Strength in cultural, sports and ethnic medicine industries is growing. At present, Xinjiang has over 10,000 cultural companies covering press, publishing and distribution, radio, film and television, performances, entertainment, games, cultural tourism, arts and crafts, artwork, animation, cultural exhibitions, innovation design and digital cultural services. By the end of 2017, there were six model bases for cultural industries at national level, 109 at autonomous region level, 11 government-approved animation companies, 20 cultural industry parks, 12 national 5A tourist attractions and 17,000 tourist guides. The added value of the cultural and tourist industries is growing every year.

A group of professional sports clubs have been set up, with sports competitions and sports show flourishing. The Taklimakan Rally is a commercial success and China Basketball Association (CBA) in Xinjiang is doing well. The sports leisure market is maturing as demonstrated by the success of the China International Camping Congress, International Desert Cross Rally, Aydingkol Motorcycle Rally, and Sayram Bicycle Rally. Huge potential is also apparent in horseracing, winter sports and aviation sports.

Xinjiang has formed a complete industrial system of medicine and health covering Chinese medicine (including ethnic medicine), hospital-made preparations, foods (including health foods), medical equipment, and packaging for medicines. Among ethnic medicines, many Uygur medicines, Kazak medicines, and Mongolian medicines – boasting a long history and regarded as cultural treasures – have been categorized under national standards or included in national standardization research projects. The sales of ethnic medicines in Xinjiang’s pharmaceutical industry are increasing year by year, and ethnic medicine companies are expanding sales not only in domestic markets, but also in neighboring countries and regions as an effort to enter the international markets.

Internet culture develops rapidly. The rapid development of the internet in China has made it the new space for people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang to study, work and live, and a new platform to access public services. By the end of 2017, Xinjiang had 11,520 registered websites, 5.7 million fixed broadband subscribers, and 18.56 million mobile internet users. The subscribers on the official WeChat platform “Last Kilometer” extend across all provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the central government and dozens of countries and regions. Over 30 internet cultural projects such as “making a good netizen”, “Etles Silk from Tianshan to the World” and “video programs on ethnic solidarity” launched more than 7,000 online cultural activities across Xinjiang. In 2017, online retail sales to Xinjiang consumers reached 56.91 billion yuan, an increase of 29.8 percent over 2016. The prosperity of Xinjiang’s internet culture helps to foster healthy social morals.

VI. Active Cultural Exchanges with Other Countries

Xinjiang has been an important gateway for China’s civilization to open to the West, and has played a significant role in cultural communication and mutual learning between East and West. Supported by the central government, Xinjiang has created a framework of cultural exchanges with other countries in all sectors and at all levels.

Xinjiang participates in international cultural exchanges and cooperation in various forms. Xinjiang International Ethnic Dance Festival, Chinese and Foreign Culture Week of China-Eurasia Expo, and Publishing Expo have become branded cultural exchange projects of considerable international influence. Since 2009, Xinjiang has held seven China International Youth Arts festivals, inviting more than 2,330 young people representing 119 art troupes from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan of Central Asia and Russia, Mongolia, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Thailand, the Republic of Korea and Azerbaijan. From 2012 to 2017, Xinjiang has held seven seminars for directors of media from countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt, inviting directors of more than 100 media from 25 countries to Xinjiang on study, communication and visits.

In recent years, Xinjiang has been active in building the core area along the Silk Road Economic Belt, strengthening cultural and scientific and technological exchanges with countries along the Belt. In 2016, it hosted the scientific and technological cooperation forum of the Fifth China-Eurasia Expo, inviting 154 guests from more than 30 countries and international organizations. Xinjiang has built 12 state-level bases for international sci-tech cooperation, launching cooperation and exchanges with more than 30 countries and regions and 10 international organizations and research institutes in such fields as agriculture, resources and the environment, processing of agricultural products, astronomy, coal chemicals, bio-medicine, and energy.

It has steadily implemented the “Study-in-China” initiative, gradually increasing scholarships for outstanding students from countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt. Institutions of higher learning in Xinjiang engage in active international exchanges and cooperation, and their foreign students are growing in number and their teaching quality is much improved. From 1985 to 2017, colleges and universities of Xinjiang enrolled 50,000 foreign students.

With its particular strength in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), including Uygur and Kazak medicine, Xinjiang plans to establish Chinese-foreign institutions of traditional Chinese medicine and worked to establish a system of international medical services for TCM including ethnic minority medicine, attracting more and more patients from neighboring countries. From 2015 to 2017, five hospitals in Urumqi began to offer international medical services, accepting 17,000 foreign patients in total. Xinjiang has held a series of high-level sports events, attracting numerous international athletes and sports fans.

Xinjiang presents different ethnic cultures to foreign countries. Since the late 20th century, quality exhibitions of Xinjiang cultural relics, such as the “Exhibition of Ancient Silk Road Cultural Relics of Xinjiang” and “Secrets of the Silk Road – Exhibition of Xinjiang Cultural Relics”, have been held in Japan, the United States, Germany, the Republic of Korea, and some other countries. Some of Xinjiang’s intangible cultural heritage items have been presented in performances or exhibitions in the UN headquarters, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, and in those countries adjacent to Xinjiang. In recent years, cultural communication events such as “Experiencing Xinjiang – Cultural Exploration of Xinjiang, West China”, “Xinjiang Cultural Exchange Forum”, and “Xinjiang Culture Week” have been held in the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Brunei, and Laos. Xinjiang has also sent several delegations on behalf of China to attend the World Nomad Games on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, strengthening sports exchanges and cooperation with other member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.


The Chinese culture was created, carried forward and developed by all ethnic groups of China, and is a bond of ethnic unity and national unification. Facts have proven that ethnic cultures of Xinjiang are components of the Chinese culture, which is always the emotional attachment and spiritual home for all ethnic people in Xinjiang, as well as the dynamic source for the development of ethnic cultures.

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, Chinese president and chairman of the Central Military Commission, pointed out: “Since its founding, the Communist Party of China has actively guided and promoted China’s advanced culture while keeping China’s fine traditional culture alive and strong. Today, we Chinese Communists and the Chinese people should and can shoulder our new cultural mission, make cultural creations through practice, and promote cultural advancement along with the progress of history.” Today, under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping as the core, the Chinese nation has marched into a new era and onto a new journey. On the stage of cultural exchanges and integration, people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang should and can shoulder their new cultural mission to create a new boom in cultural creations and make new developments along with cultural progress.

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