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Linking preservation of intangible cultural heritage with socio-economic development in Vietnam today
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Illustration photo. Photo: VNA

A treasure of rich and diverse intangible cultural heritage

Cultural heritage of each nation contains values of cultural creativity, objective manifestations of historical traditions and national characteristics. Preservation of heritage is one of the activities associated with the protection and promotion of national identity, and the development of the future of each nation built upon linkages of the past and present.

In the process of formation and development, the Vietnamese ethnic community has constantly created and left behind a treasure of unique and diverse cultural heritage. These crystallized values have been handed down, inherited and reproduced by generation until today. In addition to tangible cultural heritage - vivid physical vestiges, Vietnam's cultural heritage also includes intangible cultural heritage of which spiritual products are the core and basic elements, expressing the creativity and cultural identity of Vietnam.

The treasure of intangible cultural heritage contains knowledge and experience of the Vietnamese ethnic community, showing the relationship between nature and human beings and between human beings. In addition to undeniable spiritual values, such as patriotism, solidarity, industriousness, intangible cultural heritage is also manifested in various aspects, such as customs, habits, languages, scripts, folk literature, traditional art forms, dances, music, folk songs, festivals, handicrafts, methods and remedies, culinary, traditional costumes of different ethnicities in the territory of Vietnam.

For thousands of years, as cultural creators, the Vietnamese ethnic community has attached great importance to preserving and disseminating quintessence and unique values of Vietnamese cultural heritage. Inheriting the tradition of the ancestors, the Party, Government and people of Vietnam have paid great attention to preservation of cultural heritage, including intangible and tangible cultural heritage, considering it as one of the central tasks not only of the culture sector but also the common responsibility of the entire Party and people in the cause of national construction and defense.

However, due to its fundamental characteristics, some kinds of intangible cultural heritage are likely to fall into oblivion, distorted and affected by socio-economic impacts. Therefore, in parallel with the protection and promotion of tangible cultural heritage, the State has studied and implemented mechanisms and policies to enhance discovery, protection and promotion of the intangible cultural heritage.

In the period of 1975-1985, the collection, documentation (taking note, photography, and filmmaking) and publication of monographs of intangible cultural heritage in Vietnam were conducted. Since 1985, actions have been taken to achieve the fourth objective of the "National Target Program on Culture,” which is collection, preservation and promotion of intangible culture heritage, resulting in renewal in both quantity and quality, and using modern audio-visual equipment in cooperation with other countries in the region.

In recent years, the protection and promotion of intangible cultural heritage have undergone fundamental reforms due to the impact of social perception and the way to organize research, discovery, inscription and promotion of intangible cultural heritage. The basis of these fundamental changes is the renewal of cultural lines and policy of the Communist Party of Vietnam, especially the Specialized Resolution on culture of the 5th Plenum of the Party Central Committee, 8th Tenure and UNESCO’s influence through the implementation of the Convention on the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

Obviously, the Resolution of the 5th Plenum of the Party Central Committee, 8th Tenure "On building and developing an advanced culture of Vietnam imbued with national identity" created a turning point in thinking and theory, contributing to orienting the country's cultural activities in the period of industrialization, modernization and international integration. This important resolution defines that culture, in a broad sense, does not only include art and literature but also the building of a cultural environment, education and training, science-technology development, culture of ethnic minorities, cultural policy towards religion, preservation and promotion of tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

Deliberating upon Vietnamese cultural lines in the renewal period, this Resolution defines the importance of culture and cultural heritage in the process of socio-economic development of the country, considering culture as a foundation for economic development; culture is both the objective and a driving force for socio-economic development. The important position of cultural heritage is well defined; cultural heritage is an invaluable asset that links the ethnic community, the core of national identity, the basis for creation of new values and cultural exchange. Importance must be given to conservation, inheritance and promotion of traditional cultural values (scholar and folk culture), revolutionary culture, both tangible and intangible, study and education of national ethic bequeathed by our ancestors. Therefore, the basic directions to protect and promote the values of heritage are to appreciate, preserve and promote traditional values, build and develop new values in culture, literature and arts of ethnic minorities, and preserve and develop languages and script of ethnicities.

On the other hand, as a member state of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for many years, Vietnam has been actively involved in close and effective collaboration with the international community in cultural heritage preservation.

Achievements in the protection and promotion of intangible cultural heritage, contributing to socio-economic development in Vietnam

Under the leadership of the Party, the development and implementation of mechanisms and policies on preservation of cultural heritage in general and intangible cultural heritage in particular have made very encouraging achievements in Vietnam.

In general, as a result of studying and disseminating the Resolution of the 5th Plenum of the Central Committee, 8th Tenure, the Resolution of the 9th Plenum, 11th Tenure and the basic contents of the Law on Cultural Heritage, management cadres at all levels and people have raised their awareness about the important role of cultural heritage in general and intangible cultural heritage in particular. At the same time, we have been actively implementing mechanisms and policies to harness the potential of heritage for socio-economic development.

Hundreds of programs, projects and action plans on preservation of intangible cultural heritage, including many intersectoral programs, have been implemented. In addition, hundreds of projects on studying, collection and documentation of intangible cultural heritage have also been carried out with the coordination and linkage in almost all most provinces and cities throughout the country with local budget or mobilized funds.

Inventory in order to identify intangible cultural heritage as a basis for linking conservation and promotion of cultural heritage with socio-economic development has obtained encouraging results. To date, all 63 provinces and cities have carried out the task and identified nearly 60,000 intangible cultural heritage of different types. This creates a basis for selecting outstanding heritage for preparation of nomination profile to the National Intangible Cultural Heritage List and facilitate the development and implementation of projects on sustainable tourism.

Up to now, 191 heritage of all seven types of intangible cultural heritage of ethnic groups living in all parts of the country are included in the National Intangible Cultural Heritage List by the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Specifically, by the end of 2016, 11 outstanding intangible cultural heritage of Vietnam were inscribed in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

Mechanisms and policy aiming to honor creators who master and transmit cultural heritage have been finalized in various forms, such as coordination with ministries to develop and implement Decree No. 62/2014/ND-CP issued by the Government on 25 June 2014 on Regulations on Awarding the title of "People's Artisans" and "Meritorious Artisans" in the field of cultural heritage and Protocol No.109/2015/ND-CP issued by the Government on 28 October 2015 on Support for People’s Artisans, and Meritorious Artisans having low income, in difficult situation to honor outstanding artisans in the field of intangible cultural heritage in Vietnam. Through the first round of award in 2015, 617 individuals were presented with the title of Meritorious Artisans by the State President. Seven of them, having low income in difficult situation, were entitled to assistance as regulated. In addition, intangible cultural heritage transmissions and training have been organized in many localities with excellent artisans as trainers to learners from all walks of life and ages.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has coordinated with the Ministry of Education and Training, the Central Committee of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union have paid attention to training and building lifestyle, ethics and good personality to young generation taking into account intangible cultural heritage values in schools and cultural institutions such as museums, cultural centers, and library. Mechanism and policies to promote heritage for tourism development have been developed and realized.

Cultural heritage in general, intangible cultural heritage in particular is special tourism resources, the foundation for tourism economy and has been harnessed as one of the key economic resources. It is noteworthy that the rich and diverse cultural treasure of Vietnam concentrates as clusters in the Northern Delta and the Mekong Delta, in the northern mountainous area and the Central Highlands, along the trans-Vietnam highway near big cities and important international border gates, creating favorable conditions for the formation and organization of tourism centers in Vietnam. For this reason, Vietnam’s cultural heritage in general and intangible cultural heritage in particular has become one of the important tourist resources for tourism development in recent years.

In general, encouraging achievements have been made in the protection and promotion of Vietnam’s cultural heritage. Many traditional industries and handicrafts have not only recovered but also have been developing strongly. Many traditional folk festivals have been reinstated and become unique traditional cultural activities, meeting the indispensable spiritual needs, contributing to enrich the spiritual life of the people. At the same time, they have made important contributions to effective tourism business and development.

In recent years, under the impact of the market mechanism and massive investment of many domestic and foreign organizations and individuals, quite a number of intangible cultural heritage have changed or been deformed. On the other hand, in the past time, although policies and measures have been issued by the State to preserve heritage, they have not been systematic resulting in limited usefulness. These constraints are also caused by the lack of synchronicity and ineffective state management of all levels and sectors. Therefore, in addition to undeniable achievements to honor and promote intangible cultural heritage, it is necessary to frankly acknowledge the fact that there are still many shortcomings and limitations in the development and implementation of mechanisms and policies in this area. Awareness of the significance of heritage and the responsibility of the entire society for cultural heritage are low. Challenges are facing several heritage. The relation between conservation and development, between modernization, urbanization and preservation of heritage has not been settled. Programs of action to protect and promote the values of UNESCO-inscribed heritage has not been seriously implemented to serve socio-economic development. Valuable intangible cultural heritage runs the risk of falling into oblivion due to lack of research and protection.

Socio-economic development, especially the process of modernization, rapid urbanization and tourism development, has rapidly transformed labor structure, industry, occupation, and population resulting in social changes as well as impact on people’s lifestyle, way of thinking, traditional culture, heritage space and deforming heritage. Even some sensitive intangible cultural heritage can face depletion or disappearance.

In addition, inventory and documentation for protection have not been fully accounted for languages, scripts, folk knowledge, and social customs of different ethnicities. The State allocation and social investment funds for the preservation and promotion of intangible cultural heritage have fallen short of actual demand. Lack of guidance and management of the State in socialization of cultural activities has deviated heritage protection, leading to heritage abuse to practice superstition. Policies towards artisans and artists have been issued, but not implemented in time, particularly the policy towards outstanding artisans who master, protect and promote outstanding traditional intangible cultural heritage. The capacity of staffs in the management and preservation of the intangible cultural heritage in general and UNESCO-inscribed the intangible cultural heritage in particular is limited.

Enhancing the protection and promotion of intangible cultural heritage for the sake of sustainable development

In the coming time, to strengthen the protection and promotion of intangible cultural heritage in Vietnam, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism must concentrate all efforts and resources to renovate organization and implementation of protection and promotion of heritage under the guidance of the Party and State leading organizations in coordination with ministries, branches and localities and the support of the entire Party and people. Solutions to be implemented synchronously and efficiently include:

First of all, thoroughly grasp the content of Resolution No. 33/NQ-TW on 9 June 2014 of the 9th Plenum of the Central Committee, 11th Tenure "On building and developing the culture and people of Vietnam to meet the requirements of sustainable development of the country," so that culture really becomes the spiritual foundation of society, and a driving force for socio-economic sustainable development. This is a very important basis to continue developing and implementing mechanisms and policies in line with the protection and promotion of intangible cultural heritage in Vietnam in the current situation.

Second, increase coordination for unified, synchronous and intersectoral development of plans to implement the Strategy on Cultural Development of Vietnam to 2020, continue to study and initiate appropriate forms and measures to protect and effectively promote Vietnamese cultural heritage.

Third, strengthen linkages among managers-scientists-educators-economists; or cultural, economic, and tourism activities to protect and promote intangible cultural heritage.

Fourth, continue to build and expand the network of organizations, clubs, outstanding artisans, and researchers of intangible cultural heritage in regions, and inter-regions or throughout the country to exchange and share experience in identification, protection and promotion of intangible cultural heritage.

Fifth, maintain and develop combined measures and forms of transmitting intangible cultural heritage. Beside direct transmission in the family and the community in the form of "predecessors hand down to successors,” it is necessary to encourage other forms of transmission such as performance, display, exhibition, or other public space and events (in museums, heritage site, fairs or other tourism and trade activities).

Sixth, step up the work of training human resources for protection of cultural heritage and tour guides who are qualified and have deep knowledge about cultural heritage.

Seven, complete the organizational and staffing of cultural heritage sector from the central to grassroots levels, to not only limit and overcome current shortcomings and constraints but also improve quality, qualification, capacity and skills for public employees and civil servants.

Eight, continue to maintain and expand international cooperation on cultural heritage in general and protect and promote intangible cultural heritage in particular to introduce and inscribe heritage and facilitate exchange and learning from international friends.

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Source: This article was published on Communist Review No. 892 (February 2017)

Nguyen Ngoc Thien, PhDMember of the Party Central Committee, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism