Shanghai academy adapts and innovates to train ICH talents

China's long-standing culture is not only embodied in books and cultural relics, but also in forms of intangible cultural heritage(ICH) that have been passed down from generation to generation. Data from the nation's official ICH website shows that China now has over 1,550 forms of national-level intangible cultural heritage. The country has given top priority to the preservation of ICH and many Chinese academic institutions like the Shanghai Art & Design Academy are taking on the responsibility of nurturing more professionals in this area.


"Many of the intangible cultural heritage skills require personal instruction and demonstration, so it is difficult to carry out large-scale training. Instead, we adopt a small-scale mentorship approach for inheritance and learning," said Song Lei, president of the Shanghai-based higher vocational institute.

The academy has established more than 40 master studios. "We select outstanding graduates from our academy and extend their education by one to two years. The masters provide one-on-one mentorship to the students. This will further promote the inheritance of intangible cultural heritage skills," Song added.

Cultural heritage extends beyond tangible artifacts. It encompasses the traditions and living expressions inherited from our ancestors that continue to be passed on to future generations. "We not only teach students the skills of intangible cultural heritage, but also impart the culture and values behind the skills to them. At the same time, we hope that they can innovate by combining modern lifestyles and knowledge structures," as Zhang Li, a teacher of the Jewelry Design and Crafts major at the academy, put it.

Intangible cultural heritage needs not only inheritance but also development. The academy integrates ICH with modern techniques across different disciplines. One highlight is the "Traditional Opera Simulation Performance System" project. It utilizes AI-powered digital human technology to present traditional Chinese Kunqu Opera. The system allows users to virtually dress up in Kunqu costumes and their expressions and movements are captured and displayed on a virtual stage.

By the end of 2022, 43 items from China were inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, keeping it at the forefront of enlisted countries globally.

Filled with a passion for traditional Chinese craftsmanship, this latest generation of ICH inheritors has taken on the responsibility not just to become artists in their own right, but also to pass on their techniques and understanding of the art to more young people in the classroom.

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