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China's cultural renaissance inspires lawmakers, advisors
Last Updated: 2017-03-07 00:22 | Xinhua
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It's Sunday morning. In a square near Shanghai central library, a line of people snakes past an A-board upon which is written: Estimated Waiting Time - 9 Hours.

At the end of the line is an unpretentious pavilion set up by the crew of popular TV show "The Readers."

From March 4-7, the crew are recording people reading, quite literally, anything they like for three minutes.

Aired on national broadcaster China Central Television since last month, "The Readers" features both public figures and ordinary people simply reading a piece of work they have chosen themselves. It has been described as "a breath of fresh air".

It is not exactly the first of its kind. "The China Poetry Competition" consisted of little more than a televised cavalcade of ordinary (and a few extraordinary) people reciting classic Chinese poems. "Letters Alive" invited celebrities to read letters written by historical figures. Both aired earlier this year, both were astonishingly popular.

These shows have genuinely touched the hearts, not only of the viewing public, but also of attendees at the "Two Sessions," China's ongoing annual legislative and political consultative meetings.

A QUESTION OF CONFIDENCE

Traditional culture is often thought to be fading away with the development of a modern Chinese society devoted to consumerism and prosperity. But the popularity of these shows is part of renaissance of a deep-rooted philosophy.

When "The China Poetry Competition" found such unexpected success, historian Meng Man, presenter of the show, said the core reason for its popularity was that Chinese people retain a strong emotionally attachment to poetry, and to oral culture in general.

Love of the spoken word is deeply written in the Chinese soul. On any late night trip in a Beijing taxi, the driver is just as likely to be listening to a classical monologue or recitation as to tinny house music or patriotic songs.

Yao Xiaoying, a National People's Congress (NPC) deputy agrees with Meng. "Our traditional culture is part of what makes us Chinese and has never died."

Neglected by many during decades of diverse social development, traditional culture is regaining its former footing as China becomes more important and influential in the world and people seek their true identity, Yao said.

In fact, these programs are not the first evidence of a rejuvenated culture reaching out to the public consciousness in recent years.

Last year, documentary "Masters in the Forbidden City" brought the painstaking work of restorers in Beijing's Palace Museum into homes across the nation. Work on the priceless collection of antiques and historical relics is endless, and the show was watched by millions online. The sumptuous celebration of Chinese cuisine "A Bite of China" became something of national and international sensation, not merely reminding people of the food their grandmothers once cooked, but inspiring many to spend less time swiping up fast food deliveries on their smartphones and to return to their kitchens and start banging their forgotten woks.

"There is a lot to explore in Chinese culture, and popular TV shows have boosted the cultural confidence of the public, giving them a new sense of identity," said political advisor Gao Hongbo.

TIMELESS JOY

Such has been the success of economic development in the country, that people now have both time and energy to draw breath and reconsider what truly makes them who they are, and what makes China the nation it is.

In February, the Ministry of Culture released a guideline on cultural development reform during the 13th Five-Year Plan period from 2016 to 2020. The document demands more rich and diverse cultural products of higher quality, wider coverage of public events and a stronger focus on the traditional skills, events and activities which, for hundreds or even thousands of years, have defined China.

Hit TV shows are regarded as just one way to expand the reach of China's traditions, especially to those younger people who have grown up in circumstances which are often greatly removed, in both time and space, from their cultural roots.

Tsinghua University's Yin Hong believes that innovative content and form has helped raise culture awareness among the public. Many of these traditional practices exist for one reason alone: to entertain people. They should never be seen as cultural artifacts, but must be relevant, full of life and bring joy to participants and observers alike.

NPC deputy Gao Yijin says it is the role of the media to fairly present the importance and beauty of Chinese culture and to make sure that public realize its true value.

Despite the current rise of traditional culture, many at the Two Sessions hope for greater depth to the renaissance that can only be achieved through education.

Schools have already shifted toward greater cultural content in their curricula, such as classical literature, festivals, drama, dance and song. However, Minister of Education Chen Baosheng expects more to be done.

Addressing the media during the Two Sessions, Chen said traditions need to be integrated into textbooks and to be taught and celebrated from primary school until college and beyond.

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