Mongolian saddle submitted as Chinese cultural heritage



Some time ago it became known that Chinese officials intended to inscribe the Mongolian national music instrument, the morin khuur (horse-headed fiddle), and the national art of singing, khuumii (throat singing), as Chinese cultural heritage on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). After some debate, Mongolia was able to have these items inscribed on the UNESCO list as Mongolian heritage. Recently however, the issue was raised once again when it became known that China has included the Mongolian national horse saddle on a list of cultural heritage of Inner Mongolia, China.


We spoke with the Minister of Culture, Sport and Tourism of Mongolia, Ts.Oyungerel, to get further information on the matter.


-What actions is the ministry is taking on the matter regarding China intending to inscribe the Mongolian national saddle as Inner Mongolian cultural heritage?

-We met with the UNESCO officials a few times and discussed solutions for managing cases in which wealthy countries inscribe their neighboring countries’ cultural heritage to the UNESCO list under their countries’ names.


The officials told us about a UNESCO study conducted over 20 years on the matter. It found that some countries in southern Africa hadn’t inscribed any of their cultural heritage to the UNESCO list, but wealthy neighboring countries had taken advantage of it and had the heritage inscribed under their countries’ names, in great numbers. The study also showed that China has inscribed on the UNESCO list, as its own, the cultural heritage of many of its neighboring countries. Based on the findings of the study, UNESCO changed its rules.


Accordingly, any country willing to inscribe an item of intangible heritage shall now only be able to inscribe one heritage item per year and it must be only its own national heritage. In 2008 China submitted to UNESCO a list of heritage items to inscribe on the UNESCO heritage list over the following 10 years. The Mongolian national saddle was on this list. The list included over 40 items of cultural heritage to be inscribed under Inner Mongolia’s name, and it even included the Mongolian Naadam Celebration of “Three Manly Sports,” which is inscribed as Mongolian intangible cultural heritage. In such ways, many items of Mongolian national heritage are submitted to UNESCO under other countries’ names.


-Then can we understand that China cannot inscribe, as China’s cultural heritage, the Mongolian national saddle?

-China needs 40 years to complete inscribing the heritage on its list. They can’t inscribe the Mongolian saddle in 2013. China will have to choose whether to inscribe its own heritage first or foreign heritage. As UNESCO has changed its rules to prevent countries from inscribing other countries’ heritage, awareness is growing in countries such as Mongolia and southern African countries that many of their national cultural heritage items have been tentatively inscribed in the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list under foreign countries’ names. UNESCO officials have advised us to fully exercise our rights and try our best to inscribe our national heritage before other countries do so.


We are protected by the UNESCO revised rules. Before the amendment, wealthy countries used to establish universities to study foreign heritage. After this they submitted as many as 30 to 40 cultural heritage items to UNESCO, even if those items originated from other countries.


But, at the same time, submission of items to UNESCO, including work such as translating the heritage material into the six official languages of UNESCO, costs a lot, and we also lack professional officials to work on this matter. We must submit to UNESCO a list of Mongolian intangible cultural heritage to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in the next 10 years. If Mongolia and China have any of the same heritage items on their lists, the two countries must sign an agreement. We will also have to explain to UNESCO that the saddle is a part of Mongolian national handicraft art to prevent the saddle being inscribed under the name of Inner Mongolia. Therefore, I will work closely with experts of the Cultural Heritage Division of the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism (MCST) from May onwards.


The process of having intangible heritage inscribed on the UNESCO list has two stages. First, you submit your heritage list [prepared by your country] and after that you advance the next stage of having the heritage inscribed in the UNESCO list. We are thinking of submitting to UNESCO a list including many items of Mongolian national heritage, and are planning to formulate the list soon. We are receiving proposals from the public regarding what heritage must definitely be included in this preliminary list to be sent to UNESCO.


-What is the significance of receiving proposals from citizens?

-We have to understand the inscribing requirements of UNESCO cultural heritage. Any submission of cultural heritage to UNESCO must not be based on a government’s proposal towards its citizens, but on the reverse. The submission can be sent if any citizen proposes to the government that it submit a specific item of cultural heritage to UNESCO on behalf of Mongolia. For instance, if a citizen claims “I make horse saddles and it has been a long tradition of my family, which dates back to my ancestors’ period” and proposes that we submit the saddle to the UNESCO list, it will be much easier to have them inscribed.


Therefore, I am calling on those people who revere our national art of making horse saddles in a unique and distinct manner, and who sincerely wish to inscribe it [the saddle] on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List to urgently submit their requests to the Mongolian government.

-How many items of national cultural heritage of Mongolia have been inscribed on the list?

-In total, 11 heritage items have been inscribed including, khuumii, the Mongolian reed pipe, the folk long song, the morin khuur, etc.


When Mongolia proposed inscribing Burkhan Khaldun Mountain as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the UNESCO officials refused it on the basis that “the Mongolian government seems to issue a lot of orders to protect various places. But they are of no significance if the country’s citizens are unwilling to protect them too.”


I want to say that though the government is expected to work diligently to inscribe our heritage on the list, it is our citizens who must take the greatest share in inscribing our heritage, with pure devotion. The willingness of citizens to inscribe the saddle is the most important step in inscribing it. We need to provide proof to UNESCO that Mongolians make saddles and that many Mongolians currently use them as well.


-What heritage from Mongolia is set to be inscribed in the UNESCO list in 2013?

-We submitted a material to inscribe the Mongolian national calligraphy [script] in the UNESCO list. We are not sure the UNESCO will inscribe it yet, as it must pass many criteria to be inscribed.



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Posted by on Apr 30 2013. Filed under Arts & Culture, Community, Domestic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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