Qiang New Year festival

Inscribed in 2009 (4.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

Country(ies): China



Qiang New Year festival

The Qiang New Year Festival, held on the first day of the tenth lunar month, is an occasion for the Qiang people of China’s Sichuan Province to offer thanks and worship to heaven for prosperity, reaffirm their harmonious and respectful relationship with nature, and promote social and family harmony. The solemn ritual sacrifice of a goat to the mountain is performed by villagers clad in their finest ceremonial dress, under the careful direction of a shibi (priest). This is followed by the communal sheepskin-drum and salang dances, led by the shibi. The ensuing festivities combine merrymaking with the chanting of traditional Qiang epics by the shibi, singing and the drinking of wine. At the end of the day the heads of families preside over family worship during which sacrifices and offerings are made. Through the festival, Qiang traditions distilling history and cultural information are renewed and diffused, and social behaviours are reinforced, the community expressing respect and worship towards all creatures, the motherland and their ancestors. Participation in the festival has declined in recent years due to migration, declining interest in Qiang heritage among the young and the impact of outside cultures, but the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that destroyed many of the Qiang villages and devastated the region put the New Year festival at grave risk.


Decision 4.COM 14.02

The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, as follows:

  • U1: The Qiang New Year festival provides a crucial venue for community members to express respect and appreciation for the core transmitters of Qiang traditional culture, family elders and shibi, and for them in turn to teach youth about the central features of Qiang heritage; the collective feasting, music making, dancing and singing are ways for communities to develop solidarity and share common values;
  • U2: Despite the importance of this ritual as a symbol of Qiang identity, the festival’s viability is seriously threatened by modernization and globalization of rural areas that has generated a large youth migration, aggravated by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake where many shibis passed away, the stone villages and stone towers essential to the festival were destroyed or seriously damaged, and community life was severely disrupted;
  • U3: Safeguarding measures designed to sustain the festival include State financial assistance to representative inheritors, the shibis, to make it possible for them to transmit their traditional knowledge to young people, and the reconstruction of stone villages, stone towers and other traditional sites associated with the festival, linked to the transmission of the history and cultural heritage of the Qiang;
  • U4: National and provincial authorities have committed themselves to create favourable conditions to revitalize the Qiang New Year festival and have gained the enthusiastic support of Qiang communities, whose representatives provided free, prior and informed consent to the present nomination;
  • U5: In June 2008, upon approval of China’s State Council, the Qiang New Year festival was included in the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage administered by the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture, following its inclusion on the Prefectural Cultural Intangible Heritage List in 2006 and the Intangible Cultural Heritage List of Sichuan Province in 2007.



© 2009 Culture Department of Sichuan Province

These videos (and many more) can also be consulted through the UNESCO Archives Multimedia website