2 February 2012
Deputy Secretary-General

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

At Celebration of China’s Rich Cultural Heritage, Deputy Secretary-General


Highlights Urgency of Safeguarding World’s Astonishing Cultural Diversity


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks at an event showcasing China’s intangible cultural heritage, in New York on 1 February:

It is a pleasure to welcome you to the United Nations.

I bring you warm greetings from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  He is away from Headquarters on official business, but he wanted me to convey to you his very best wishes and his gratitude to all the artists and organizers who have worked so hard to make this evening possible.

You all know the Secretary-General as the leader of this great Organization.  What you may not know is that he is also taking lessons in one of the cultural practices being celebrated here tonight: calligraphy.

Yes, that’s right, he is taking lessons from Professor Zhou Bin, a master calligrapher.  He says calligraphy brings him great peace of mind.  And to learn his brushstrokes, the Secretary-General chose to use the characters that stand for a word that lies at the heart of the United Nations: peace.

When we speak about cultural heritage, most often we think of monuments, buildings, sites and objects of the kind enshrined on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, whose fortieth anniversary we celebrate this year.  We think of the outstanding universal value of these sites and their archaeological, scientific, ethnological or anthropological significance.

But what about story-telling, traditional lore, performing arts, rituals, knowledge of nature and the universe, and other such phenomena?

These may be more subtle and at times quite elusive, but they are no less worthy of recognition expressions of the human spirit.

That is why, in 2003, UNESCO adopted the landmark Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.  It is why we continue to identify and inventory examples of this heritage.  It is why we make every effort to ensure its viability by its continuous transmission from one generation to another.  And it is why we are determined to raise awareness about intangible cultural heritage, especially given the fragility of so much of it.

This list of elements in need of urgent safeguarding ranges from weaving in the United Arab Emirates to sung prayers among Peru’s indigenous people, and from story-telling in Iran to dance in Indonesia.

China’s intangible cultural heritage is similarly wide-ranging.  It includes shadow puppetry and paper-cuts, acupuncture and the Peking Opera, the design of wooden arch bridges and the watertight technology used on ships, and much more.

Tonight, we will see some wonderful examples of the country’s riches.  I hope you come away with a new appreciation for the world’s astonishing cultural diversity — and a sense of urgency about safeguarding it, not just for its own sake, but for the contribution it can make to building a peaceful, harmonious future for all.

Tonight's event is an early treat in the Year of the Dragon.  Thank you all for coming, and enjoy the show.

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For information media • not an official record