China’s Tibetan medicinal bathing beats out India to UNESCO status

Source:Xinhua-Global Times Published: 2018/11/29 17:18:40

Tibetans soak in a hot spring in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region. Photo: Courtesy of China Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Center



 A professor teaches a class on traditional Tibetan medicine Photo: Courtesy of China Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Center



The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) inscribed on Wednesday China's Lum medicinal bathing of Sowa Rigpa on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The decision was announced during the 13th session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage held from Monday to Saturday in Port Louis, Mauritius.

Sowa Rigpa (Tibetan Medicine) is the knowledge and practices concerning life, health and illness prevention and treatment among the Tibetan people in China.

Speaking after the decision to inscribe this intangible cultural heritage on the list, Chinese Vice Minister of Culture and Tourism Zhang Xu said that Lum medicinal bathing of Sowa Rigpa has an important bearing on the everyday life of people of the Tibetan ethnic group.

"This heritage not only embodies the folk experience in disease prevention and treatment, it also represents an inheritance and development of the traditional Tibetan medicine theories in modern health practices," Zhang said.

According to reports, India also sought UNESCO recognition for the entirety of the Sowa Rigpa tradition alongside China's bid.

The Indian Express on April 12, 2017, quoted a senior official in India's Union Ministry of Culture saying that the country submitted an application dossier for Sowa-Rigpa that it had been working on for many years to UNESCO for consideration.

While it seems India's bid has proved unsuccessful this year, on the UNESCO site India is still listed as hoping to bid again in 2019. 

Zhong Gejia, vice president of the Beijing Tibetan Hospital of China Tibetology Research Center, told tibet.cn that since its very embryonic stages to today's fast developing phase, Tibetan medicine has been centered in Tibetan areas in China.

In Tibetan, "Lum" refers to the traditional knowledge and practices of bathing in natural hot springs, herbal water or steam to adjust the balance of mind and body so as to ensure one's good health or treat illnesses.

The Lum Medicinal Bathing of Sowa Rigpa has been developed by the Tibetan people with a life view based on Jungwa-nga, the five elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Space, and a view about health and illness. 

The knowledge and practices are widely distributed in areas inhabited by Tibetans in China's Tibet Autonomous Region as well as provinces including Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan, according to China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism. 

Zhong also said that based on local Tibetan medical practices, Tibetan medicine also absorbed part of Indian Ayurveda theories as well as the theories of traditional Chinese medicine.

Approved by the State Council of the Chinese government, Lum medicinal bathing of Sowa Rigpa was included in the National List of Representative Elements of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2008 and 2014.

A five-year preservation plan (2019-23) has been drawn up on the basis of a monitoring system so as to ensure coordinated safeguarding and development of the Tibetan tradition. Measures include special vocational training and increasing youth's awareness on preservation through compilation of primary and secondary school textbooks on related knowledge.

With the inscription of the Lum medicinal bathing of Sowa Rigpa, China now has 40 inscribed elements in total on relevant UNESCO lists, including 32 elements inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, seven elements inscribed on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, and one program selected to the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices.

During the session of the intergovernmental committee, 40 requests for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity are being examined. Another seven elements are proposed for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.


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