UNESCO listed xoan singing as part of the world’s intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent protection in 2011. After four years of being listed as in urgent need of protection, Vietnam last year submitted a report to UNESCO stating that xoan singing has seen a revival thanks to the great efforts made by Phu Tho province.
However, Vietnam is still awaiting guidance from UNESCO as to how to reclassify xoan singing as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
“There are two possible ways forward. One, Vietnam has to submit an application to remove xoan singing from the list of cultural heritage in urgent need of protection, then resubmit to consider xoan singing as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity,” said Pham Sanh Chau, Secretary General of UNESCO Vietnam at a meeting held recently in Hanoi.
“Second, Vietnam simply submits a new document to UNESCO to recognise xoan singing as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.”
Most country members of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage 2003 agreed to support Vietnam in their bid to recognise the folk singing as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity, according to Chau.
At the meeting, experts and scientists discussed how to prepare the new application document for submitting before March 31.
“The National Cultural Heritage Council will organise a permanent session to approve the new document on xoan singing,” said Professor Luu Trau Tieu, chairman of the council.
“The new completed document on xoan singing will be submitted to the relevant Vietnamese bodies before being submitted to UNESCO.”
Xoan singing comes from the northern province of Phu Tho, and is practised in front of communal halls at spring festivals. It is said to have appeared about 4,000 years ago, during the time of legendary Hung Kings.
Xoan singing was organised not only to entertain villagers and to honour the founders of the nation, but also to pray for good weather and harvests, give praise to the landscape, and to depict daily life in rural areas.
Despite an annual performance at the Hung Kings’ Temple festival, xoan singing was at risk of dying out because younger generations had never heard of it.
After being listed as a world’s intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent protection, Phu Tho made great efforts to preserve and revive fold genre of singing.
“The popularity of xoan singing has gone up and down, and was at risk for a while of dying out, but it never faded away completely,” said Ha Ke San, Deputy Chairman of Phu Tho province.
In 2010, there were 13 xoan singing clubs with nearly 300 members in Phu Tho. After a concerted effort, by 2015 there were as many as 30 clubs across the province with 1,000 regular members, and hundreds of others interested in joining.
A number of promotional activities were carried out by elder xoan singers aimed at popularising xoan songs to the younger generations. Between 2012 and 2015, 51 individuals were honoured as Distinguished Xoan Artists.
In 2013, Phu Tho’s People’s Committee prepared a VND165 billion (US$7.85 million) project, entitled “Maintaining and Developing Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity - Xoan Singing in Phu Tho in 2013-20,” funded by the Government.