Bai Choi singing wins UNESCO recognition

Bai Choi singing, a folk music genre practised in Vietnam’s central region, has been added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, according to the Department of Cultural Heritage under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Bai choi is often seen at local spring festivals and resembles a game, using playing cards and village huts. (Source: VNA)

Bai choi is often seen at local spring festivals and resembles a game, using playing cards and village huts. (Source: VNA)

The recognition was made during the 12th session of the UNESCO Inter-governmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Jeju, the Republic of Korea (RoK), on December 7.
With the recognition, Bai Choi singing has become the 10th Vietnamese heritage honoured as representative cultural heritage of humanity.
The committee considered 35 nominations for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, including Bai Choi, and six nominations for inclusion on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
Xoan singing, another form of Vietnamese folk music, is expected to be removed from the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding and added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Bai Choi signing was highly valued by 24 members of the committee.
The folk singing genre is popular in the central provinces of Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua Thien-Hue, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen and Khanh Hoa, and Da Nang city.
Bai choi is often seen at local spring festivals and resembles a game, using playing cards and village huts.
The stage for Bai choi performances encompasses nine cottages, each containing five or six ‘players’. One of the cottages, the central house, contains a troupe of musicians and instruments. A deck of playing cards is split in half, with one stack distributed amongst the players, and the other placed in the central house. The cards are stuck onto bamboo poles and erected outside the cottages.
The game singer delivers a flag to each cottage, all the while singing Bai choi, and then draws a card from the central house. Whoever holds the card closest in value to the game singer’s card wins.
The Bai choi songs are about festivals, daily life and work, and are accompanied by musical instruments.
The game and songs were developed by Mandarin Dao Duy Tu (1572-1634) to help locals protect their crops.
According to the Inter-governmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Bai Choi is an important cultural activity in Vietnamese villages and communes, meeting the demand for entertainment and arts of the community.
Bai Choi songs are moral lessons, demonstrating patriotism, connectivity in the community and living experience of people.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism recognised Bai Choi as national intangible cultural heritage during 2014-2016.
Apart from Bai Choi, the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity includes other eight Vietnamese heritages – the traditional practice of “Tho Mau Tam Phu” (Worship of Mother Goddesses), tug-of-war game, which is also played in Cambodia, the RoK and the Philippines, Nghe Tinh province’s Vi-Giam folk singing, Don ca tai tu (amateur singing in southern Vietnam), Hung King worship ritual, Giong festival and Soc temples in Hanoi, Bac Ninh province’s Quan ho (love duet singing), the space of Gong culture in the Central Highlands and Hue's royal court music.

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