A cultural heritage is a legacy that includes both the tangible and intangible attributes of a culture. Intangible aspects include folklore, traditions, and language, while tangible ones can be exemplified by historic buildings, monuments, museums, archaeological sites, collections of art, and more. This heritage is a source of pride for communities and their citizens. It also demonstrates how history has shaped modern society and provides an invaluable link to the past. Unfortunately, cultural heritage often faces threats from both benign neglect and devastating events like natural disasters. It can also be affected by social persecution and armed conflict, as we see with the destruction of manuscripts in Timbuktu, the blowing up of Palmyra’s ancient temples, and the Myanmar government’s persecution of Rohingya and Chinese government’s repression of Uighurs and Tibetans.
Aside from its esthetic value, cultural preservation is also an economic asset for many communities. It generates considerable income from tourism and spawns related artisanal, design, fashion, culinary arts, and performing arts enterprises. It is also an important component of economic development, particularly for underdeveloped or post-disaster areas. Moreover, the jobs created by cultural heritage institutions and programs usually provide opportunities to people in the lowest socioeconomic brackets. In turn, this reduces poverty and helps the community in general. It also boosts local economy and makes a place more attractive, creating a magnet for tourists and visitors who want to learn about the heritage site’s culture and its rich history.
In addition, it promotes local economies by attracting businesses and investors who can create new job opportunities, including training for apprentices. As a result, it has been shown that cultural heritage is one of the most effective tools in reducing poverty and advancing socioeconomic development in developing countries. As an example, a rural village in Shixia, China, has seen a major economic boost due to its annual dramatic festival that showcases traditional Chinese opera. This has helped revitalize the town, encourages people who left to pursue other careers to return, and has provided extra income for the community.
While it is easy to become discouraged when faced with the latest report of a cultural heritage being destroyed or sold on the black market, the fact is that there are things each individual can do to help preserve and protect our culture’s heritage. One way is to refuse to buy items from illegal resale websites or questionable auctions. Another is to support cultural heritage organizations through membership or participation in outreach programs. Lastly, individuals can support governmental and non-governmental agencies by interfacing with them to advocate on behalf of our culture, whether it is in the form of petitions or awareness campaigns.