The UNESCO International Youth Forum Took Place in Changsha and Quanzhou, China

The UNESCO International Youth Forum: Creativity and Heritage along the Silk Road, took place in Changsha and Quanzhou, China, from 17 to 22 April 2017. The Forum aimed to provide young women and men from the 65 countries along the Silk Road with the opportunity to experience first-hand the power of culture, in its various manifestations – creative industries, traditions, arts and crafts, museums, heritage sites, and others – to promote human dignity, understanding between peoples, peaceful coexistence, and sustainable development.
The Forum was divided into 2 sessions, with discussions and experiences dedicated to creativity being hosted for the first 3 days by Changsha City, and with heritage-related exchanges and field visits taking place in historic Quanzhou City for the remaining days. It counted on the presence of 81 international delegates from 74 countries (65 Silk Roads countries, as well as Europe, Latin America, Africa and the US), leaders of Hunan Province and Changsha Municipality, high level representatives of diplomatic missions to China – including the Ambassadors of Nepal, Palestine, the Minister-Councilor of the Embassy of France, the Third Secretary of the Embassy of Republic of Macedonia, the Consul-General of Singapore, Delegations from UCCN, experts from UNESCO, SDG young leaders and other international organizations, and over one hundred young volunteers.
Forum activities started in a beautiful garden at Changsha’s Yuelu Academy, which, for over one thousand years, has been a center for educating young minds on philosophy and history. In her opening speech, Dr. Marielza Oliveira - Director of UNESCO Beijing Cluster Office, clarified that pride in our individual cultural identities is fully compatible with appreciation for cultural diversity and pluralism, including recognition of the common roots and the shared history and values of the countries connected by the Silk Roads, as the foundation for peace. Mr. Doudou Diene, Chair of the Board of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, and initiator of the Silk Road Project in UNESCO in 1989, encouraged youth to update the message of peace and tolerance given by the Silk Roads, renewing it for today’s modern context. Mr. Yi Lianhong, Secretary of the Communist Party of China in Changsha extended Changsha’s hospitality and emphasized the city’s many charms as a Chinese hub of creativity.
The Forum drew attention at the highest level. Through a video message, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova congratulated China for hosting it, noting that we must draw on the diversity of cultural heritage of youth along the Silk Road to craft a future for all humanity. China’s Vice Premier Liu Yangdong sent an inspiring congratulatory message to young Forum participants, highlighting the need for young people to be “filled with vigor and full of dreams, in order to be the leaders and creators of the future. China values, cares about, and places trust in the young people. We support them as they aspire to pursue personal development, and actively engage themselves in innovation and entrepreneurship. We support them to preserve cultural heritage and pass on civilizations of mankind.”
Inspired by expert presentations and field visits to amazing Changsha creativity centers, such as the P8 - an incubator for creative and eco-friendly small businesses run by young entrepreneurs, the Orange island - a place of remembrance of Chairman Mao's vigorous youth spirit, and the Fiery Place - a former fire God worship place now turned into a restaurant where offers cultural folk customs and cuisines of the city, on the third day of the Forum, participants issued a Changsha Declaration. It called for promotion of youth organizations and the creation of cultural festivals, greater protection of cultural heritage including the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural objects, and promotion of sustainable tourism along the Silk Roads including programs that can provide youth employment opportunities in Silk Road Countries. Changsha Municipality announced that it will establish “an International Creativity and Heritage Special Fund with 100,000 USD each year… to cultivate young talents with creativity” as well as an online international exchange website, and provide training and internship programs in Changsha’s creative industries.
On 20 April 2017, Forum participants traveled to Quanzhou, where they discussed how to strengthen youth engagement in heritage protection and conservation. At the Quanzhou Opening Ceremony, Mr. Du Yue, Secretary-General, Chinese National Commission for UNESCO, challenged participants: “There are 1.2 billion young people in the world. 87% are living in developing countries. Some of them have never gone beyond their countries or even their own cities or townships. You are the lucky ones. You have access to quality education… How are you going to transform your advantages in society into opportunities of serving others?
In Quanzhou, the world-famous starting point of the Maritime Silk Roads, participants visited the sites where express harmonious co-existence of different religions, and cultural objects and nature; Laojun Rock, Confucius Temple, Jiuri Hill, Qingjing Mosque and Kaiyuan Temple, the places that breed manifestation of cultural heritage into everyday practice; Yuanhe1916 and Luoyang Bridge, the spaces where offers opportunity to encounter and experience intangible cultural heritage objects; Nanyin, String Puppet Show, Xunpu folk customs and lantern making.
At the closing of International Youth Forum in Quanzhou, young participants issued Quanzhou Recommendations for youth engagement in heritage protection and preservation. Ms. Eunice Smith, UNESCO Beijing Office’s Social and Human Sciences Programme Specialist, noted that “youth are not only the future of our world but also citizens of today, with ideas, knowledge and rights, including to participate and to have their voices heard.” Mr. Chen Xiangrong, Deputy Secretary General of Quanzhou Municipality, expressed his expectations that the Forum would be a launching pad for further positive exchanges among different civilizations; serve to enhance mutual understanding and trust; and promote harmony and peaceful coexistence.

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