Cultural Policy in the

Lao People's Democratic Republic

Prepared by Culturelink

© Copyright IRMO/Culturelink 1996



The Lao People's Democratic Republic, a land-locked country in the South-East Asia, borders with the People's Republic of China (North), Viet-Nam (East), Kampuchea (South), Thailand (West) and Burma (North-West). Laos was formerly a part of the French Indo-China.

A population of 3.8 million (1987) lives in an area of 236,800 km2. The population density of 15.1 persons per km2 is one of the lowest ratio in Asia.

Lao (Laotian) -- the official language -- is spoken by about two-third of the population. French is spoken widely and there are also numerous tribal languages. The principal religion is Buddhism which strongly influences the arts and literature issues. Official sources estimate that non-Laotian population, which is made-up of 65 distinct ethnic groups, counts for 40 per cent of the total population. Another feature is that 85 per cent of the population live in the countryside.

The ethnic diversity of the population and the existence of communication tensions obstruct efforts to promote social and economic development. The economy is among the least developed in the world. Production is overwhelmingly agrarian.

Community life is generally centered in two main areas: the Buddhist temple and the animist spiritual house. "Pagodas" are known to be a sacred cultural centers for the people. The great importance is attached to the literature.

General Directions of Cultural Policy

The decisive turnpoint in cultural activities occurred in 1975 with the liberation of whole country. The Government and the People's Revolutionary Party adopted attitudes towards cultural and educational policies by stressing the cultural identity and the use of national language. According to these attitudes, the purpose of cultural policy is to mobilize the people to take more active part in all cultural fields. Thus, the cultural activities like other social and economic activities have been affected by the "spirit of masses."

The "cultural dimension" has been determined as one of the most important factors in overall development plan. In this way, the Government faces with the following tasks:

Administrative and Institutional Structures

Public and Semi-public Bodies

The Ministry of Information and Culture is responsible for cultural policy. There is a little co-ordination between different ministries and institutes which deal with cultural affairs.

Sectoral Policies

Cultural Heritage

Physical heritage

There have been establishments of museums of archeology, e.g., Wat Prakeo, That Luang, the former Royal Palace Museum in Luang-prabang, the Wat Phu Conservation Unit, etc.

Other projects include: the inventory of mobile and immobile heritage; the adoption of the International Convention for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage; compilation of inventories of palm-leaf manuscripts in the provinces; restoration of Wat Phu Champasak and of the Pagodas with the collaboration of the Buddhist organizations; archaeological excavations (ceramic kilns in old Vientiane town in 1989).

Non-physical heritage

Several actions have taken place as follows: collecting of oral folk tales by means of literary contests (in 1987, 250 stories were collected); transliterating selected works from old manuscripts; promoting studies on best literary works (e.g., Sangsinsay, Thao Hung-Thao Cehuang); video documentation of disappearing folk music and dance of different regions and technics; studies on the history of Buddhist arts; collection and publication of old folk proverbs; publication of old folk tales; promotion of the transliteration of old literary works for children and neo-literate readers; compilation of old manuscript entitled Mulatayana, which represents the old folk ideology.

Artistic training

Besides the National School for Dance and Music there is no institute of higher learning devoted specifically to the development of the fine arts but there are vocational schools with a three-year curriculum for art, music and dance.

Performing Arts

A troop of modern theater has been set up in 1985 -- one of the first creative performing arts ever established in Laos. The artists also perform for cinema production.

A modern puppet show was established in 1982, servicing especially kindergarten children.

The singing theater or Lam Luean remains the most popular performance among the audience. There exist hundreds of amateur troops all over the country singing particularly old stories drawn from ancient literature.

Several companies of performing artists have been established at national level. They are composed of representatives of all ethnic minorities performing in local areas mainly for the "working people".

From 1986, Ministry of Information and Culture organizes National Festival of Folk Dances.

Literature and writing

Within the framework of Vannasin -- a literary magazine established in 1979 -- a promotion of creative writing in contemporary literature and encouragement of the studies in ancient literature is taking place. There is also a trend of promotion of literary exchange of foreign authors and a great concern for children books.

A special project has been set up under the National Library and the Department of Literature for the compilation of the inventory of "palm-leaf" manuscripts in three provinces. Until 1990, 18,000 bundles of manuscripts have been surveyed.

Centre for the Promotion of Art and Culture and the Department of Social Studies of Chiengmay University also translate the so-called Mulatayana -- the old documents. In order to promote reading habits among the primary and secondary schools students, the National Library has been revitalizing English section and kindergarten reading and opened (again) reading rooms for old manuscripts.

Cultural Development

In relation to the book development, particular attention is paid to providing books of functional nature for "neo-literates" and the masses outside the school system. Within the goals of the World Decade for Cultural Development, the mobilization of public for participation in cultural development includes the following national characteristics:

It is expected that cultural tourism will contribute to the activities of craftsmen, and consequently to the income increase of the communities.

International Cultural Cooperation

Laos participates in the programmes of UNESCO and Asian Cultural Centers for Unesco (ACCU), and within the latter, particularly in the field of book development. The 2nd Mobile Team 1992.


National Library
POB 704

National Commission for the Unesco
Ministry of Education
B.P. 67

Faculty of Art
Directorate of Fine Arts
POB 122

Faculty of Education

Ho Phakeo (Museum)
Setthathiraj Rd

Lao Buddhist Fellowship
Maha Kudy, That Luang

Ministry of Culture


Kanlagna, Dara. Lao People's Democratic Republic, Country Paper Presentation at the Sub-Regional Meeting of Cultural Dimension of Development, 2-5 July 1990, Bangkok. Paris, Unesco, 1990.

Situation and Trends in Cultural Policy in Member States of Asia and the Pacific: Lao People's Democratic Republic; World Conference on Cultural Policies, Mexico-City, 26 July - 6 August 1982. Paris, Unesco, 1982, pp. 44-44.

Tenth Meeting of Experts on Regional Co-operation in Unesco Cultural Activities in Asia and the Pacific: Laos, Tokyo, 15-19 March 1991. Tokyo, Asian Cultural Centre for Unesco, 1991, pp. 70-74.

How This Document Was Prepared
This monograph is based on data from the Culturelink Cultural Policies Data Bank, and on documents collected by the Documentation Centre for Cultural Development and Cooperation, Culturelink, in Zagreb, Croatia.

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