Exploring the spatial distribution of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) by geographic information system (GIS) is a new perspective. It can help to identify the laws and characteristics of the formation and evolution of ICH to further support the development of protection. This paper takes Shaanxi Province as the research area to analyse and identify the spatial distribution characteristics by mathematical statistics using the nearest neighbour index (NNI) and kernel density estimation (KDE). The results show 1699 ICH items of Shaanxi distributed with obvious geographic characteristics: the geospatial distribution is not uniform; the aggregate spatial distribution pattern demonstrates that ICH has strong spatial dependence; all the high-density core areas and sub-high-density core areas are centralized around Guanzhong area; and the ICH items are relatively dense in specific geographical conditions (plain and mountainous areas with an elevation between 160 m and 800 m; plains and valleys at the confluence of rivers or areas within 10 km of the river; and semi-humid climate regions). We can conclude that the geographic environment is the most fundamental and important factor affecting ICH, indirectly affecting its generation, inheritance, and distribution through regional history, culture, and humanity for a long time.

1. Introduction

Intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is generally unified by the definition “includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature, and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts” from the UNESCO 2001–2005 Proclamations of Masterpieces and highly successful 2003 Convention. The UNESCO paradigms of ICH and safeguarding have become influential concepts in international, national, and local cultural policy, while at the same time, the universal value of ICH conventions and the significance of ICH in human civilization are gradually becoming socially accepted [1, 2].

Zhang summarized the characteristics of ICH, including regionalism, uniqueness, activeness, inheritance, mobility, comprehensiveness, nationality, and intangibility [3]. These characteristics lead to perspectives that are substantially different, as reflected in the approaches, methods, and strategies used [4, 5], and protecting ICH is a common appeal made by almost all research. The exploration of the value of ICH has continued since the concept was originated. The historical value [6, 7], educational value [8], aesthetic value [9], and social value [10] have been confirmed one after another by researchers. Su found that the topics that have attracted the most attention are heritage space, the intangible nature and authenticity of cultural heritage, the internationalization of heritage, landscape heritage, heritage education, heritage management, and cultural policy [4], so the exploration of the essence of ICH and its protection is still the mainstream of research. Besides, the expression of artistic heritage, the development of heritage resources, the sustainable development of heritage [11], and the memory of heritage have also attracted more attention from researchers. Some researchers believe that the key to protecting ICH is to protect its inheritors and that archives should be established to protect heritage [12]. The existing literature on the protection of ICH can be mainly divided into the following perspectives: culturology, tourism, history, anthropology, art, archaeology, and sustainability, but not geography.

In 2005, the Chinese government promulgated the Interim Measures for the Declaration and Assessment of Representative Works of National ICH, which defines ICH as “various forms and cultural spaces of traditional culture inherited by people of all ethnic groups from generation to generation and closely related to people’s lives.” In the same year, the state council issued a notice on strengthening the protection for cultural heritage and formulated the four-level protection system “national + province + municipal + county,” requiring all localities and departments to implement the working principle of “rescuing firstly, protecting mainly, using reasonably, and inheriting with development.” Since then, the four levels have been used to carry out the work of selecting and naming ICH items, thus the attention of academia started to turn to ICH, but similar to the international situation, little research has discussed ICH issues from the perspective of geography.

As early as the 1970s, researchers and scholars have used technologies such as photography and sound recording to record and preserve various aspects of ICH (such as cultural relics and archaeological discoveries) [13]. In 1990, the Digital Michelangelo project initiated at Stanford University in the United States set the precedent for digital protection of cultural heritage. With the rapid development of information technology in the world, many countries and UNESCO have vigorously promoted digital protection of ICH [14]. At present, digital protection has gradually become an important means of protecting ICH resources in China. ICH is closely tied to the development of the times as well as to science and technology [15]. Rodil thought that ICH primarily consists of materials that can be digitized, enabling future generations to benefit from them [16]. Because ICH is always dynamically changing in time and space, it is imperative to make comprehensive, real, and systematic records of ICH items that are precious and endangered, and have historical value [3]. With the development of computer technology, the application of digitalization to items with cultural heritage has become a reality [17]. Geographic information not only satisfies the requirements of inheritance and evolution of ICH but also builds up the basic information for boosting other related disciplines in an intuitive way [18]. It is a strategic direction to establish a geographic information system (GIS) for ICH different from traditional modes of transmission such as text, video, audio, and pictures.

A PC framework for catching, putting away, and checking, in addition to showing information identified with positions on Earth’s surface is alluded as geographic information system (GIS). GIS is a comprehensive discipline based on computer tools integrated geography, cartography, remote sensing, and computer science. It is widely applied in different fields according its strong combination in the unique visual effect, geographic analysis function, and the operation of general database. With the development, GIS is also called “Geographic Information Science” or “Geographic Information Service” in specific application scenarios. GIS can help people as well as associations better comprehend spatial examples and connections through the relationship of apparently inconsequential information. GIS has been used for a long time in geography. It is a powerful and useful integrated spatial information system that can collect, store, manage, calculate, analyse, display, and describe the geographic distribution data of the whole or part of the earth’s surface with the support of computer hardware and software systems. In the past few years, GIS has been widely applied to natural science topics such as landslide prediction and control [19], protection of groundwater potential zones [20, 21], and survey designs for natural resources [22]. Through these fields, the application of GIS has matured and it has been integrated with other technologies. Comparatively, over the past few years, its usefulness and popularity have begun to diffuse into social sciences, where both practitioners and students are increasingly expected to produce and consume information that presumes familiarity with GIS analysis [22]. In some fields, such as health and crime [23], spatial analysis and GIS-based research are becoming almost ubiquitous. In order to further expand the application in the field of social sciences and prove ICH has obvious regional characteristics, this paper tries to combine GIS and ICH to explore their relationship.

The spatial distribution of ICH could not only show the differences of culture among various regional ethnic groups but also objectively capture the process of regional cultures’ emergence and evolution, which has very strong reference significance for the protection and development of ICH. On the basis of spatial distribution, it has functional significance by analysing the influence factors of further protection, development, and excavation of ICH in the region. Hence, this paper takes Shaanxi Province as the research area and selects ICH at a reasonable level (municipal) to study the characteristics of spatial distribution and seek the influencing factors. Subjective authenticity is mainly demonstrated through the distribution of 1699 ICH items in Shaanxi. An understanding of the larger context and protection of ICH in Shaanxi are not discussed in this paper.

To fill the gap, this paper aims to advance the understanding of the authenticity of ICH at both the theoretical and practical level through visualization and rethinking from a geographic perspective. The unique contributions of this paper are threefold. First, this paper proves that ICH is closely related to geography, which expands new ideas about ICH’s theoretical research. Second, this paper ascertains that GIS is a reliable method in the digital protection of ICH. Lastly, it can be verified that various advanced technologies can be applied to the process of digital protection of ICH, but the collection of geographic information by GIS is the premise and basis of digital protection.

To reliably explore the effects of influence factors on ICH from the geographic perspective, the statistical and spatial distribution of 1699 ICH items in Shaanxi is first presented to get a macroscopic understanding. Second, further analysis, including the distribution pattern and density distribution, is explored through the geographic models of nearest neighbour index and kernel density estimation, and then, the correlations between GIS and ICH are established and the geographic factors are identified. Third, the research significance of a geographic perspective on the distribution of ICH is initially proved by detailed discussion. The rest of this paper is structured as follows: Section 2 describes the materials and methods. Section 3 presents the results. Section 4 presents the discussion. Section 5 summarizes the findings of the research.

2. Materials and Methods

2.1. Research Area

Shaanxi Province is one of the provincial administrative units in China; its capital is Xi’an. The geographic location is between 105°29′E∼111°15′E and 31°42′N∼39°35′N. Shaanxi Province is located in the hinterland of the northwest in China and spans both the Yellow River and the middle of Yangtze River. The total area of the region is 20.58 × 104 km2; it has jurisdiction over 1 subprovincial city, 9 prefecture-level cities, 30 municipal districts, 5 county-level cities, and 72 counties. From the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC) to the Tang dynasty (618–907 AD), Chang’an (now Xi’an), the capital of 13 dynasties, the first of 6 ancient capitals in China, is the holy capital of ancient civilization. Under the long-term influence of the ancient capital, Shaanxi Province has high-grade, diverse, and abundant cultural heritage, especially ICH, and is known as a “natural history museum” (Figure 1).

2.2. Data Collection/Process

China’s ICH evaluation system is divided into 5 levels: international, national, provincial, municipal, and county; the higher-level items come from the lower levels. In the process of collecting data, it was found that the county-level ICH database was too large, and the different evaluation criteria and protection measures not only reduced the accuracy of the data but also increased the difficulty of data collection. In order to ensure the integrity and objectivity of the data, this paper selected ICH from the municipal level and above to be the research object.

2.2.1. Data Collection

For the collected data of Shaanxi ICH, national-level ICH was acquired from http://www.ihchina.cn/and provincial-level ICH was acquired from http://www.shaanxi.gov.cn/. The 10 municipalities’ ICH data came from the portal websites or culture-related websites of local governments. According to statistics, there are 1699 ICH items above the municipal level in Shaanxi Province.

2.2.2. ICH Location

After acquiring all ICH items, the location of each one was determined by searching a network map.

Address resolution: this step automatically converts addresses to coordinates by an address resolution constructor: “getPoint (address: String, callback: Function, city: String).” The purpose of using callback is that to locate the ICH items by longitude and latitude. If an ICH item is located successfully, the callback function is called with the coordinate point of the ICH address as the parameter. Otherwise, the parameter of the callback function is “null.” City is the name of the city where the ICH address is located, such as “Xi’an.” The function of the constructor is to resolve the specified address. If the address conversion is successful, the callback function is called with the coordinate points of the address as a parameter. Otherwise, the callback function takes a null parameter. “City” is the name of the city where the address is located, for example, “Xi’an.” Through the above steps, the coordinates of 1699 ICH items were obtained for later data analysis by geographic methods.

2.3. Research Methods

After the 1699 ICH items were marked on the map, a macro grasp of the overall spatial distribution of all of them was essential. Therefore, the proximity and clustering degree of the 1699 ICH items in provincial geographical space were used to prove that the distribution of ICH has obvious geographic characteristics.

The concept of NNI was proposed by Clark and Evans [23]. Theoretically, assuming that all points are completely random, the average distance is half of the reciprocal value of density. Comparing this result with the actual point distribution pattern observed by images, we can get a ratio, which is usually called the NNI. Therefore, the NNI is a geographic index to measure the proximity of point objects in geographic space. The NNI was first introduced into the analysis of spatial distribution of urban settlements by King (1969). Later, it was widely used in many problems to display geographic spatial distribution. Therefore, the NNI is a good choice for judging the distribution patterns of ICH in Shaanxi Province. ICH is the living embodiment of a nation’s special production, life style, national character, and aesthetic habits, and its spatial distribution can reveal the regional and spatial differences of excellent cultures among nationalities. Research on the spatial distribution characteristics of ICH is great significance for objectively understanding the process of the emergence and evolution of regional culture and promoting cultural protection and development. In this paper, the comprehensive evaluation of quantitative distribution, hot spot distribution, and natural factors of ICH is defined as distribution pattern of ICH. Kernel density estimation (KDE) was proposed by Rosenblatt and Parzen [24]; it is a method for calculating the density of elements in their neighbourhoods. The way toward assessing an obscure likelihood thickness work utilizing a portion work K(u) is said to be as kernel density estimation. Although a histogram checks the quantity of information focuses in fairly self-assertive districts, a piece thickness gauge is a capacity characterised as the amount of a portion work on each information point. It has a huge soft spot for assessing densities with limited help like edge else limit impacts. The type of the assessor creates descending predisposition for y inside h of the limits, except if the thickness is zero. It reflects the distance attenuation effect of elements in spatial distribution, so KDE is frequently used to find the agglomeration of point elements in spatial distribution. By using the KDE, the hot spot distribution of various types of ICH in Shaanxi Province can be displayed visually to obtain the characteristics of distribution.

This paper used ArcGIS 10.2 to present the geographical distribution of the 1699 ICH items, and on this basis, the NNI was used to further analyse the distribution pattern and KDE to analyse the degree of spatial aggregation.

2.3.1. Nearest Neighbour Index

Nearest neighbour index (NNI) is a method based on spatial distance. It is to analyse the degree of deviation from the random distribution by comparing and calculating the average distance among the research objects and comparing it with the average distance in the random distribution mode. It is utilized for spatial geology (investigation of scenes, CBDs, human settlements, and so on). The spread else dispersion of something over a geological space is estimated by NNI. It offers a mathematical benefit that portrays the degree to which a bunch of focuses are grouped else consistently separated. The principle is to select any point in the actual data and compare the average distance from the nearest point with the expected nearest neighbour distance under the random distribution mode, so as to judge the spatial aggregation of points by the ratio. ICHs are handed down from generation to generation in a certain place or community and constantly recreated in adapting to the surrounding environment of nature and history, so as to enhance respect or sense of identity for cultural diversity and human creativity in certain place. Therefore, ICH has obvious geographical characteristics and the NNI is suitable for applying on the geographical distribution of them. The distance estimated along the outside of the earth is said to be as topographical distance. The formulae is used to calculate the topographical distances between nearest points by longitudes, latitudes, and altitudes, and then compare the similarity between the distribution pattern and the random distribution pattern. The stated distance is a component in tackling the second (reverse) geodetic issue. To look through comparable moving article directions, the recently utilized techniques have paid attention on Euclidean distance besides thought about just spatial similitude. Euclidean distance is not proper for street network space, wherever the distance is restricted towards the space neighbouring the streets. The formula iswhere mindij is the distance between any ICH item and its nearest neighbour, N is the number of ICH items, and A is the total research area. In this way, the average distance between any pair of nearest neighbour ICH items can be calculated after the items are abstracted as point elements, and then, the distance is compared with the average distance in a random distribution pattern to divide the spatial patterns of ICH in Shaanxi Province. An uncommon in nature as biotic variables is involved in random distribution, like the associations with adjoining people, as well as abiotic factors, for instance, environment else soil conditions, intended for the most part cause creatures to be either grouped else spread.

2.3.2. Kernel Density Estimation

In statistics, kernel density estimation (KDE) is used to infer the distribution of population data based on limited samples, so the result of KDE is the probability density function estimation of the sample, and according to the estimated probability density function, we can get some properties of data distribution, such as the aggregation area of data. The premise of KDE is to produce smoother visualization of break values for quantitative groups, building on the principle of heat map distribution between core areas (kernels) and surrounding neighbourhoods. Given points , ,…, situated on a line, a KDE can be obtained by placing a “bump” at each point and then summing the height of each bump at each point on the X-axis. The shape of the bump is defined by a mathematical function, the kernel , which integrates to 1. The spread of the bump is determined by a window or bandwidth, , that is analogous to the bin-width, , of a histogram. The kernel is usually a symmetric probability density function. The shape of the resulting KDE does not depend on a choice of origin and is relatively insensitive to the exact form of , which is taken to be a normal density function in the rest of the paper. The choice of is more critical and will be considered shortly.

For example, KDE has increasingly been used in archaeology to examine the spatial distribution and frequency of archaeological sites and artefacts in different contexts. Measuring the degree of spatial aggregation usually applies the KDE of Rosenblatt and Parzen; X1, , Xn are taken as samples from the population whose density function is , and g(x) is the density estimate of point x. A broadly utilized nonparametric way to deal with gauge a likelihood density function p(x) for a particular point p(x) is said to be as Parzen-window strategy. It is otherwise called as Parzen–Rosenblatt window technique. For instance, p(xn) that does not need any information else suspicion about the basic appropriation. The formula iswhere K is the kernel function, h > 0 is the bandwidth, and (xXi) denotes the distance from point x to event Xi.

An information perception strategy that shows greatness of a phenomenon as shading in two measurements is said to be as heat map. The variety in shading might be by tone otherwise power, giving clear viewable prompts towards per user about how the wonder is bunched else changes over space. From a website page, the information is gathered through the working process of heatmap. It utilizes a dim to-light shading scale to show which content of the site page is clicked more otherwise which region stands out enough to be noticed. For instance, the region where watcher taps the most gets a dull shading as well as light shading wherever the watcher gives no consideration. Heat maps are graphical portrayals of information that use shading coded frameworks. The main role of heat maps is to more readily imagine the volume of areas/occasions inside an information set as well as help with coordinating watchers towards region on information perceptions that matter most.

2.4. Data Analysis

The data analysis can be divided into the four steps.

2.4.1. Descriptive Statistics

Organize and classify the data of 1699 ICH items into certain types to have a macro grasp; at the same time, this part of the work is prepared for follow-up geographic information processing.

2.4.2. Computation of NNI

Formula (1) is used to calculate the NNI of all types of ICH. According to the NNI value, the distribution is divided into 4 patterns to judge whether the ICH items embody the characteristics of aggregation or not: aggregation, aggregation-random, random, and random-discrete.

2.4.3. Kernel Density Map

Kernel density maps of all types of ICH are made by using ArcGIS software and formula (2). According to the maps, the high-, sub-high-, and low-density core areas are identified correctly.

2.4.4. Combination of ICH and GIS

After the detailed analysis of distribution patterns and kernel density maps, ICH and GIS are connected with the natural elements of Shaanxi Province. This paper chooses the climate, topography, and rivers of Shaanxi to discuss the relevance between them.

3. Results

3.1. Quantitative Distribution of Intangible Cultural Heritage
3.1.1. Structural Distribution of Levels

As of August 2019, there were 1699 ICH items at or above the municipal level in Shaanxi Province. The structure of the four levels is pyramid-shaped: municipal ICH accounts for the highest proportion, 60%; provincial accounts for 34.84%; national accounts for 4.47%; and the lowest proportion is the international level. As shown in Table 1, there is a negative correlation between level and quantity; that is, the amount of ICH decreases at higher levels.

3.1.2. Structural Distribution of Types

In the Circular of the State Council on the Promulgation of the Second National List of ICH and the First National List of ICH Expansion Projects (No. 19 of 2008), ICH in China is divided into 10 types, including folk literature, traditional music, traditional dance, traditional drama, folk art, traditional sports, recreation and acrobatics, traditional art, traditional handicraft, traditional medicine, and folk custom. In view of the exemplary nature of the circular published by the state, it will have an important impact for a certain period of time. In this paper, all ICH of Shaanxi is also divided in this way. The statistical results are shown in Table 2 and Figure 2.

3.1.3. Regional Differences of Distribution in Space

Through classification and statistics, the quantity distribution of ICH in municipalities in Shaanxi Province was summarized. From Table 3, the characteristics of distribution show that there are more ICH items in the central area than in the northern and southern areas of the province.

3.2. Distribution Pattern of Intangible Cultural Heritage

By combining formula (1) and the instrument of average nearest neighbour in ArcGIS 10.2 software, this paper calculated the INN of each type of ICH. In general, the INN values are divided into five patterns: NNI ≤ 0.5 is aggregate distribution, 0.5 < NNI ≤0.8 is aggregate-random distribution, 0.8 < NNI ≤ 1.2 is random distribution, 1.2 < NNI ≤1.5 is random-discrete distribution, and NNI >1.5 is uniform distribution. The results can be seen from Table 4.

3.3. Hot Spot Distribution
3.3.1. Kernel Density Distribution of ICH in Shaanxi

As can be seen from Figures 3 and 4, the ICH distribution of Shaanxi forms two high-density, four sub-high-density and several low-density core areas. The two high-density areas are distributed in the region of Central Shaanxi: one on the boundary line between Xi’an and Xianyang, radiating to the northern side of Xi’an and the southern side of Xianyang, and the other in Weinan, radiating into most areas of Weinan and the southeastern side of Tongchuan. Affected by urban agglomeration in Guanzhong, the residential living environment is expanding and people are moving more frequently. Many cultures are constantly absorbing and merging with each other, which promotes the spread of ICH to the surrounding areas and forms a large area of high-density agglomeration. Four sub-high-density core areas are mainly distributed in southern Shaanxi. They are separately distributed in Baoji, Ankang, Shangluo, and the junction of Xianyang, Baoji, and Xi’an. Geographic constraints of relatively closed areas tend to produce special cultural areas, avoiding the frequent impact from foreign cultures, showing the characteristics of continuous distribution and forming sub-high-density core areas.

3.3.2. Kernel Density Distribution of Each Type of ICH

From Figure 4, it can be seen that all the high-density core areas are basically distributed in the central and eastern parts of the Guanzhong area, and only a few sub-high-density core areas are distributed in southern and northern Shaanxi (Table 5). The core density distribution of each type is not very different from the overall distribution of Shaanxi Province, and there is no extreme value of each type, showing the fluctuation of the overall distribution law. The numbers of high-density hot spots are all no more than 4, it preliminarily shows that the various types of ICH are concentrated in certain areas. The overall distribution law is that “the fewer high-density hot spots, the concentration is more intensive.”

3.4. Natural Factors and Intangible Cultural Heritage

In order to preliminarily study the correlation between ICH distribution and natural factors from the geographic perspective, we selected three natural factors to discuss.

3.4.1. Topography and ICH

The elevation of Shaanxi is divided into five levels by using the natural point fracture method: 160–800 m, 800–1200 m, 1200–1600 m, 1600–2000 m, and 2000–3700 m. Table 6 and Figure 5 indicate that the ICH of Shaanxi is mainly distributed at the 160–1600 m level. The highest density of distribution is at the 160–800 m level, followed by 800–1200 m and 1200–1600 m. There is a clear correlation between ICH distribution and topography.

3.4.2. Climate and ICH

Shaanxi Province covers four climatic regions: arid, semi-arid, semi-humid, and humid. The Qinling Mountains are the dividing line of north-south climate in China. Southern Shaanxi belongs to north subtropical climate, central and most parts of northern of Shaanxi belong to warm temperate climate, and northern Shaanxi belongs to temperate climate along the Great Wall. In spring, Shaanxi is warm, less precipitation, unstable temperature rise, and occasionally accompanied by wind and sand weather; summer is hot and rainy, with occasional summer drought; autumn is cool and humid, and the temperature drops rapidly; winter is cold and dry, the temperature is low, and there is little rain and snow. The annual average temperature of the whole province is 9–16 degrees Celsius, increasing from north to south and from west to east. The annual average temperature is 7–12°C in the Loess Plateau of northern Shaanxi, 12–14°C in the Guanzhong Plain, and 14–16 °C in the Qinba mountain area of southern Shaanxi. According to the climatic characteristics of Shaanxi Province, ten climatic zones are divided meticulously:(1)semi-humid climate zone of the Guanzhong–Weinan plain;(2)semi-arid climate zone east of Daling–Chengcheng;(3)semi-humid climate zone of Shangluo’s Dan River;(4)arid climate zone of Dingbian salt lake beach;(5)over-humid climate zone of Xiaocang Mountain–Daba Mountain;(6)semi-arid climate zone of hills and gullies of Yan’an–Great Wall Plateau;(7)humid climate zone of Hanzhong–Ankang–Hanjiang River Valley;(8)semi-humid climate zone of hills and gullies of Weibei–Yan’an Plateau;(9)humid climate zone of Qinling Mountain;(10)severe semi-arid climate zone of sandy beach north of the Great Wall (Figure 5).

From Table 7, it can be seen that the highest density distribution is in the area of semi-humid climate, followed by humid climate, and the lowest density is in the area of arid and semi-arid climate. The statistics of ICH and climate also reveal a clear correlation.

3.4.3. Rivers and ICH

The distribution of ICH is also related to the distribution of rivers (Figure 6). From the statistical data of distance between ICH and rivers (Table 8), it can be found that, on the whole, the amount of ICH within 10 km of the river is the largest. Except for the rising trend of quantity around 20 km and 50 km, the amount decreases with increased distance, and there is almost no ICH beyond 110 km of the river. It also can be found that the line of probability distribution of each type of ICH with distance has obvious fluctuation, but the overall trend is decreasing (Figure 7). Only traditional medicine and drama are special; their probabilities oscillate greatly and frequently between the scope of 0 to 3 × 10−4 within 10 km and 20 km separately, and there is no more corresponding ICH distributed outside that distance (Figure 8).

4. Discussion

4.1. Difference of Cultural Ecology

Culture is a historical category developed in a specific space, and cultural ecology is the sum of natural and social environments in which culture comes into being and develops. From the root, because of differences in culture and geographic living environments, each nation has its own unique cultural types at different historical stages. From Figure 1 and Table 3, it can be seen that there are great differences in the amount of ICH in each city, affected by geographic conditions and historical inheritance. Nearly half of the ICH is in the Guanzhong area, while the quantity of ICH in northern and southern Shaanxi is relatively less. The cultural ecology caused by historical inheritance and geographic factors has formed great distribution differences within Shaanxi Province.

Northern Shaanxi is recognized as one of the birthplaces of the Chinese nation. It is not only where the Han nationality was integrated with other nationalities, but also where the central plains culture and prairie culture integrated fully with each other. Historic human communities spread widely in this region, but due to the sparse land, arid climate, and assimilation in the process of ethnic integration, there is less ICH than in Guanzhong and southern Shaanxi.

The Guanzhong region is the birthplace of agricultural civilization in China. From the discovery of Lantian ape man from hundreds of thousands of years ago to the Banpo Yangshao culture of primitive society, later the Xia and Shang Dynasties of slave society to the establishment of the feudal Qin Dynasty, and the continuation of the prosperous period of the Han and Tang Dynasties, these periods of cultural glory made the Guanzhong region abound in cultural resources. At the same time, the region made outstanding contributions to the inheritance of Chinese civilization and national integration. At the beginning of the Qin and Han Dynasties, in order to prevent the restoration and fragmentation of the six countries, the rich and old royal families of the countries went to Xianyang, Lintong, Chunhua, and Chang’an. By the time of Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty, Shaanxi had a population of 2.2 million. During the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the “nine surnames of Zhaowu” (An, Kang, Shi, Shi, He, Cao, Mi, Wudi, and Huoxin) in Central Asia were attached to the Hexi Corridor, and later some people moved to the Guanzhong area. In the heyday of the Tang Dynasty, the population of Shaanxi had reached 4.24 million people. Chang’an, the capital, was the real economic and cultural centre at that time. In the Guanzhong area, there is much human activity, so there are many kinds of cultural heritage.

Southern Shaanxi is represented by Shangluo, Ankang, and Hanzhong. Its population is mainly composed of historical and national immigrants, forming unique cultural characteristics. Since the spring and autumn period and the Warring States period, the areas of Shangluo and Ankang were where the Qin and Chu cultures converged. In the transitional period of the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties, war broke out; the people’s livelihood was depressed and the population was scarce, which caused a wave of immigrants from Huguang to southern Shaanxi. Until the early Ming Dynasty, refugees settled in Hanzhong, and the great national integration lasted for thousands of years, forming unique customs and culture in the land of South Shaanxi.

Therefore, due to historical reasons, distinctive differences of regional culture and ecology have formed in Shaanxi Province, resulting in the distribution of ICH with regional characteristics.

4.2. Effect of Natural Environment
4.2.1. Distribution of Topography

Shaanxi is a long and narrow region with a high north–south terrain and a low middle terrain. The topographies of Shaanxi include plateau, mountain, plain, basin, karst, vegetation, and glaciers. Shaanxi can be divided into three geomorphic regions by the Beishan and Qinling Mountains from north to south: North Shaanxi Plateau, Guanzhong Plain, and Qinba Mountains. In terms of distribution quantity, Guanzhong Plain has the most ICH, followed by the Qinba Mountains and the North Shaanxi Plateau. Guanzhong Plain is a fault subsidence area since ancient times. It was formed by the alluviation of the Wei River and its two tributaries, the Jing and Luo Rivers. It belongs to the main part of the Wei River fault subsidence basin belt. Since ancient times, Guanzhong Plain has been a prosperous place with developed irrigation, rich in wheat, cotton, and other commodity grain production. Guanzhong Plain has more than 7000 years of civilization history and a large amount of ICH. The North Shaanxi Plateau, located north of the Beishan Mountains, is the central part of the Loess Plateau in China. It is formed by a covering of Cenozoic laterite and a thick loess layer, based on paleotopography, and then cut by running water and soil erosion. Due to the natural conditions, the sparse population and dispersed residence led to a backward economy and an underdeveloped culture, ultimately leading to less ICH than in the Guanzhong Plain. The Qinba Mountains in South Shaanxi are mainly connected by the Qinling and Daba Mountains and numerous small basins and valleys. Human civilization started earlier and cultural heritage is relatively rich there. However, because of the limitations of topography, the radius of human activity is small, resulting in poorly disseminated ICH in South Shaanxi. Therefore, lost cultural heritage in South Shaanxi is widespread, and relatively few ICH items have been counted.

4.2.2. Climate Distribution

Climate is closely related to human society, has an important impact on human life and production activities, and is also a factor affecting the distribution of ICH. Shaanxi Province is divided into 10 climatic zones from north to south (Figure 6 and Table 7). Combining the statistics, it can be seen that the ICH of Shaanxi Province is mainly concentrated in semi-humid areas. Good climatic conditions can promote regional development and population gathering and indirectly promote the production of culture. It is worth noting that different climatic types affect people’s living habits and lifestyles, especially folklore. Therefore, there is a certain correlation between the conditions of the regional climate and ICH distribution.

4.2.3. Watershed Distribution

As seen in Figure 7, the distribution of ICH in Shaanxi Province has a certain correlation with the distribution of the watershed. For example, the ICH of North and South Shaanxi lie on both sides of the Ding and Han Rivers, while the Guanzhong area has a relatively dense area of ICH in the Jing, Wei, and Luo Rivers basins, especially at the confluence of rivers. From the regional perspective, there are many rivers in the Guanzhong area with abundant water and frequent human activity, forming a unique, diverse, and creative culture. ICH is mainly distributed in the valleys along the Wei and Luo Rivers, tributaries of the Yellow River. The ancient capital, Chang’an, is also in this region, with rapid economic development and large excavation efforts, and there are many ICH items in the Guanzhong area. Figure 8 indicates that the distribution of ICH is closely related to the distance from rivers, and quantity is negatively correlated with distance on the whole. Most ICH is concentrated in the range of 10–30 km. In summary, the geospatial distribution of ICH in Shaanxi Province is correlated with the distribution of watersheds. Rivers directly affect human production and activity and indirectly affect the distribution of ICH. There is more ICH in the areas of river junctions. The closer the river, the more ICH items are distributed.

4.3. Complexity of Cultures

Culture itself is not static, but from the moment it comes into being, it constantly migrates and spreads around, exchanges, and merges or collides with other cultures. Therefore, culture shows strong complexity. The continuous influx of Western culture brings great influences to traditional Chinese culture. Coupled with the departure of the older generation of folk artists, many national traditional cultures are on the verge of extinction and disappearance. Differences in the means of excavation, protection, and financial support by local governments also lead to the uneven distribution of ICH. Primitive art is a crystallization of creative activities in the field of human thinking and spirit in primitive society, with the latter being the rational continuation of the former. With the continuous improvement of human intelligence and civilization, many primitive ideas and images in primitive art have been gradually replaced by ideas in the civilized era and have made leaps and developed toward civilization. Different nationalities have created their own cultures with different characteristics, neatly illustrated by great differences in customs, festival traditions, dress, makeup, etc. Despite a long historical period, the developing folk culture will still retain many thought fragments and cultural imprints of the primitive era. Hence, for a long time, diverse nationalities and their imbalanced development in the economy, politics, and culture created Chinese multiethnic primitive art.

From the macro perspective, the focus on China’s economic development has shifted from the Yellow River Basin to the Yangtze and Pearl River Basins, which promotes a move of ICH to the east and south. Most ICH originated from the people, against a special multiethnic background, so the influence of ethnic factors on ICH is more important. Most ICH is related to ethnic groups, and the excavation of ICH with rich ethnic characteristics is more meaningful. In addition, the disparity in levels of economic development, the different means of excavation and protection by local governments, and the differences in financial support will also lead to an unbalanced distribution of ICH.

5. Conclusions

Based on the geographic perspective, this paper marks the 10 types of ICH (1699 items in total) of Shaanxi accurately on the map and explores their distribution characteristics from various angles by using the GIS method. On this basis, the influencing factors of ICH distribution are summarized; preliminary judgment shows that there are close relationships between GIS and ICH in Shaanxi. The main conclusions of this paper are as follows:(1)The geographic distribution of ICH in Shaanxi has distinct characteristics: ICH is more in the central area and less in the northern and southern areas of the province; the distribution among municipalities is obviously unbalanced; and different types of ICH have different distribution characteristics.(2)The spatial distribution pattern of ICH in all of Shaanxi Province is aggregation; ICH has a strong spatial dependence. In terms of classification of the 10 types, 3 types are aggregation, 5 are aggregate-random, and 2 types are random pattern.(3)Judging from the aggregation degree (or hot spot distribution) of ICH, the density areas show the zonal distribution. All the high-and sub-high core density areas are basically distributed in Guanzhong area.(4)The relevance between ICHs and GIS is initially proved. The ICHs are relatively dense in these three geographical conditions: plain and mountainous areas the elevation between 160 m and 800 m; plains and valleys at the confluence of rivers or areas within 10 km of the river; and semi-humid climate regions.(5)Rainfall, temperature, terrain, and water directly constitute the living environment of humans; they are the necessary conditions for the birth and inheritance of human civilization. Climate, topography, rivers, and other natural factors have long influenced human life and production activities, indirectly resulting in uneven distribution of ICH. Geographic factors are the fundamental factors affecting the distribution of ICH, but regional history, human communities, and cultural ecology are also important factors. Hence, geographic factors directly affect the history, communities, and cultural ecology of the region and indirectly affect the distribution of nonrelics.

ICH has no specific form and carrier because of its “intangibility”; ICH can only be displayed by human lifestyle and behavioural activities. So, the work of protecting and developing ICH is mainly carried out from the perspectives of communities, folklore, and social sciences. From the perspective of geography, this paper tries to explore whether the geographic environment is related to ICH. The results show that the geographic environment is the most fundamental and important factor affecting ICH, and it could indirectly affect the generation, inheritance, and distribution of ICH through regional history, culture, and communities for a long time.

Data Availability

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


The authors acknowledge the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant: 71573200).