Discover China: Tibetan youths become keen promoters of cultural heritage

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Publish Time: 2020-06-17 Author: Zhao Jiasong, Yang Jing From: Xinhua

THANGKA PAINTING: SPRITUAL PRACTICE AND HUGE MARKET

"Thangka painting is a spiritual practice for Tibetan people," said Gesang Dawa, who opened the Shangri-La Thangka Institution in 2010 and has so far taught more than 200 students, for free.

Thangka are Tibetan Buddhist scroll paintings on cotton or silk with mineral and organic pigments derived from coral, agate, sapphire, pearl and gold. Originating in the 10th century, the paintings typically depict Buddhist deities with colors that can remain for centuries.

"It is a Tibetan art that one should learn from an early age, because it requires extreme concentration both mentally and visually. It usually takes a person seven to 10 years to master the technique," Gesang Dawa said.

Senag Doji, a 20-year-old Tibetan local in Shangri-La, has learned thangka painting at the institution for over three years.

"Thangka represents a belief for Tibetan people and gives us spiritual support," said Senag Doji.

A delicate thangka work can take anywhere from a few months to several years to complete. "While we are painting, we also study sutras, calligraphy and Buddhist history, in a bid to inch closer to our spiritual practice," he said.

"I don't drink or smoke and always keep my mouth clean after eating, because sometimes I use my tongue to wet the sacred pigments and pay respect to Buddha," said another apprentice Dawa Cering, who comes from Sichuan Province and has learned thangka painting for four years at the institution.

In 2006, China listed thangka as a national cultural heritage, a status that has since given the art a strong boost. UNESCO included thangka paintings, murals, patchwork crafts and sculptures as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.

"Many foreigners, mostly European youths, also come to the institution to experience how to paint thangka and they even stay here for months," Gesang Dawa said.

"When I talk with young peers from other ethnic groups and foreign countries, I don't have to leave Shangri-La to see the world," said Dawa Cering. "In this way, thangka can bring me closer to Buddha and the world."

The popularity of thangka increases their value as well. The prices of the works Gesang Dawa sells range from several hundred yuan up to 1.2 million yuan. His customers are from home and abroad, including non-Buddhists who regard thangka as artworks.

"As the market demand for thangka grows, more young Tibetans would like to be professional Thangka painters," said Senag Doji. "So I have enough confidence that such intangible culture will never fade away."

"The market and social resources can also be utilized to develop local culture and promote intangible cultural inheritance, as it can help with the employment of locals and cultivation of skilled workers," said Wang Yanzhong, director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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