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Kelsang: Inheriting the thousand-year skill of Tibetan paper making

By Liu Fang Source:China Tibet News 2019年05月15日 09:53

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In the displaying hall of Shorla Farmers and Herdsmen's Professional Tibetan Paper Cooperative, a worker is introducing Tibetan paper products to visitors. [China Tibet News/Tenzin Phuntsog]

As an important part of the Chinese paper-making technology, Tibetan paper making skill has been derived from the long practice of Tibetan ancestors' production and life. In 2006, it has been included in China's first national intangible cultural heritage list.

In Nyemo County of Lhasa, where traditional paper making skill has been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years, Shorla Tibetan Paper is known as the best of its kind with unique skill inheritance and quality features.

For thousands of years, as a carrier to record Tibet's history and culture, Tibetan paper has witnessed the progress of Tibetan civilization. "Those ancient sacred literature classics inside major temples and palaces in Tibet are still intact nowadays because of using this kind of paper." Says Kelsang, who is in charge of the Shorla Farmers and Herdsmen's Professional Tibetan Paper Cooperative.

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Kelsang's father Tsering Tobgyel, a state level Inheritor of intangible cultural heritage, is showing the cooperative's new product -- petals interlayer paper. [China Tibet News/Tenzin Phuntsog]

Kelsang's father Tsering Tobgyel is a state level inheritor of intangible cultural heritages; being born in a family of Tibetan paper craftsmanship, he is among the municipal level inheritors of Lhasa City, too. Under the support of the Party committees and governments at all levels for the protection of intangible cultural heritages, Kelsang and his father have moved their own Tibetan paper workshop from Shorla Village to the county, and established the Shorla Farmers and Herdsmen's Professional Tibetan Paper Cooperative, which has helped greatly in increasing their visitors and customers. Kelsang shows great confidence in carrying on the important family mission of paper making.

Since establishing the cooperative, Kelsang's family has spent most of the time and energy at the work of making paper. Besides displaying Tibetan paper products to tourists, Kelsang's daily work is participating in every process of making the paper.

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Photo shows the cooked "rejak" fibrous roots with the hard skin completely removed. [China Tibet News/Tenzin Phuntsog]

Nyemo Shorla Tibetan paper uses one material -- the root of a rare local poisonous plant known as "rejak". The plant needs at least 5 to 10 years to grow back after being dug, thus production of Shorla paper is low and products are scarce.

According to Kelsang, using the poisonous plant root as raw material has kept Shorla paper from moths, rats, being rotten and eroded, as well as leaving no creases after folding. It has been the designated paper of local government in old Tibet, and is the special paper for cultural relic restoration of Potala Palace and Norbulingka management offices.

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Photo shows Kelsang (M) and other cooperative workers processing the raw material of Tibetan paper. [China Tibet News/Tenzin Phuntsog]

"In well inheriting this ancestral craft today, the reason is attributed to the persistence and efforts of generations of successors, but the most important factor is that we are in a good time." Kelsang says.

In recent years, the state has been constantly intensifying its efforts to protect intangible cultural heritages and guaranteeing inheritors' work and life with funds. The special annual fund for the protection of regional level intangible cultural heritage projects has been increased from 200,000 yuan RMB in 2008 to 12 million yuan RMB now. Meanwhile, the region has doubled the annual subsidy for regional level representative inheritors from 5,000 yuan RMB to 10,000 yuan RMB, which has become an important source of income for inheritors at all levels, especially the poor inheritors.

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Kelsang is showing one of Shorla's traditional paper products -- the scripture paper. [China Tibet News/Tenzin Phuntsog]

With the rapid development of Tibet's tourism industry, Tibetan paper, the thousand-year art filled with wisdom of Tibetan ancestors, has been recognized and concerned by more people; sales and popularity of Tibetan paper continue to improve and the paper is loved by calligraphers and collectors as well.

Kelsang's Shorla Farmers and Herdsmen's Professional Tibetan Paper Cooperative has been established for more than 3 years. In addition to his father and brother working here, the cooperative has also recruited 9 local villagers to learn papermaking skills, among them, 6 are from poor families. In order to adapt to the tourism market, they have also developed many cultural and creative products except rectangular paper products for the scriptures. Last year, sales revenue of the cooperative reached 130,000 yuan RMB.

"Although there's a lot of hard work to do in passing on this handicraft, I become very satisfied every time when I see the outside world's love and praise on our paper, then my faith of inheriting this art grows stronger, too." Kelsang says proudly. He also has his own consideration on carrying forward the skill in the future, "our children will inherit the family art, but they must go to college first. I believe they will do better than us with their knowledge."

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