Belt and Road breathes new life into Tibetan cultural heritage

"We strive to popularize Tibetan carpet culture around the world, while constantly exploring how to give new life to this traditional craftsmanship," said the head of a carpet manufacturer.

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A tourist rides a horse by the Yamzbog Yumco Lake in southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region, April 5, 2024. (Xinhua/Zhang Rufeng)

With the arrival of spring, northwest China’s Qinghai Province is about to usher in the peak tourist season. In the villages of agricultural and pastoral areas, as well as among urban factories, traditional Tibetan cultural products such as shining silver and bronzewares and gorgeous Tibetan carpets are continuously produced.

Wang Fubang, a district-level inheritor of “silver and copperware making and gilding skills” and craftsman who has been making silver and copper jewelry for nearly 30 years, is working overtime on a recent order from Mongolia.

Wang lives in Yangpo Village, Xining City, the birthplace of gilding techniques in silver and copperware. Due to its close location to the famous Tibetan Buddhist temple Kumbum Monastery, silver and copper craftsmen came here more than 100 years ago. The village became famous because “every family had its own workshop.”

Wang said due to the small volume of production and little fame, he was unable to create an entire industry. His products were sold only in the province and beyond in the past.

However, over the past few years, as part of implementing the national rural revitalization strategy, a base with an area of more than 90 mu (63,000 square meters) has been established in the village for craft production. More than 400 households, or almost 40 percent of villagers, joined the business model “joint-stock cooperative-base-farmers.” As Wang’s products gain increasing popularity, he has received orders from Mongolia, Singapore, India and elsewhere.

As early as the Han and Tang Dynasty, Chinese dishes were transported west along the Silk Road to Central Asia, Western Asia and even Europe.

Ruslan Duvanbekov, a senior researcher at the Department of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, recently told Xinhua that several oil lamps from China have been found in the southern Kazakh cities of Taraz and Turkestan.

Three of these lamps are currently on display at the museum. “Chinese oil lamps were made from good-quality materials, are durable, and show a very high level of craftsmanship,” he said.

For more than a decade since the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was launched in 2013, Qinghai Province, a critical part of the southern route of the ancient Silk Road, has capitalized on the opportunities provided to it. Several iconic products with plateau characteristics are famous at home and abroad.

Yang Yongzhu, an inheritor of the Tibetan carpet intangible cultural heritage of Jiaya Village who learned the craft from his father at the age of 13, said the village had become famous for its Tibetan carpets back in the Qing Dynasty. Selecting wool, washing wool, twisting threads and warp threading are merely basic skills. Only after many years of training did he become a seventh generation of carpet weavers in his family.

Yang is proud to have witnessed Tibetan carpets’ journey from family workshops to large-scale production and then the international stage.

Since 2004, Qinghai has hosted the annual International Tibetan Carpet Exhibition, where he once demonstrated his exquisite Tibetan carpet weaving skills. In 2006, Tibetan carpets from Jiaya Village were included in a top-tier list of intangible cultural heritage in China. In 2007, Shengyuan Carpet Group was founded, and Yang began helping the company develop its talent.

“The patterns of traditional Tibetan carpets are dominated by elements such as auspicious clouds, lotus patterns and water ripples,” Yang said.

At present, Shengyuan Carpet Group is one of the Tibetan carpet manufacturing companies with the largest production scale and the highest market share in China. As tourism in Qinghai becomes increasingly popular and domestic and foreign orders arrive one after another, the company has been operating at full capacity for the past two years.

Xue Ting, chairperson of Shengyuan Carpet Group, believes Tibetan carpets have a vast market potential since many countries and regions under the BRI habitually use carpets. Shengyuan Group’s products are currently exported to Saudi Arabia, Russia, Poland, Hungary and other countries.

According to Wang Jingping, former president of the China Tibetan Carpet Association, Tibetan carpets have a long history of spreading to countries linked to the Silk Road, where they were transported along the Ancient Tang-Bo Road, known as the “Southern Silk Road.”

Li Yalin, deputy director of the Qinghai Provincial Department of Commerce, said that over the years, masters not only in Qinghai but also in Xizang, Xinjiang and other places of China have never stopped researching, developing and promoting their products.

“We strive to popularize Tibetan carpet culture around the world,” said Xue, the Shengyuan chairperson, “while constantly exploring how to give new life to this traditional craftsmanship.”

Xinhua News Agency

Founded in 1931, Xinhua News Agency is one of the largest news organizations in the world, with over 10,000 employees across the globe. As the main source of news and information for China, Xinhua plays a key role in shaping the country's media landscape and communicating its perspectives to the world. The agency produces a wide range of content, including text news articles, photos, videos, and social media posts, in both Chinese and English, and its reports are widely used by media organizations around the world. Xinhua also operates several international bureaus, including in key capitals like Washington, D.C., Moscow, and London, to provide in-depth coverage of global events.

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