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Phase II: Regional expansion

Kangding, Sichuan Province, China

Birds-eye view of the monastery © UNESCO

Project overview and objectivesShade Township, Kangding County, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture borders the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). It is the center of the Minyak culture today. The Minyak are a small sub-group of the larger Tibetan ethnic group.  Although some of the Minyak do speak classic Tibetan, many do not, speaking only their own Minyak language and perhaps the Kham dialect of Tibetan.  The Minyak are devout followers of Tibetan Buddhism, primarily the Gelugpa sect.  The Minyak built large monastic complexes on top of the mountains which served as primary Buddhist learning centers for the young men in their communities.  They also had a distinctive secular architecture.  Because in the past they were in constant danger of attacks by the surrounding Kham Tibetans, Minyak traditional houses were built like fortresses.  Many villages today still have large, nine- storey tall defense towers into which villagers fled for protection when the war-like Kham marauders arrived.

Many of the monasteries have foundations extending back to the 16th century, and like Tibetan monasteries in Lhasa, embody a rich artistic tradition including clay sculpture, wall paintings, tanka painting, metal-casting, butter sculpting and embroidery.  The main monasteries participating in this project are Minyak Guwa Monastery, Negu Monastery and Jiduo Nunnery.  These are some of the earliest Gelugpa sect Monasteries in the Greater Eastern Tibetan Region, and have a history of about 400 years. Guwa Monastery, the primary monastery for the project, was established in 1556, and was linked with the royal lineage of King Ari Guge in Central Tibet. These are some of the earliest Gelugpa sect Monasteries in the Greater Eastern Tibetan Region. These monasteries have a history of about 400 years.
 
Tibetan monasteries in Tibet, Sichuan and Yunnan were devastated during the political mass movements of the 1950s to the 1970s. During the waves of political movements in China, and ending with the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the Minyak monasteries were completely dismantled and destroyed. In the early 1980s practically nothing remained of the thriving Gu Wa monastery complex – only a few foundations and corner stones. It was only in the early 1980’s that permission was granted by the authorities to restore Buddhism and rebuild the temples structures. Once reinvigoration of the Buddhist tradition was underway, several skilled artisans and artists were immediately identified and sent to Lhasa for study.  Although these individuals form the core of the teaching programme today, due to limited funding, resources, remote location, the initialtive has limited impact to reach the initial conservation goal. Thus, to achieve the goal of sustaining the continuity of the local traditional monastery arts and crafts that carries the unique Tibetan ethnic legacy in face of the many challenges, this project aims to support, strengthen and broaden the training activities already started in Gu Wa Monastery, especially by linking the activities to conservation and maintenance using traditional materials, tools and techniques so that the transmission of traditional Buddhist arts and crafts to the next generation of young monks could be ensured. 

Traditional Tibetan Buddhist arts being part of the local culture resources features clay sculpture, thangka painting, mural painting, butter sculpting, production of religious masks, embroidery (for thangka mounting, for ritual dance costumes, for monks’ robes and  for thangka hangings). Among them, clay sculpture, mural painting, wood-carving, embroidery, butter flour, thangka painting were prioritized for training of young monks and nuns who are future generations of traditional monastery caretakers.
 
To ensure the continuity of the local traditional monastery arts and crafts that carries the unique Tibetan ethnic legacy in face of the many challenges, this project aims to support, strengthen and broaden the training activities already started in Gu Wa Monastery, especially by linking the activities to conservation, maintenance and the use of traditional materials, tools and techniques.  Thus, the objective of this project is primarily to revive the training in the traditional Buddhist arts and crafts, and to guarantee their transmission to the next generation of young monks.

Project output to date
The project began officially in June 2005, and the primary output has been training. Training in five skills began after two months of preparation. Preparation included: (i) identifying masters; (ii) selecting trainees; (iii) preparing the manuals and textbooks; and (iv) gathering the necessary raw materials. The first five skills were: (i) clay sculpture; (ii) thangka painting; (iii) painting on wooden architectural pieces; (iv) butter sculpture; and (v) embroidery for ritual dance costumes. Training in mural painting began in spring 2006.

One unique aspect of this training is that the nuns from nearby Jede Nunnery are included in the training programme. The nuns are currently being trained in butter sculpture and embroidery (for the ritual dance costumes). They have expressed interest in learning carving Tibetan scripture wood blocks, and it is planned to expand their training to include this skill in the coming year.

[Xishuangbanna - Yunnan...]