TOTEM OF THE PLATEAU

A cham­pion of the yak as an em­blem of the Ti­betan high­lands brings the spirit of the an­i­mal to a Bei­jing mu­seum, Wang Kai­hao re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

On China’s on­line so­cial net­works, Wu Yuchu called him­self Yagebo, which means old yak in Ti­betan.

An on­go­ing ex­hi­bi­tion in Bei­jing fea­tures more than 500 ar­ti­facts re­lated to yaks through March 15.

Ear­lier this month, when the show kicked off in the Cap­i­tal Mu­seum, the hun­dreds of vis­i­tors at the open­ing cer­e­mony sur­prised this long­time ad­vo­cate of yak cul­ture.

“I never ex­pected so many peo­ple to come,” Wu says. “I even didn’t send any in­vi­ta­tion let­ter, and only re­leased in­for­ma­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion on my WeChat.”

The yak is closely con­nected with many as­pects of Ti­betan peo­ple’s daily lives, rang­ing from trans­porta­tion and sports to medicine and food.

Nev­er­the­less, as an eth­nic Han, Wu is de­ter­mined to bring the yak spirit be­yond the Qing­hai-Ti­betan Plateau.

“Yaks are known for their loyalty, benev­o­lence, dili­gence and hon­esty when serv­ing peo­ple,” the 64-year-old says.

“Their sym­bolic mean­ing will be eas­ily ac­cepted by peo­ple not only in Bei­jing but even over­seas.”

The na­tive of Jiangxi prov­ince is the di­rec­tor of the Yak Mu­seum of Ti­bet in Lhasa, cap­i­tal of the Ti­bet au­tonomous re­gion.

The in­sti­tu­tion claims to be the world’s only mu­seum fully ded­i­cated to this an­i­mal species.

“It was the yaks that saved my life,” Wu re­calls. The win­ter of 1977 made the yak a mes­mer­iz­ing totem in the rest of his life.

Wu was a re­cent col­lege grad­u­ate, who vol­un­teered to work in Ti­bet. He and his col­leagues were be­sieged by a bl­iz­zard on a moun­tain for five days with­out food.

“Nei­ther the jeep nor the horse could cross the snow. We had 30 or 40 peo­ple, and I thought we were doomed.”

Then, a res­cue team ar­rived with a herd of yaks car­ry­ing food.

“Many of us couldn’t help but cry while eat­ing,” he says.

He worked in Ti­bet for 16 years be­fore mov­ing to Bei­jing.

He be­lieves his re­la­tion­ship with yaks is des­tiny.

In 2010, three years be­fore Wu was sup­posed to re­tire from his po­si­tion as head of Bei­jing Pub­lish­ing Group, an ac­ci­dent changed his life.

“I had a dream in which I saw the word ‘yak’ and ‘mu­seum’ both ap­pear on the com­puter screen,” he says.

“Well, I had to do some­thing.”

Wu re­signed and re­turned to Ti­bet alone. He started his project from al­most noth­ing.

In­spired by his pas­sion, sev­eral old friends helped him raise funds, and four vol­un­teers joined his work.

Fol­low­ing the mi­gra­tions of yaks, they have trav­eled more than 30,000 kilo­me­ters on the plateau to do field re­search. His per­se­ver­ance also brought good for­tune.

For days, they looked for the golden wild yak, one of the rarest yak species liv­ing in Ngari, in the north of Ti­bet.

“A lo­cal town­ship head laughed when he heard we were look­ing for golden yaks, and he told us he had only seen them twice af­ter work­ing there for six years,” Wu re­calls.

“How­ever, the next morn­ing, we saw 21.”

The Bei­jing mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment also helped to fin­ish con­struc­tion of the Lhasa mu­seum, which was listed as a key sup­port­ive project of the cap­i­tal city on cul­tural relic work in Ti­bet.

On May 18, 2014 — the 38th In­ter­na­tional Mu­seum Day — the Yak Mu­seum of Ti­bet fi­nally opened.

The mu­seum has col­lected more than 2,000 ar­ti­facts rel­e­vant to yaks, in­clud­ing spec­i­mens, daily-use ar­ti­cles made from yak fur or bone, and art pieces show­ing peo­ple’s en­thu­si­asm for the an­i­mal. About half of the ar­ti­facts were do­nated, and the rest were bought.

A yak skele­ton that dates back 45,000 years is among the high­lights of the col­lec­tion.

“The yaks are so good, so we’re build­ing a palace for them,” Wu re­peat­edly ex­plains to lo­cal herds­men, who some­times don’t even know what a mu­seum is.

“The ideas of a mu­seum have to be rec­og­nized by lo­cal peo­ple, or it is only an empty build­ing.”

About 150,000 vis­i­tors have come — not only the nos­tal­gic older gen­er­a­tion but also young peo­ple stirred by an emo­tional con­nec­tion to the past.

“Be­fore com­ing here, I didn’t re­al­ize that the yaks are so benev­o­lent to us,” says Tashi Phuntsok, a Ti­betan em­ployee in his 20s at the mu­seum.

“I grew up in the city, and I didn’t know much about life on the prairie. How­ever, af­ter par­tic­i­pat­ing in the ex­hi­bi­tion, I feel there would be no Ti­betan peo­ple with­out the sup­port of yaks,” he says.

Wu ex­plains: “The yak is the most cru­cial ba­sis of the old life­style of the Ti­betan eth­nic group.

“I hope that all the Ti­betan peo­ple can en­joy a mod­ern life, but cul­tural mem­o­ries can­not be thrown away. Such a mu­seum is a place to keep their mem­o­ries.”

Wu says he plans to or­ga­nize a tour­ing ex­hi­bi­tion in Europe and North Amer­ica.

“Speak­ing of Ti­bet, many may think of Bud­dhism, lamas, and tem­ples,” he says.

“But maybe the yak can of­fer the world a dif­fer­ent cul­tural icon.”

Yak Cul­ture Ex­hi­bi­tion in Bei­jing 9 am-5pm, through March 15. En­trance un­til 4 pm (closed on Mon­days). Ex­hi­bi­tion Hall A, B1 floor, Cap­i­tal Mu­seum, 16 Fux­ing­men­wai Av­enue, Xicheng district, Bei­jing. 010-6339-3339. Free ticket, but on­line reser­va­tion is needed.

Yak Mu­seum of Ti­bet 9 am-5 pm, and en­trance un­til 4:30 pm (closed on Mon­day). 6 Ch­agu Av­enue, Li­uwu New District, Lhasa. The yak is the most cru­cial ba­sis of the old life­style of the Ti­betan eth­nic group.” Wu Yuchu, founder of the Yak Mu­seum of Ti­bet

Wang Yi­ran contributed to the story.

Con­tact the writer at wangkai­hao@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

WANG KAI­HAO / CHINA DAILY

Top: A yak spec­i­men on dis­play at the Cap­i­tal Mu­seum. Above: The Yak Mu­seum of Ti­bet in Lhasa, founded by Wu Yuchu in 2014.

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