Ti­betan crafts­men turn Yun­nan vil­lage into pot­tery hub

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE | CULTURE - ByWANG KAIHAO in Shangri-La, Yun­nan wangkai­hao@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Many trav­el­ers to Shangri-La, a county-level city in Southwest China’s Yun­nan province, will likely pass Tang­dui vil­lage in Nixi town­ship with­out pay­ing much at­ten­tion to it.

Af­ter all, there’s so much to see — Bri­tish au­thor James Hil­ton’s fic­tional place of Shangri-La in his 1930s’ novel Lost Hori­zon, is said to have been in­spired by the city.

Nev­er­the­less, Tadrin Phuntsok, a 45-year-old res­i­dent of Tang­dui who runs a road­side store that sells black pot­tery works such as pots, has rea­sons for op­ti­mism.

Nixi is known for its stewed chicken, of­ten served in earthen pots. It is a hub of tra­di­tional Ti­betan crafts­man­ship and it was listed as a na­tion-level in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage in 2006.

“It (Nixi pot­tery) wa­sun­knownto the out­side world for a long time,” says Tadrin Phuntsok, a sev­en­th­gen­er­a­tion pot­ter in his family. “They were mainly ex­changed for crops rather than be­ing sold be­fore the 1990s, when some over­seas trav­el­ers came and bought them.

“I even didn’t know how to charge,” he re­calls. “I sold each piece for a few yuan, but they would want to payme much more than that.”

The pots are usu­ally dec­o­rated with an­cient Ti­betan im­ages such as deitiesan­dare com­pletely hand­made. Tadrin Phuntsok re­veals the ma­te­ri­als are pro­duced lo­cally.

“Each family has its own unique formula,” he says.

Among about 880 vil­lagers in Tang­dui, there are more than 100 pot­tery ar­ti­sans, andTadrin Phuntsok is con­sid­ered among the best.

Though in the 1980s, there were only a few fam­i­lies that had in­her­ited the tra­di­tion, many­morewere en­cour­aged to join af­ter he be­gan to sell his pots.

“I once sold the pots on the Bund. I ex­pected to sell them for 250 yuan ($37) in to­tal, but a for­eigner came and bought all for 400 yuan,” he says of a 1997 sale in Shang­hai where a Ro­ma­nian diplo­mat bought the wares.

Ear­lier, such items were more pop­u­lar with over­seas buy­ers than do­mes­tic col­lec­tors, but in the past three years that’s changed. The Chi­nese have now taken the lead.

Value of pot­tery ar­ti­cles sold in Tang­dui vil­lage in Nixi town­ship, Yun­nan province, in 2015.

Afine piece ofTadrin Phuntsok’s pot­tery can eas­ily sell for 2,000 yuan to­day and he is able to earn more than 80,000 yuan a year.

The man who spent most of his life in the moun­tain­ous area also shows an un­com­mon un­der­stand­ing ofhowskills are im­proved. Af­ter trav­el­ing aroundChina, he went to the United States and ex­changed ex­pe­ri­ences with some vet­eran Na­tive Amer­i­can ar­ti­sans.

“Of course, they wouldn’t re­veal their formula,” Tadrin Phuntsok says, laugh­ing. “But I could guess af­ter ob­serv­ing the to­pog­ra­phy and veg­e­ta­tion of an area.”

He says he was en­light­ened by the fact that Na­tive Amer­i­cans of­ten use dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als to make dif­fer­ent parts of one ar­ti­cle.

In2015, Tang­dui vil­lage sold pot­tery ar­ti­cles worth some 4 mil­lion yuan.

Tadrin Phuntsok’s 24-year-old son, Losang Champa, is con­tin­u­ing with the tra­di­tion.

“I once con­sid­ered be­ing a pot­ter as re­ally low-class work,” says the son, who has a Ti­betan lit­er­a­ture ma­jor from col­lege. “But when I was away from home and missed pot­tery, I re­al­ized that it is the foun­da­tion of our cul­ture.”

Losang Champa spent all his spare time in col­le­geon­pot­teryand aban­doned a chance to be­come a civil ser­vant af­ter grad­u­a­tion.

He also con­sid­ers it cru­cial to mix mod­ern de­sign with old crafts­man­ship.

“The only prob­lem here is the poor in­ter­net con­nec­tion. Oth­er­wise, I could open an on­line store.”

CHEN CHUANGYE / FOR CHINA DAILY

An­cient im­ages on the pots.

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