Dreams of a black pottery inheritor

“It smells great, really great!” Nixi chicken is being stewed in a black earthen pot with mushrooms picked from the mountain that morning, and the Tibetan-style kitchen is filled with its fragrant aroma.

On the evening of August 27, guests and visitors to Shangri-La City in Dechen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province have made a special trip to Nixi Township to taste this delicacy.

“Can you guess what is the most famous part of this dish? It’s the pot! Nixi black pottery is a national-level intangible cultural heritage!” The visitors are very surprised to hear this.

“There are 38 traditional styles of Nixi black pottery, and earthen pots are one of them. If a pottery craftsman can make all 38 styles, then he becomes a master,” 26-year-old Lharong Shamba said, adding that pottery making in the Jinsha River and Lancang River basins has a history of nearly 3,000 years. The ancient pottery craftsmanship is still being passed down in Nixi, and the unique and simple pieces are also necessities in local people’s homes. Lharong Shamba was influenced by the black pottery making since as a child. Two years ago, after graduating from the Department of Tibetan Language and Literature at the Yunnan University for Nationalities, he returned to his village, where he continued to study and work in his family’s company, learning the 38 styles of black pottery and having managed all of them.

Sitting in a factory at the entrance of Tangdul Village, Lharong Shamba holds a cup carefully in his hand. Using a carving knife, he sculpts an image of a mischievous water unicorn at the mouth of the cup. As the image gradually becomes clearer, it seems as if ready to spray water from the cup.

Lharong Shamba showcases his craft and introduces the process by which to make black pottery. To make one black pottery cup, a craftsman needs a dozen tools, six or seven different techniques, and it takes two weeks. Making a black pottery pot is even more complicated. As he has been practicing since childhood, Lharong Shamba has a good grasp of the techniques, and he is finally able to earn a living from this “pottery rice bowl”. Though he chose to return to the mountains, Lharong Shamba apparently isn’t satisfied with only making “pottery bowls” the same as his ancestors. He wants to start from black pottery and create something new.

He said that he wants to open a distinctive homestay, then join with other locals to create a black pottery specialty tourism town.

According to Lharong Shamba, with the continuous development of tourism in the Shangri-La region, Nixi, which is located along the main thoroughfare and is famous for its intangible cultural heritage and cuisine, has already experienced the fervor of tourism. This summer, Lharong Shamba’s home welcomed dozens of tourists from all over the country and even the world. They can come visit and experience the local area, and they can also try their hands at making their own “special” black pottery. Some work on it for one or two hours, others up to half a day. After the tourists leave, the workers will continue the unfinished piece. When it is finished, they send the product back to the tourists who have already returned home. The farthest they have sent pottery is to Taiwan.

Although this experience was widely acclaimed, Lharong Shamba feels that it is not enough. In his eyes, his hometown is beautiful, with peach blossoms in spring, pine mushrooms in summer, and unique folk customs, but tourists only stay for a short while and then leave, because there isn’t enough to do. He wants to integrate local resources with villagers to form a “business + farmer” model that allows guests to stay here for a longer time, enjoying the beautiful local scenery while sitting and drinking butter tea and eating Nixi pot chick.