Sowing the seeds of art while casting off poverty

Autumn is in full swing in September on the plateau in Zamtang County, Ngapa, Sichuan Province. In a quiet, serene thangka painting room in Central Zamtang Town, several trainees sit cross-legged and trace the outline of a painting on their drawing boards. With some paint and a little embellishment, a beautiful Thangka painting will begin to appear.

Jinmo, a 20-year-old nomadic girl, is an outstanding student in this thangka training class. She started with pencil drawing, and after more than one year of studies, she has reached the level of intermediate painting and is able to complete a piece of Thangka from design to drawing independently. 

At the Zambala Bangtuo Stone Carving Park, Padma Norwo, an inheritor of Zamtang stone carving, a Sichuan Province intangible cultural heritage item, and his teacher are explaining stone carving techniques to villagers. This year, the Stone Carving Inheritance Institute is responsible for carving the landscape of the Zambala Bangtuo Stone Carving Park, and Padma Norwo is leading 53 students who are participating in the project. Among the trainees, 25 are from impoverished households in the county. Student Yaben said, “Thanks to studying at the Institute, this year I earned 15,600 yuan (2274 US dollars) from carving landscape stone statues!”

Intangible cultural heritage is a characteristic cultural resource for Zamtang. As a poverty-stricken country, Zamtang in recent years has been vigorously promoting cultural poverty alleviation. In accordance with the idea of “intangible cultural heritage plus poverty alleviation”, they have adopted the “government support and inheritor self-creation” approach, which encourages and supports cultural inheritors to establish a training center and invests one million yuan (145, 643 US dollars) each year towards the construction of intangible cultural heritage training facilities. The county currently has 26 such institutions whose content covers Tibetan incense, Tibetan tea, Tibetan medicine, thangka, stone carving, and ceramic art. Today, there are more than 1,400 people working in the preservation of intangible cultural heritage in the county. Many nearly-forgotten folk arts have been restored and revitalized. Statistics show that last year, 15 of the 26 institutions in Zamtang achieved profitability, earning a total of nearly 5 million yuan (728, 810 US dollars) in economic benefits.