Carrying On the Cultural Heritage of Tibet

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-21 09:41
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 Tibet has made major achievements in the protection of cultural relics since the peaceful liberation of the region 60 years ago. With the full support of the CPC and the central government, Tibet has won widespread acclaim for the success of its major cultural protection programs, made notable achievements in the protection of movable cultural relics, and become progressively adept in the preservation of its intangible heritage. At the same time, organizations and contingents for the protection of cultural heritage have grown in strength, standards of management have been raised significantly, and the research, display, and utilization of cultural relics have thrived. Tibet’s success in the preservation of cultural heritage has not only carried on the traditional culture of this snow-covered plateau, but has also done an enormous deal to promote the sustainable development of the region and the long-term peace and stability of the country.

 Zhang Song, a master of traditional Tibetan medicine, introduces the ingredients used in Tibetan medicines at the Ritong Tibetan Medicine Pharmaceutical Factory in Qamdo, Tibet (October 6, 2010). Founded in 1987, the factory now integrates production, marketing, scientific research and the planting of medicinal herbs. Of the more than 350 types of medicines produced by the factory, 15 have been approved by the State Food and Drug Administration. /Photo by Xinhua

 I. Laying down strong foundations for the protection of cultural heritage 

 1. Surveys have allowed us to ascertain the general state of cultural relics in Tibet. Cultural relics must be surveyed before they can be protected. In 1959, the Ministry of Culture assembled a team of experts to survey cultural relics in Tibet. The team was dispatched to Lhasa, Shannan and Xigaze, where it conducted a relatively systematic survey of cultural relics in these areas. In 1979, a joint operation between the Management Committee of Cultural Relics of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Management Committee of Cultural Relics of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region saw the very first dedicated survey of cultural relics among the ruins of the Guge Kingdom in Ngari Prefecture. In 1981, the Survey and Design Institute of Industrial Buildings of Tibet mapped the ancient city of Guge, and also surveyed ancient structures in the counties of Zanda and Burang. From 1984 to 1992, the State Cultural Heritage Administration assigned universities, institutes, and cultural heritage departments in Shaanxi, Hunan and Sichuan to aid local authorities in a general survey of cultural relics in Tibet. This eight year effort succeeded in essentially charting out the cultural relics, remains and important archaeological sites within the boundaries of Tibet. Starting in the year 2000, efforts were made to verify and supplement surveys in Shannan, Nyingchi, Northern Tibet, Xigaze, and Lhasa. In 2003, a general survey of cultural relics located along the Tibetan stretch of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was conducted, and relevant databases have since been established. In April 2007, a general survey of cultural relics was launched in Tibet as part of the Third National Survey of Cultural Relics. Field studies were wrapped up at the end of 2010, with more than 4,200 sites having been surveyed and registered.

 2. Protected cultural sites are confirmed, made public, and managed under a multi-tier protection scheme. On the basis of surveys, the central government and local people’s governments have successively divided Tibet’s cultural sites into various different grades for the purpose of protection. At present, Tibet is home to 35 key cultural relic sites under state protection, 224 protected sites at the autonomous region level, and 484 protected sites at the city (county) level. Additionally, the Potala Palace, Jokhang Monastery, and Norbu Lingka have been included in the World Heritage List; Lhasa, Xigaze and Gyangze have been named as famous historical and cultural cities in China; and the towns of Changzhub and Sa’gya (located in Nedong County and Xigaze City respectively) have been listed as famous historical and cultural towns in China. In accordance with the Law on the Protection of Cultural Relics, relevant departments in Tibet have defined specific scopes of protection, provided clear markings and directions, maintained archives, and assigned dedicated caretaker organizations or personnel for protected sites.

 II. Comprehensive efforts to protect a range of cultural heritage

 1. The central government has invested heavily in the protection of key cultural relics. Following the beginning of democratic reforms in Tibet, the central government quickly identified the protection of cultural relics as a major program in the effort to accelerate the development of Tibet. Since then, it has assigned almost 1.4 billion yuan for the preservation and protection of cultural relics in the region. From the 1980s to the turn of the century, more than 300 million yuan was invested in a series of programs aimed at salvaging and protecting cultural relics and ancient sites across Tibet, such as the Potala Palace, Jokhang Monastery, Ganden Monastery, Tashilunpo Monastery, Sagya Monastery, Changzhub Monastery, Samye Monastery, the Ruins of Resistance against British Aggression at Zongshan Castle in Gyangze Prefecture, Shalu Monastery, the Guge Kingdom Ruins, and Toding Monastery. In 1994, the Third Tibet Work Forum of the Central Government confirmed 63 projects aimed at boosting the development of the region. As a part of these programs, a total of 96 million yuan in funds was allocated for the construction of the Tibet Museum. In 2001, the Fourth Tibet Work Forum of the Central Government confirmed 117 projects to boost development in Tibet, wherein, 380 million yuan in funds was assigned for the renovation and protection of the Potala Palace, Sagya Monastery, and Norbu Lingka. These projects have since been successfully completed. Under the 180 projects of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan of Tibet, which was adopted at the 167th Executive Meeting of the State Council in January 2007, a total of 570 million yuan in funds was allocated for the restoration of 22 protected sites in Tibet, including Jokhang Monastery and Tashilunpo Monastery. At present, completed projects have already undergone post-construction inspections. Local governments have invested more than 100 million yuan in the preservation and protection of various protected sites. In addition to the dedicated protection of cultural relics, priority has also been given to the protection of cultural relics in construction of large-scale national infrastructure projects, such as the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and the Pangduo Water-Control Project. In 2006, the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region issued Suggestions on the Protection of Cultural Relics in Projects to Provide Affordable Housing for Farmers and Herders, putting forward explicit demands for the protection of cultural relics during various construction projects.

 2. Remarkable achievements have been made in the development of museums and the protection of movable cultural relics. The Tibet Museum, which was opened to the public in 1999, occupies an area of 53,959 square meters and boasts more than 50,000 collections. Tibet’s museum sector has witnessed a period of rapid development since the year 2000, with the Treasures Pavilion of the Potala Palace and the Exhibition Hall of Langzisha in Lhasa having been successively opened to the public, and the Zong Hill Museum in Xigaze and the Exhibition Hall at Sagya Monastery currently under construction. Over the past 60 years, governments and cultural relics departments at all levels in Tibet have stepped up their efforts in the protection and management of cultural relics in museums and exhibitions. With these efforts, authorities have essentially ascertained the basic facts of collections, registered more than one million items falling into various categories, and established detailed records for almost 200,000 objects. These initiatives have ensured the absolute safety of collections at museums.

 3. Protection of ancient books, manuscripts and intangible cultural heritage has been enhanced. The Tibet Autonomous Region has long regarded ancient books and manuscripts as important cultural relics, making constant efforts to improve the protection and management thereof. For example, more than 40,000 ancient books and manuscripts are kept under the custody of Potala Palace, Norbu Lingka, and the Tibet Museum, with 34 having been included in the National Catalogue of Precious Ancient Works so far. The Potala Palace Administration Office has sorted and cataloged more than 20,000 ancient books and records, and has also restored missing or damaged copies and pages. The Tibet Museum has compiled and published the Pangtang Catalogue, which is regarded as one of the three major collections of ancient books of Tubo (Tibet). After more than 20 years of sorting efforts, the Norbu Lingka Administration Office finally completed the registration of its entire collection of ancient books in 2001, culminating in 17 registers of ancient books written in the Tibetan language. In addition, efforts at the state level have also been made to effectively protect and administer the large numbers of ancient books and manuscripts kept at protected sites in Tibet, such as those at Jokhang Monastery and Sagya Monastery.

 4. The Tibet Autonomous Region protects its intangible cultural heritage through a multi-tiered protection scheme and by designating inheritors. At the national level, the Tibet Autonomous Region is currently home to 60 forms of intangible cultural heritage with 53 designated inheritors; while at the regional level, it is home to 222 forms of intangible cultural heritage with 227 designated inheritors.

 III. Remarkable achievements in archeological studies, scientific research and cultural exchanges

 1. Starting from scratch, Tibet has made remarkable achievements in archeological studies. In the 1950s, a series of archaeological operations were conducted in Tibet by the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Comprehensive Scientific Survey Team of the Chinese Academy of Sciences as well as experts from the field of ethnology. These operations led to the discovery of remains in Nagqu, Tingri, Nyingchi and Medog, which are thought to date back to the Stone Age. In 1961, archeologists in Tibet discovered and excavated eight cavern tombs east of Painboo Farm in Lhasa, signaling the beginning of scientific archeological excavations in Tibet. From 1977 to 1979, a joint excavation of the Cajot Ruins in Qamdo was conducted by the Management Committee of Cultural Relics of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Archeological Department of Sichuan University. This excavation, which was the first of a considerable scale ever to be conducted in Tibet, pushed the prehistoric history of Tibet back 4,000-5,000 years from the present day, creating a major impact in archeological and Tibetological circles in China and overseas. Since then, the Management Committee of Cultural Relics of the Tibet Autonomous Region, in association with the Archeological Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the Archeological Research Institute of Shaanxi Province, and Sichuan University, has excavated the Qugong Site in Lhasa, the Changguogou Site in Shannan, the Stone Mortar Tomb of Ngari Plateau, the Gyasa Hall of Toding Monastery, the ruins of Buddhist grottos and monastery in Piyang and Donggar, Ngari, and the site of Sakya North Monastery. These excavations have led to a succession of new archeological discoveries and achievements.

 2. Increasing emphasis has been placed on the publication of scientific research findings. With the launch of archeological excavations on a widespread scale, the cultural heritage departments of the Tibet Autonomous Region have cooperated with universities and scientific research institutions from around the country in the research of archeological data. This has led to the publication of hundreds of investigation reports and papers, the compilation and publication of a number of annals of cultural relics at the county level, and the successive publication of field archeological survey reports and academic research results, including Cajot of Qamdo, Qugong of Lhasa, The Ancient City of Guge, The Rock Painting Art of Tibet, The Mural Painting Art of Buddhist Monasteries of Tibet, Toding Monastery, Report on Repairs to Potala Palace in Tibet, and Report on the Salvation and Protection of Cultural Relics in Ngari Prefecture of Tibet. Meanwhile, a series of pictorials have also been published, including The Potala Palace, The Thangka Paintings of Tibet, The Cream of Cultural Relics of Tibet, The Mural Painting Art of Buddhist Monasteries of Tibet, The Rock Painting Art of Tibet and The Potala Palace – An Ancient Building of China. Of these, The Cream of Cultural Relics of Tibet and The Potala Palace – An Ancient Building of China have been highlights at several book shows held in China and abroad.

 3. Cultural exchanges have been met with positive responses. Since the beginning of the reform and opening up drive, the Tibet Autonomous Region has steadily promoted schemes to put Tibetan cultural relics on display in different parts of the country. At the same time, increased emphasis has also been given to the exhibition of Tibetan cultural relics overseas. In April 1987, the Tibet Autonomous Region held its first international exhibition in Paris, which was entitled Thangka and Cultural Relics – Treasures of Tibet. Thereafter, the cultural heritage departments of the autonomous region have exhibited cultural relics in Japan, Argentina, Italy, South Korea, Canada, Belgium, the United States, and Germany, as well as China’s Hong Kong and Taiwan regions. Special mention should be given to three particular exhibitions, namely, “Cultural Relics of Tibet, China – Treasures Preserved in the Land of Snow,” which was held in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Houston in 2003 through 2005; an exhibition of the cultural relics of Tibet held in Berlin and Essen in 2006; and an exhibition of the cultural relics of Tibet held in five Japanese cities, including Tokyo, in 2009. In addition to being met with a highly positive response, these exhibitions fully demonstrated the achievements of the Chinese government in protecting the traditional culture of Tibet.

 IV. A major boost in the capacity to protect cultural relics 

 1. Aid from around the country has played a key role in boosting Tibet’s capacity in the protection of cultural relics. The State Administration of Cultural Heritage and administrative departments for cultural relics from various provinces around the country have taken active steps to aid Tibet in the field of cultural relics in accordance with the arrangements of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council as well as the aid schemes of various provincial CPC committees and provincial people’s governments nationwide. The State Administration of Cultural Heritage convened meetings on aid to Tibet from the national cultural relics sector in 1997, 2001, and 2007 respectively. Under aid schemes, Tibet has been provided with funds, equipment, technical support, and assistance in the training of personnel so as to aid the development of its schemes in regard to cultural relics. The China Research Institute of Cultural Heritage, the Palace Museum in Beijing, and the survey and design institutes of cultural relics departments in Beijing, Henan, Hebei, Shaanxi, Zhejiang and Sichuan have been involved in the survey and design work on major projects such as the first phase of the renovation of the Potala Palace, the three key projects for the protection of cultural relics of Tibet, and the key projects for the protection of cultural relics under the Eleventh Five-Year Plan of Tibet. The Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Hunan provinces have provided Tibet with significant support in the Second National Survey of Cultural Relics in Tibet, major archeological excavations such as those at the Cajot Ruins and the Qugong Site, the survey of cultural relics along the Tibet stretch of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, and the Third National Survey of Cultural Relics in Tibet.

 2. A framework of laws and regulations on cultural relics in Tibet has been set up. As far back as June 1959, the CPC Work Committee of Tibet issued Decision on Strengthening Archival Work on Cultural Relics. In July of the same year, the Lhasa People’s Government issued a proclamation regarding the protection of cultural relics, marking the first time that a Tibetan government had ever issued a statement on the protection of cultural relics. Managerial provisions and procedures on the photographing of cultural relics, the cultural relics market, and the export of cultural relics have also been adopted by the autonomous region, which have acted to enhance the protection of cultural relics in Tibet. In 1990, the Second Session of the Fifth People’s Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region promulgated Regulations of Tibet Autonomous Region on the Protection and Management of Cultural Relics. In 2003, the People’s Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region promulgated Procedures for Managing Fire Protection and Safety of Cultural Heritage Organizations in Tibet Autonomous Region. With this, a legal framework built around national laws on cultural relics and complemented by local regulations had essentially been put in place.

 3. Management organizations and contingents of personnel for the protection of cultural relics in Tibet have continuously expanded and grown in strength. In June 1959, a committee for the management of cultural relics, ancient sites, documents, and archives was established under the CPC Tibet Work Committee. In 1965, the Management Committee for Cultural Relics of the Tibet Autonomous Region was formally founded. In 1995, the Committee was restructured and renamed the Cultural Heritage Administration of the Tibet Autonomous Region, which is charged with the task of overseeing initiatives to protect cultural relics throughout the whole region. At present, cultural heritage administrations have been set up in all seven prefectures, the counties of Sa’gya, Kangmar, Gyirong, Ngamring and Lhaze, the city of Xigaze, and all the counties in Ngari Prefecture. Special organizations for the protection of cultural relics, academic studies, and displays and exhibitions have also been established in the region, such as the Potala Palace Administration Office, Norbu Lingka Administration Office, Tibet Museum, the Research Institute of Protection of Cultural Relics of Tibet Autonomous Region, and the Appraisal Group of Cultural Relics of Tibet Autonomous Region. At present, organizations and personnel for the protection, management and research of cultural relics are much more capable than they were in the past.

 Efforts to protect cultural heritage in Tibet, and especially efforts to protect and renovate key monasteries and temples, have been met with great support and active participation from the local people. At the same time, the protection of cultural heritage has also played an active role in promoting economic and social development and raising standards of living in the region. During the Eleventh Five-Year Plan alone, 40.5 million yuan was assigned for the remuneration of country-based workers engaged in cultural heritage protection projects, while a sum of 57.9 million yuan was used to procure traditional materials for protection and restoration projects. These initiatives not only created a large number of jobs, but also directly increased the incomes of local people. In addition, cultural heritage plays an even more prominent role as a driving force behind the development of Tibet’s tourism industry.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 9, 2011)


Note: Author: Director-General of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage of the People’s Republic of China

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