Dongba Writing: A Primitive Pictogram

Written by Juliette Qi

 

Dongba Culture and Naxi Ethnicity

In China, the Dongba culture, associated with Lijiang City in the Yunnan Province and Muli District in the Sichuan Province, refers to the traditional culture of the Naxi ethnic group. The Naxi live mostly in northern Yunnan, in Lijiang, Weixi, Zhongdian, Ninglang and Yongsheng prefectures.

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The Naxi in Traditional Costume

 

The Dongba culture is based on the polytheistic religion of the same name and also has own writing, dances, paintings and music. “Dongba” is the name given to shamans, types of wizards, who transmit this culture from generation to generation. The Dongba priest is an important figure in the community because he preaches the harmony between men and nature, which is a fundamental value among the Naxi people, just like the cult of the ancestors.

The Dongba religion, more than a thousand years old, has been influenced by Tibetan Lamaism over the centuries, but also by Taoism and Chinese Buddhism. In this religion, the elements of nature are considered as gods who rule the world.

 

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The polytheist Dongba religion

 

From an artistic perspective, Dongba culture is indeed very rich because it is transmitted and expressed by music and painting. Many colorful scrolls depicting religious scenes or deities can be found in Lijiang.

The city of Lijiang is a research center which studies the Dongba culture and keeps all objects related to this culture. Many Chinese and foreign researchers come to this place to study this fascinating culture. In religious rituals, the Naxis dance in their traditional costumes reminiscent of Tibetan ones. They also sing sacred texts, written in Dongba.

 

Dongba Writing: The Legendary Characters

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Wood Engraving of Dongba Writing

 

The dongba or tomba script (in romanized Naxi: ‘na-‘khi ²ggŏ-¹baw) is one of the scriptures used to write in the Naxi language, which is spoken by the Naxi people. It is more than 1000 years old and is probably the only predominantly pictographic writing system used today; however, some characters are used as syllabic characters.

There are currently 2000 religious works written in the Dongba language in which more than 2000 pictograms are used. These books are of crucial importance to understand the Dongba culture because they inform us about religion and customs but also about philosophy, history, literature, astronomy, medicine, fauna and flora as well as the paintings and music of this culture.

In the Lijiang prefecture in particular, the signs are usually written in dongba, han Chinese and sometimes in English. There are also dongba – hanzi / english dictionaries in the bookstores of the city.

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Dongba calligraphy

 

Dongba calligraphy is still practiced by using bamboo stencils, as well as prints, both of which usually use a high-quality handmade paper specifically made for Dongba.

The traditional production of dongba paper uses the bark of two shrubs, wikstroemia delavayi and wikstroemia lichiangensis, growing at an altitude of 2,000m above sea-level, as in the canton of Sanbei. The barks are cut into thin strips, soaked in a tray, and then dried on boards in the sun. There are also many murals of this writing, in bas-relief or painting.

 

 

 

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide” 

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 10 years solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we position well to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and bring you direct finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Kungfu Clothing, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!

If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us atbloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

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The Weaving, Dyeing and Embroidery of the Li People: 2000-Year-Old Techniques

Written by Juliette Qi

 

The weaving and dyeing techniques of the Li* have a long history and unique characteristics. The Li mainly produce linen fabrics, cotton, brocade, printed and dyed products, embroidery and long bedspreads (a kind of brocade, the most delicate to make). Li women are skilled in spinning and weaving, and especially show their ingenuity in spinning and weaving “bombax” cotton and local cotton. Even before Song Dynasty (960-1279), Li women already knew how to weave and could weave colorful bed sheets and curtains.

 

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According to historical records, the traditional spinning and weaving techniques of Li cotton have a history of more than 2,000 years. Since the Han Dynasty (207 BC-220 AD), Li brocade has been offered as a tribute to feudal emperors of later dynasties. Cheng Bingzhao, a poet of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) once praised the exquisite work of Li brocade in these terms: “Li brocade is as beautiful and brilliant as the sun in the sky “. “Li” brocade is appreciated because it is exquisitely manufactured, beautiful in its design, practical, and has the characteristics of the spinning, weaving, dyeing and embroidery of the ethnic group.

 

The Different Techniques

The Li minority has its own spinning, weaving, dyeing and embroidery techniques and, in different regions, has also developed them according to local preferences.

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Spinning: The main tools involved are the hand wheel and the wheel driven by a pedal. Spinning using the hand wheel is the oldest spinning technique. Before cotton sheets grew in popularity, wild linen sheets were predominant in areas inhabited by the Li minority. People peeled the wild flax fibers they picked up during the rainy seasons and turned them into a base material after soaking and rinsing. After dyeing, they spun it by hand or with the spinning wheel and wove it.

Dyeing: The dyes are based on wild or cultivated plants. They are characterized by bright colors, speed of catch and various resources. Dyeing is important empirical knowledge of the Li people. In the Meifu dialect area there was also a knot dyeing technique, called “Jiaoxie dyeing” in the old days. This unique process follows the process of “knotting first, then dyeing and finally weaving” and has obviously integrated these three techniques.

Weaving: There are mainly two types of looms, the loom powered by a pedal and the craft “Juyao”. The craft “Juyao” is rather old, similar to that used by the Banpo clan six or seven thousand years ago. Li women could use the “Juyao” craft to weave exquisite, sumptuous and complicated patterns. The loom is even far ahead of the big modern jacquards in jacquard weaving technology.

 

Li Knot Dyeing

Knot dyeing, known as “Jiaoxie” in the past, played a major role in the textile printing and dyeing of the Li. The raw materials are knotted, dyed, spun and woven into colored fabric. The dye is mainly made from leaves of plants, flowers, bark or tree roots. Natural mineral dye is also an addition.

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Currently, Li-knot dyeing is widespread particularly in the Meifu dialect region. In this region, there are stands that support the fabric reserved for dyeing knots.The patterns are fine and exquisite. In the dialect region Ha, however, there is no support for knot dyeing. People tie one end of the vertical line to their waist and the other to their feet. The patterns consist of thick and irregular lines. The process of dyeing knots consists of drawing the pattern, tying, dying, re-dyeing, rinsing etc. However, the pattern decision process is often omitted by Li women, as various drawings are already in their memory.

 

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Knotting, also known as “wrapping”, plays a crucial role in knot dyeing because it directly affects the result. When the knotting is finished, the skeins are lowered from the wooden bearing and then dyed. After being dyed repeatedly too? Does not make sense on its own), they are dried to allow the indigo to be oxidized and air dried. Then the hanks are dyed repeatedly, until they reach the required color. When the dyeing process is complete, the skeins are loosened, rinsed with clear water to remove the excess color, and then dried. The vertical lines (weft) will then present a pattern. People can then weave the horizontal lines of color (chain) with the loom “Juyao”. An exquisite piece of art will then be born.

The Li process of ” dyeing knots first and then weaving”, although different from the other ethnic methods of “weaving first and then dyeing knots”, not only allows the pattern to show all its fineness, but also adds more color changes and causes the pattern to have a distinct color gradation. Such a kind of naturally formed chromatic halo makes the brocade more exquisite and superior in its artistic efficiency.

 

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NOTES*

The Li 黎族 (Lí Zú) is one of 56 ethnic minorities living in China. Their population was just over 1.2 million at the end of the 20th century. The majority of the Li live off the south coast of China on the island-province of Hainan, where they are the most numerous natives.

 

 

 

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide” 

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 10 years solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we position well to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and bring you direct finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Kungfu Clothing, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


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If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Xinjiang keeps the traditional way of making Atlas silk

For more than 1,000 years, traditional craftsmen have been making Atlas silk in Hotan prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Inspired by the shapes of flowers, leaves and fruits, the people weave beautiful patterns.

Model present Atlas silk in the Taklimakan Desert in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region
 silk

Atlas is a traditional type of Xinjiang silk that means “graceful” in Uyghur language. It is a kind of silk fabric with fine intricate patterns that Uygur women like very much, and is renowned for its multiple and resplendent colors. Usually the colors include sharp contrasts such as viridis, sapphire, indigo, yellow, peach, orange, gold, mauve, black, white, etc. The patterns are well-knit and lifelike, representing the light and color of nature. Atlas silk is soft, flexible, beautiful in patterns and excellent in quality. It is used by the local people not only for costuming but also as an interior ornament.

Drawing Silk

 
 silk

The first step is drawing silk. The cocoons have to be sorted out first and the dirty and abnormal-shaped cocoons have to be boiled in water for about 15 minutes until the cocoons change to green color and are soaked with water. Then a stick is used to stir the cocoons and twist the fiber threads of the raw silk into strands. Normally, 25-30 threads make one strand.

Coloring the silk

 
 silk

Once the silk has been extracted it can be tied and dyed using a tie-dye or dye-resist process. It means plastic bags are used to bundle the threads up before coloring each part.

Based on the design requirement, different patterns are made by staining lightly or deeply. Different colors are made by bundling up different parts each time and dipping into different colored dyestuffs. To get the multi-coloured patterns the silk may be dyed one colour at a time. The traditional Atlas silk has four basic shades: black, red, yellow and multi-color.

Minerals like alum, indigo and natural plant extracts like walnut skin, jujube skin, and tamarisk are used to make dyestuffs.

Tying the silk

 
 silk

The silk is secured to a wooden frame and then tied up according to traditional patterns. Once the threads are placed into patterns the thread is loaded onto the machines for the weaving to be done.

Weaving

 
 silk

In accordance with the designed patterns, workers start weaving on top of the basic colors. Normally, a handmade Atlas silk is 6.45 meters long and 0.45 meters wide.

The traditional weaving method requires workers using their hands and feet at the same time and one person can produce 3-4 meters long silk per day.

 
 silk

Known for its softness, lightness, and bright colored patterns, Atlas silk is made through a complicated process and is extremely popular among Uygur women in Xinjiang. Nowadays, the traditional silk garment has been fused with modern design and is becoming more fashionable.

by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 10 years solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we position well to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and bring you direct finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 2000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.

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Tujia Brocade-Xilankapu

Deep in the remote, mountainous region of Western Hunan Province lives one of the largest minority groups in China. They are called “Tujia,” which literally means the “Soil Family.”

In August, the osmanthus flowers blossom and send forth fragrance.

The Tujia girls are busy weaving brocade.

The fragrance drifts far away,

But the brocade girls’ cloth stretches even further.

– Song of Weaving Girls, traditional Tujia song

People of the Tujia ethnic minority are adept at the handicrafts of stone carving, embroidery, paper-cuts and textile printing. But they are most famous for their brocade. Tujia brocade has a history of 2,000 or more years and embodies the basic features of brocade weaving system of Chinese ethnic groups. It’s a very special skill and is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

 
 ethnic culture

The Tujia people are good at brocade weaving. The Tujia brocade is known with the name of “Xilankapu”.

Features

Xilankapu, also known as ‘Knitting Floral Bedclothes’, is a Tujia masterpiece. Woven on a simple, ancient wooden waist loom via 12 procedures, this kind of brocade, thick and durable, simple but gorgeous, is reputed to be one of the three most famous brocades in southwestern China.

 
 ethnic culture

On weaving machines with narrow lathes, it is woven by hand, with blue, black, red, and white threads going lengthwise and, silk, cotton, and wool of many kinds of colors going across. It has an energetic structure, bright and beautiful colors, and unique patterns, showing significant artistry. It is the quintessence of Tujia folk art. In 2006 it was listed in the state-level intangible cultural heritage.

Significance

More than four hundred kinds of traditional decorative patterns on Tujia brocade are unique forms of expression of Tujia ethnic cultural psychology and cultural heritage of different times. The patterns, favoring landscapes, trees, flowers, and animals, reflect their paying homage to nature, and their deep love for life.

 
 ethnic culture

With no written language, the Tujia people have relied on their traditional craft of brocade weaving to record their history and pass it on to future generations. Through the designs in the brocade, the Tujia people express their understanding not only of history, but of life, society, nature and, of course, art.

Nowadays, thousands pieces of Xilankapu have been sold all over the world every year through e-commerce and modern logistics so that people outside can know more about the culture of Tujia Minority and the market also gives a new life to the cultural heritage.

by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 12 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Horsetail Embroidery, the Unique Craft of the Shui People of China

Every ethnic group of China has its own unique way of designing and adorning their costumes and textiles. For centuries a special traditional type of embroidery, horsetail embroidery, has been kept alive by the Shui women in Guizhou province, southwest China. The horsetail embroidery is a special craft which uses horsetail hair as a main raw material for embroidery, and is passed down from generation to generation by women of Shui Nationality.

A Shui woman in traditional costume embroidered with horsetail hair
 Chinese Culture

Origin

The horsetail embroidery of Shui Nationality has an untraceable origin. Shui legend says that when one of the ancestors groomed his horse prior to a race, a lot of horse hair fell to the ground. His wife thought it would be a shame to leave these strong and glossy hairs unused. She collected them and started to use those hairs in her embroideries along with silk threads.

Techniques

Horsetail embroidery is a hard, time-consuming craft. Girls begin learning embroidery at about 5 or 6 years old. Some of them spend 10 years on a single embroidery piece, which is specially prepared for their wedding.

Working with horsetail hair
 Chinese Culture
 
 Chinese Culture

There are a variety of unique skills and methods involved in this craft. The first step is to take 3 to 4 pieces of horsetail hairs as the core, around which white silk threads are tightly wrapped by hand, making pre-made embroidery threads akin to bass strings. The second is to use the threads to embroider the outline of traditional embroideries and paper-cut patterns. The third is to make flat colored threads with 7 colored silk threads and use them to fill the inside area of the coiled embroidery patterns. The fourth is to complete the rest using such ordinary techniques as flat embroidery, cross-stitch embroidery, random stitch, skipped stitch, etc.

Motif

Horsetail embroidery
 Chinese Culture

Flowers, plants, and mystical creatures from Shui folklore are the common embroidery motifs. Butterfly patterns are woven mostly into children’s clothing or accessories. This is related to Shui beliefs that butterflies are children’s guardians. Dragons, a phoenix and fish also possess great symbolic meaning and are commonly seen on Shui handicraft.

Horsetail embroidery
 Chinese Culture

As another Shui legend says during an ancient flood, a brother and a sister were saved by fish. Their descendants multiplied to become the Shui ethnic group and the image of double fishes became one of the favourite motifs of the Shui artisans.

Features

The horsetail embroidery technique is very intricate, and works using the technique appears to have a bas-relief, with abstract, generalized, and exaggerated shapes.

Horsetail hair embroidered insoles
 Chinese Culture
Horsetail hair embroidered baby carrier
 Chinese Culture

Besides decorating with embroidery all parts of their traditional costume – blouse, trousers, apron, headdress, shoes and even insoles – women use the horsetail hair for embroidering baby carriers, tablecloths, wall hangings, bags and wallets.

Unfortunately, due to social changes and other reasons, the inheritance of horsetail embroidery craftsmanship has been seriously neglected and the quality of modern horsetail embroidery products has become poor. As a result, few people are willing to use such products. As such, it is imperative to protect the special craftsmanship of horsetail embroidery of Shui Nationality from disappearing forever.

by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 10 years solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we position well to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and bring you direct finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 2000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.

P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Miao Hmong exquisite craftsmanship of Miao’s ‘hundred-bird dress’

It was a normal day at the end of November. Jiang Laoben expertly cut a piece of paper and a classic design for a renowned traditional dress of the Miao people was instantly seen. The dress, with its complicated pattern and rich colors, is called “hundred-bird”.

The “hundred-bird dress” originated with the Miao ethnic group, Guizhou province. The dress is decorated with celebrated Miao embroidery, a craft that falls on the state-level intangible cultural heritage list.

Jiang Laoben, who is in her late forties, is an inheritor of dress craftsmanship in the village and she is well-known across the province due to her superb technique. The complicated patterns and diverse designs turn into beautiful outfits of excellent quality in her skillful hands.

Jiang Laoben draws traditional patterns on the cloth with a wax knife.
 Miao culture

A “hundred-bird dress” is made of Miao handwoven cloth, pieced together with brocade silk in different colors, including red, yellow, green and blue. Rich mixtures of exquisite patterns, such as flowers, birds, insects, fish, butterfly and sun and other natural creatures, are sewn around the chest pocket and corset.. The hem of the skirt is made of embroidery and batik, with a circle of bird features decorating the bottom edge.

Jiang Laoben sews on fabric according to the paper-cut design.
 Miao culture

The dress, with its diversified colors and unique patterns, is highly valued by the Miao ethnicity and has earned the reputation of “the epic of Miao worn on the body”.

Jiang Laoben creates decoration for the dress.
 Miao culture

The production of such an outfit is labor-intensive and time-consuming. One dress will strain all the spare time of a skilled craftswoman for more than six months or even a year. Therefore, very few people in the past worked on making the dresses and they were sold overseas at high prices.

“I want to pass the craftsmanship of the Miao’s ‘hundred bird dress’ on to more people and also to the next generations so that this skill can be carried forward” Jiang said.

Jiang Laoben is creating a “hundred-bird dress” with her students.
 Miao culture

To advance the technique and tradition, Jiang organized “Baibei embroidery mutual-aid team of Miao women” at her home and imparted her skills to the women in the village. With an increasing number of learners coming to her, she’s always teaching them face-to-face with great patience and care.

Jiang Laoben and her students check the finished dress.
 Miao culture

“Nowadays more and more people start to learn the handcraft of the ‘hundred-bird dress’ and Miao batik technique,” Jiang said with a smile, looking into her house full of her students.

Jiang Laoben helps one of her students try on the finished dress.
 Miao culture

Jiang has already taught more than 100 people. Thanks to Jiang’s effort, some women in the village have begun to produce the traditional outfits at home, which brings them tens of thousands of yuan in extra income.

by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”

We co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 10 years solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we position well to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and bring you direct finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 2000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.

P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
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Tibetan Thangka Painting

The news that Chinese collector Liu Yiqian splashed around $45 million on a Thangka at a Christie’s sale in Hong Kong on Nov 26,2014 has overwhelmed social media. Then do you know what Thangka is and why it was sold at such a high price?

This imperial embroidered silk Thangka sold for 348 million HK dollars at Christie’s 2014 Hong Kong Autumn Auctions on Nov 26, 2014.
 Chinese Thangka

What is Thangka?

Thang in Tibetan means to display and ka means silk. Thangka is a kind of painting art– religious painting – that originated during the reign of Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo (AD 617-650) and prospered during the 18th and 19th centuries. A Thangka is a painting drawn on cotton or silk appliqué with vivid ethnic features and intense religious colors, which usually depicts the history, politics, culture and social life of the Tibetan people.

Thangka is often worshipped in temples, Buddha’s halls or even in Buddhist disciples’ homes in Tibet, which has been not only a pure handicraft, but more of a religious symbol.

It is mainly divided into two categories, painting Thangka and embroidered Thangka. The former one is directly painted on canvas using traditional pigments. The latter is embroidered on silk satin using precious mineral gems such as gold, silk, pearl, coral, agate, zinnober and plant pigments such as saffron crocus and indigo. Obviously, the latter one is of more artistic value, whose gorgeous colors can last for several centuries.

Photo taken on June 13 shows a Thangka painting on display during Tibet’s first selection of arts and crafts masters held in the Research Institute of Ethnic and Folk Arts in Lhasa from June 12 to 15, 2013.
 Chinese Thangka

How is it created?

The creation of a Thangka piece is like a journey of self-cultivation. Generally, the manufacturing process includes chanting sutras while preparing pigments, polishing canvas, grinding painting materials, sketching, designing, measuring, coloring, shading, delineating and the finishing touch.

The proportion of Buddha figures and the overall layout of the painting have to meet specific requirements, and the painter has to follow strict ritual procedures of Tibetan Buddhism in its creation.

The creation of a whole Thangka piece usually takes months or even years. During the long process, the artist, cherishing pious Buddhism beliefs, paints while chanting in accordance with the strict standards of composition, proportion and color inherited from ancestors. Therefore, Thangka is a kind of special art form which has irreplaceable artistic values.

Visitors take photos of Thangka during a Thangka art festival in Lhasa, Tibet autonomous region, Sept 25, 2014.
 Chinese Thangka
The Thangka on display in Maizhokunggar county in Lhasa on June 28, 2013 was recognized as the world’s largest Thangka.
 Chinese Thangka

The world’s largest Thangka:

An embroidered Thangka, 120 meters high and 85 meters wide, was on display in Maizhokunggar county in Lhasa on June 28, 2013. It had 19 painted Buddhas. The creation of the Thangka took 9 years and was recognized as the world’s largest Thangka, also the world’s largest handicraft.

The world’s most expensive Thangka:

The embroidered Thangka bought by Liu Yiqian for about $45 million is seen as the most expensive Thangka so far.

Thangka art by artist Niangben from Regong in Qinghai province. Photo provided to China Daily
 Chinese Thangka

The Thangka Liu bought was from the period during the reign of Emperor Yongle in the Ming Dynasty. It is the largest Tibetan embroidered Buddha Thangka from ancient times with a theme of driving out evil spirits. According to Christie’s, there are only three pieces of Yongle Thangkas existing and the other two are both in Jokhang Temple in Tibet.

by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”

We co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 10 years solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we position well to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and bring you direct finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 2000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.

P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Conservation of Tibetan Thangka Painting

Thangkas are intended to convey iconographic information in a pictorial manner.

Thangka Painting

There is a vast amount of iconographic information provided in thangkas, some of it literally spelled out for you. If you look closely, many thangkas spell identification of figures and scenes in formal and delicately rendered scripts.

Thangka Painting Thangka Painting

Even a subtle change in colour alters the message of an icon. For example, a particular shade of the colour green indicates effective activity, while a white often indicates peacefulness and unassailable compassion. It is significant therefore if the same form of a feminine figure is rendered in green or white.

 

Anonymity of Thangka Painting

The vast majority of created thangkas, therefore, have taken shape as a scientific arrangement of content, colour and proportion, all of which follow a prescribed set of rules. These rules, however, differ by denomination, geographical region and style.

Only rarely do thangkas express the personal vision or creativity of the painter, and for that reason thangka painters have generally remained anonymous as have the tailors who made their mountings.

There are, however, exceptions to this anonymity. Rarely, eminent teachers will create a thangka to express their own insight and experience. This type of thangka comes from a traditionally trained meditation master and artist who creates a new arrangement of forms to convey his insight so that his students may benefit from it. Other exceptions exist where master painters have signed their work somewhere in the composition.

 

Factors Causing Damages to Thangka Paintings

 

Without date and artist’s name on thangka paintings, if a piece of thangka painting is damaged, especially for those ancient ones, even indigenous Tibetan scholars trained in the iconographic details of Buddhist deities generally would not presume to know the iconography associated with every deity, it is unlikely that most conservators could guess the identity and details of unfamiliar figures.

Thangka Painting

There are several factors which would cause damages to Thangka paintings.

Sometimes water damage (yak-hide glue is susceptible to water damage) washes away several fine layers of pigment on final paint layers or shading layers. This damage exposes either underdrawing or flat colours which the artist never wanted you to see.

Thangka Painting

Often, a combination of water-damage, greasy butter lamp soot and smoky incense grit permanently alters the original colours. Evidence of this is often seen at the edges where a mounting has protected the original colours.

Thangka Painting

Damage was particularly likely given the tendency of Tibetans to travel long distances in harsh conditions. Thangkas were important articles of the tent culture of nomadic monastic groups in medieval Tibet. It was not unusual for a group of scholars, yogins and priests to travel by yak to distant regions, set up tents, unroll the thangkas and serve the local people by teaching before moving on to another area.

This was good for the people but intense for the thangkas! Rolling and unrolling was, and still is, unavoidably damaging for thangkas. Rough handling and damp walls damaged both the paintings and their mountings, in medieval Tibet and today as well.

The monks in this monastery value their thangkas. But rolling and unrolling combined with rough handling and poor storage constantly damages their treasured thangkas.

In summary, the conservation treatment of a thangka is a complex process which requires superb skills and rich experience as thangka paintings are such complicated composite objects which are designed to communicate iconographic ideas in a beautiful and practical form.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Tibetan Thangka Painting (II)

Most of the thangkas use flat white cotton cloth as the canvas for the painting. Some are painted on paper or leather. Others are embroidered, appliquéd, woven and patchwork thangkas.

 

Painted Thangka

Painted thangkas are most commonly seen. According to the color of the background, painted thangka are divided into four types.

(1) Multi-color background

Thangka Painting

(2) Yellow background

Thangka Painting

(3) Vermilion background

Thangka Painting

(4) Black background

Thangka Painting

 

Embroidered Thangka

 

Embroidered thangka uses colored silk threads to make landscapes, figures, flowers, plumes, and pavilions.

Thangka Painting

Thangka Painting

 

Brocade Thangka

 

Brocade thangka uses satin as the base and several colors of silk as the weft. Through jacquard weaving the design is “copied” onto the fabric.

Thangka Painting

 

Applique Thangka

 

Applique thangka use colored satin, cut into a variety of characters and graphics and pasted onto the fabric. The resulting work is also called “embossed embroidery.”

Thangka Painting Thangka Painting

 

Tapestry Thangka

 

Tapestry thanka is woven with the method of complete warps and broken wefts which applies the weft threads on the warp only where the picture or design needs. The hollowed out work produces a three dimensional effect. Tapestry thanka is thick, closely woven, delicately designed and gorgeously decorated with colored silk threads. Tapestry thangka utilizes the weft pass-through approach creating an intense decorative effect. Other colorful designs are decorated with precious stones and gems stitched together with gold threads that create an exceptionally dazzling combination.

Thangka Painting

 

Silk Tapestry Thangka

 

Silk tapestry is an art form unique to China whereby the drawing is transplanted onto silk. These Thangka fabric textures are generously thick and rigorously well knit. The designs are exquisite with magnificent coloring. Tibetan Thangka fabrics are specially designed in Mainland China, particularly in the Yong Le period (AD1402- AD1424), Ming Dynasty. Over the years, they spread to Tibet, where Tibetans were also able to produce fabrics from local embroidery and applique thangka methods.

Thangka Painting

 

Pearl Thangka

 

The pearl thangka is the most desirable of all. It is another kind of thanka in which beautifully designed colored fabrics decorated with pearls and precious stones are attached to the fabric with gold thread thereby creating a resplendent and dazzling effect. The pearl Thangka with the figure of Arya Avalokiteshvara is the treasure of Trundruk Monastery. This Thangka is 2 meters high and 1.2 meters wide. It is made of 2,9026 pearls, one diamond, two rubies, one sapphire, 0.55 liang (about 25g) purple gem, 185 kallaites, 15.5g gold and 4.1 liang (more than 200g). So many years have passed this priceless pearl thangka is still in good condition, making itself more valuable.

Thangka Painting

 

Printing Thangka

 

Thangka Painting Thangka Painting

There are two types of printing thangka. One type overlays color designs then prints is mounted. The other takes a carving of the design and dips it with ink to print it on thin silk or fine cloth, and then made color-mounted. This Thangka, thin-stroked, strong-bladed, with dyed ink colors is clearly structured and unique. This rich, elegant style possesses a three dimensional decorative effect.

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Thangka Painting (I)

 

What is Thangka

A ‘Thangka’ is also known as “Tanka”, “Thanka” or “Tangka”. Thangka paintings are essentially painted or embroidered Buddhist banner which are hung in a monastery or a family altar or even carried in ceremonial processions. Thangka is a mark of devotion to Buddhism and often serves as an object of worship.

In Tibetan language the word “Thang” means a flat surface, “Ka” means painting, so “Thangka” means “a painting on a flat surface”. Thangka painting is also known as scroll-painting as it can be rolled up when not displayed. Originally, thangka painting became popular among traveling monks because the scroll paintings were easily rolled and transported from monastery to monastery.

Thangka Painting

 

History

 

Nobody knows where and when Thangka painting originated, but comparing with other types of Tibetan paintings, the history of Thangka painting can be traced back to as early as the Tubo period or Songtsen Gampo (604 CE? – 649 CE) period in the 7th century. It is a combination of Chinese scroll painting, Nepal painting and Kashmir painting.

Until the 7th century, Songtsen Gampo united Tibet and hence a new period in Tibetan history began. Later Songtsen Gampo married the princess of Nepal and the princess of Tang Dynasty Wencheng (623 CE? – 680 CE), further strengthening the connection of politics, economy, and culture between Tibetan and Han Chinese ethnic groups. The two princesses came to Tibet with a lot of Buddhist scriptures, architecture technology, soothsaying and lawmaking, medical scriptures and many skilled artisans, greatly stimulating the development of Tibetan society, especially the flourishing of Tibetan Buddhism. At that time fresco alone could not satisfy the need of those disciples, and another art form of thangka, was easy to carry, hang and collect and became popular.

During the Ming and Qing dynasties in China (1368 CE – 1911 CE), the central government adopted the system of approving Tibetan chieftain to strengthen the control over Tibet. These methods made contribution to the development of the Tibetan society. So the Ming and Qing dynasties saw a great progress in the development of thangka painting.

 

Themes

 

The themes of thangka painting include various subjects, i.e. historical events, religious figures, religious philosophy, Tibetan scenery, social customs, folklore, myths, great deities and Buddhas.

Thangka Painting

Thangka Painting

The theme also encompasses Jataka stories of the Buddha, and so on, involving politics, economy, history, religion, literature, art, social life, Tibetan astrology, pharmacology, theology, and many other aspects.

Buddhas appear on almost every single thangka painting. The artists must follow the sacred laws for portraying gods and Buddhas. Scripts from Buddhism are written on the back. Thangkas are always unsigned so it is impossible to know who paints thangka and when it is painted.

 

Features

 

The structure of Tibetan thangka painting is precise, balanced, thick, and flexible. The painting methods are mainly bright color and line drawing.

Most thangka paintings are in upright rectangular shape while thangka with Mandala themes are in square shape. A thangka comprises a painted or embroidered picture, a mounting, which is further embellished with a silk cover, wooden dowels at the top and bottom, leather corners and beautiful metal or wooden decorative knobs on the bottom dowel.

Thangka Painting

Thangka paintings vary in size, ranging from a little over a few square centimeters to several square meters. A large thangka often takes months or years for a large team of artists to paint.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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