China: By Journalists Eye XV: Thangka Art
Qinghai Province fascinates me at every step, or rather at every kilometre. A mixture of Buddhism and Muslim world humbly exist together is incredibly interesting phenomenon, especially for journalists from far, accelerated, often impersonal and intolerant Europe. This time we are heading into the valley that lies in Rebkong area, the centre of Tibetan art in the province.
While the Chinese Cultural Revolution meant for Tibetan culture almost finish, today, certainly under pressure from the West, and in trying to declare the helpfulness "problematic" Tibet, Beijing trying this culture, its preservation and development support. We knew about it spread in Europe, we have to visit the school of traditional Tibetan painting - thangka.
A smaller low building hidden garden welcomes us, nice glass atrium in the doorway monk middle age, which is decorated with an only one think - gold glasses. We are going thru necessary formality and enter straight into the workshop that dazzles me by explosion of colours on the pictures. There's a calm working atmosphere. Students and their teachers - monks - sit either on the ground or on different levels of chairs, each with a fine brush in hand, someone in the mouth, and paint.
In another part of the room sit two boys who could not be more than seven or eight years. Each has a cup in one hand, the in second one kind of little hammer and they mix colours. Typical functions of discipleship, what we've not known long time. The range of colours from boys on earth offer dozens of cups is incredibly varied. I'm starting to ask questions and guide helpfully translates.
I´ll find out we are in college, where young monks and school children learn from the masters of ancient Tibetan art - painting of thangka style, that is part of Tibetan culture more than thousand years. And what is very interesting - almost unchanged techniques. The colours are still mixed by hand, essentially made of natural materials. The basis remains cotton canvas or silk, and the rules for their own artwork based on the centuries-old Tibetan books.
I observe a thangka, which is dominated by the image of the goddess with many pairs of hands. Front of the screen sits on a stool towering young girl – she paints amotifs on the top of the image, which has seen up close predrawn coordinate system and between them different marks. What do they mean? She explains that her picture was predrown by master and its task is to comply with the rules of the scene, which indicate to us just indecipherable characters. But then it's all on her resourcefulness and each final piece is therefore unique.
I talk to young painter and I find out that she works with her picture for three months and still it will take a few weeks. Her thangka is not for religious duties, so be ready relatively soon. If it were otherwise, the whole process will stretch up to twice, because the paint on the canvas inscribed prayers and mantras.
Student seems to be happy and gratefully, and she says that she got a great opportunity to learn a skill that has a great future. Master is hovering nearby and is involved: "Thangka we need in our Buddhist monasteries - meditate with them, protect us, they are learning the material, but today it's an interesting business article. In the west you for thangkas people pay good money.
I do not know that they can find thangkas also on our art market, for their price I better don’t ask, and so walk from painter to painter (sometimes working on the painting in two and three) and proceed to the "treasure".
I am in a side room, which is from the ground to the ceiling decorated with paintings on canvas. Live to grin at me, frowns or smiles different gods, little gods, goddesses, yogis, Buddha dominates of many thangkas that depict scenes from his life. There are also beautiful mandala and original colour combinations are amazing aesthetic experience.
I can imagine that one of Tibetan paintings adorned my wall and I feel incredible positive power, charge and energy that radiates from the paintings. The same mood is for us in this very exotic feel among school students and monks. Unfortunately, it's time to leave, so I'll do a few last shots choir waved schoolgirls, bend out the window and leave to mentally rise to a Buddhist monastery.
Text/photo: Andrea Fantová
Profane language and pornography shouldn’t be on the Internet. We would certainly agree with that if only this wasn’t just a cover for endless clutch of the Chinese Internet censorship. Under the cover of a protection of national cultural heritage, and public interest and prosperity the Chinese government tries to hide its rough cleansing.
The third day we devoured spell of western China and the knowledge that we have somewhere "behind" Tibet is our "ugly," said attractive. There, under the auspices of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, certainly can´t go, but Tibetan culture we meet at every step.
We are still in the far northwest of China, in the region, which is interwoven with Tibetan culture and history. After dense doses our Beijing hosts are served us bait to persuade Europeans ignorant about the interest of the central government in the development of local underdeveloped economy, improving people's living standards while maintaining support all the attributes of the original culture
Classical Chinese carpets have described Marco Polo in his travelogues, but till today in the world are still not too much to seen and know little about them. I look forward to our visit carpet factories in the province of Qinghai, Xining on the outskirts of the city, to widen my horizons. The lives of local workers I try to plug deeply into the subconscious and try to see the beauty around.
Exploring the China is join with infinite variety of impressions, perceptions, experiences and surprises for Europeans often shrouded under a veil of mystery, many time but just ignorance. I did get out of this country dominating feeling - China is incredibly colourful. Colourful from drab uniform gray to a beautiful rainbow combination.
To leave the province of Qinghai and thus few days of life in the past, sometimes the century before, it was the more sensitive nature really hard. Local on many places the virgin nature, proud mountain ranges, deep green valleys, vast dry plains, miniature boxes, herds of yaks and colourful mix of nationalities, often pristine civilizations us captivated, amazed, left imprint on the hearts.
We are in Shanghai, in a metropolis shrouded by hundreds of "firsts" that is, in the largest Chinese city. One "the best" there certainly lacks – the historic one. Shanghai, unlike many other Chinese cities has relatively short history, after the Middle Ages, you won´t find any foot mark.
When I looked at the city in evening from promenade of colonial Bund, Oriental Pearl enchanted me with its graceful shapes, and I watched long how at it clothed in new and new colours in regular intervals. I do not know, which one suits her most...
The second day in Shanghai. I slept great, the apartment from Chinese Ministry in one of the most modern hotels in Pchu - tung district, hardly compares to the most luxury holiday model.
Till the start of the World's Expo remains less than 11 months. Here in Shanghai the word Expo is inflected to suffer. Sky blue mascot of Hainan - pao exhibition more than a year before the outbreak this exhibition´s madhouse smiles from windows, posters, winks from light boards, and I decided to bring one teddy home.
The first ever Chinese word that I learned, and it still did not forget, is the "pi-jo". If you seem familiar, you are right - though vastly different languages, for favourite golden-coloured brew has phonetically very similar name as Czech and many other Slavic languages. Drinking beer is a hobby that is definitely common with the Chinese.
In China, people drink really everything you can think of. Everyday drink is inherent tea, whether green or black, fermented or semi-fermented. Water and hundreds of species of non-alcoholic beverages are part of food as well as beer or very popular traditional rice wine. On the tables of local "higher" classes but there are also wine from grapes, until recently marginalized drink.
To move on the other side of Euroasia is nothing easy for those who don’t know how. Especially when they are going to have a personal contact with a Chinese family, business partners, or politicians and officials. For such a stay it is good to make some little preparations, otherwise you will experience more than one faux pas.
Walks and rides in Shanghai are an infinite fount of learning unknown and different no matter where it is. I manage to sit down and observe rush around me for half an hour on one very busy avenue.
We have all this Christmas martyrdom behind us, more or less. New Year’s eve after-effects are the past now and everyday life came back again. Far in the east of our planet the holiday season is getting to its peak.
We had many formal meetings during our journey in China with government officials or top managements of some companies that tried to make themselves more visible through us, European journalists. In a hurry after these precisely scheduled meetings I always gathered prepared business cards and carefully placed them to my notes.
We all got used to all these superlatives surrounding China. I wouldn’t exaggerate if I said that she achieved some primacy every week.
If we set off to China it is almost imposible to miss out its capital - Beijing. Beijing is full of traces of history but Beijing also lives in the present and future in every of its wide avenues and narrow streets. Beijing is full of fabulous food, noisy traffic... And so on and on. Where would you look for peaceful moments in busy metropolis?
Again our bus is going on the new highway, which I'd read that it was probably built for only one reason - to make available the Tibetan Buddhist monastery Ta'er. And really, this time not waiting for us any boneshaker dirt road and conveniently parked outside the gates of a large complex at the foot of greenish mountains.
Ta'er Monastery stands in its place under the mountains near the capital city of Qinghai province since 1560. Main wings shining with colours, teeming with monks, but the buildings with curly roofs that stand up in the hills, doesn’t seem so vividly. In the past, there supposedly lived about 3 thousand monks. Today, there's a fifth of them.
Our bus finally stops at the end of a long, dirt track, in which about an hour ago has changed as if by magic a modern six-lane highway. My worries we will finish up on the roof, fortunately not materialized, we drove past woods and gouged out before us, football pitch right and green has left. Everything was dominated by ground shabby, battered gray building - school.
Finally Beijing. Our journalistic team has battled a series of security checks and we find ourselves in an endless airport lounge. The feeling that the local crowd have to absorb us was not correct. Then we see a smiling Chinese lady and in minutes everyone sit in a luxury air-conditioned bus.
China - land of unlimited possibilities, a country which, unlike the developed world is growing and whose economic growth in today's world seems like a miracle. Country with many cultural and historical monuments, a country, that sends a man into space.
China's hard work and discipline accompanied us at every step and a visit of Beijing Foreign Studies University just confirmed it. Here we had a chance to appreciate even more characteristic of Chinese - adaptability.
From the bus window, we could see Beijing crisscross, authentic atmosphere of the streets and alleys and hundreds of thousands of people in them, but we sucked up in the role of hikers and then of course after "bedtime" is ended with an official dinner with selected potent and our tired guide disappeared behind hotel room door.
Huge China is a country of contrasts. It consists of several climatic zones, there you can find a noisy city full of glass skyscrapers and smog, but also the traditional mountain village with mud houses and rice plantations.
Being in China and not visit the Great Wall is equal to savagery. The official program that the Chinese government has prepared us is this trip only alternative and we have to earn deserve it. From early morning we sit in the Red Hall headquarters of the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China and pretend to listen to propaganda papers enthusiastic speakers.
We "elect" could see the Chinese megalopolis through largely a luxury air-conditioned bus with a smiling dude behind the wheel. It is also part of local standard, certainly not just for a small group of natives and of course for wealthy tourists.
After four days in Beijing we packed suitcases and with our guide got on the plane. Before us is a big unknown - we are moving into one of the poorest provinces of China to west to the Tibetan border. It won´t be surprise just for us, but also our girls will visit Beijing - Ai Qing the first time in their life.
The first dining experience in China didn’t impress me too much. Five stars beautiful hotel, a lot of fuss on arrival our journalistic delegation - a bow and waving fans welcomed us beauties in traditional dress, from the table.
Ancient city of Xian, or Si-an is about 3000 years old. It is one of the most important places throughout Chinese history, since it is here that housed 11 Chinese imperial dynasties. At the time when Beijing was a mere village, golden Si - an shone by bright colours of temples, wide boulevards and architectural excesses.
World media today proclaims that the Chinese state television CCTV triumphantly finished its job and officially opened a new headquarters in Beijing. The futuristic-looking building that should symbolizes the emergence of China on the world stage, journalists dubbed it - thanks to the remarkable shape for her grace in the world called the Chinese "Great boxers."
Morning view from hotel window in Xining reveals a breathtaking backdrop. The city is surrounded by high mountains, over which the sun shines and I'm really looking forward for today's trip, which has sometimes copied the former trade artery between Asia and Europe - the Silk Road. The fact that I wet my feet in the Yellow River, it is still like science fiction.
Beijing is for us concentration of paradoxes. Endless skyscrapers, luxury living residences, shops of all tech brands on one side and then thousands of artifacts, ancient Chinese culture. We are interested in both of it, but the traditional one is but much more interesting.
Our bus goes on the perfectly smooth highway, where we ones a time meet some man in a hat, with a scarf over his face and a broom in his hand - he is alone, far from him you can´t see anything of civilization, the high mountains on both sides, and he sweeps the shoulder.
If you would like to have a stop in a locality, where the time is passing in another rate of speed, where everyday hunt for activity and stress do not have any chance, so, you arrived to the right spot. It is Yangshuo, small Chinese town, situated in nature karst along Li and Yulong rivers.
Visit of Beijing food market and edibles of all kinds, shapes, smells, often of unknown origin and a long life even more dangerously we were really stunned for a moment and quietly wandering Chinese traders staring at the blonde, which move at a rate of marathon runners. Phew. We are off and miraculously in front of us pleasantly familiar signs shucks "Starbucks Coffee".
Photo: Amy Challen a Jan Lidmaňský