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Pottery craft in danger

WHEN put under the spotlight on a stage such as the World Expo, things get noticed.

Tibetan black pottery craftsman Padma Qunjia, 32, is hoping his skill will get some much needed attention after he survived a devastating earthquake that rocked Yushu, Qinghai Province, in April.

Padma may be the lone surviving master of the craft.

From Yushu's Nangchen County, Padma was seated in a demonstration zone on the Baosteel Stage, carving designs on pottery with a knife.

According to archeological findings, black pottery making has a history of more than 4,000 years in China.

In 2008, Tibetan black pottery craftsmanship from Nangchen and Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province was listed as a state-level intangible cultural heritage.

It was in the early 1990s that this ancient art form was found to be still in practice by an elderly Tibetan man, then more than 70 years of age, in Nangchen, about 185 kilometers south of Gyegu Town, the epicenter of a major earthquake that struck Yushu this April.

The master, named Tawang, was the only craftsman who still practiced this skill in the Yushu region, according to a brochure distributed by the Qinghai Pavilion at the Expo.

Padma was chosen as Tawang's only pupil when he was 23. The young man said the primitive methods developed centuries ago are still used for black pottery making today, which means using a special fine red clay found in Nangchen.

"We also must use yak dung to fire the models," Padma said. "This is the only way to produce the glaze on the pottery."

According to an introductory statement in the brochure, more than 10 steps are needed before a piece of black pottery is made from raw clay, and it usually takes more than 10 days to complete one piece.

On April 14, a magnitude-7.1 earthquake ravaged Yushu, flattening homes and leaving almost 3,000 people dead or missing. More than 120,000 were left homeless.

Nearly 100 black pottery pieces made or collected by Padma were destroyed in the quake.

"Those pieces were worth nearly 300,000 yuan (US$44,725). It is heartbreaking," Padma said.

But there is hope.

Last year, Padma founded a school in the county, offering pottery-making lessons to students.

He said another 38 students, most of whom are orphans or disabled children, would learn pottery-making this autumn.

"It takes patience and also some gift to learn this craftsmanship," Padma said.

As the inheritor of this skill, the Tibetan said that although he could speak, but not read, Chinese, he hoped his students would make breakthroughs in carrying on this heritage.


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