Weaving the tale of poverty alleviation in Tibet

China Plus Published: 2018-01-31 10:09:45
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Weaving the tale of poverty alleviation in Tibet

Tibet, the Roof of the World, and with stunning unspoiled beauty, is locked away in the remote Himalayas.

This vast, unforgiving terrain is also known as the one of the areas of extreme poverty in China, attracting great attention from the central government.

CRI's reporter Liu Mohan explores the changes in Tibet's Lhoka prefecture.

Nedong District, southeast of Lhasa, covers an area of over 2200 square kilometers, equivalent to the size of two New York Cities.

Known as the cradle of Tibetan history and culture, it is home to Tibet's first royal palace and first Buddhist monastery.

The rich history of Nedong has also nurtured the appearance of a unique hand weaving craft dating back 700 years.

Tsethang serge, a kind of cashmere unique to Tsethang town, is considered the finest of all Tibetan fabrics.

Tender, smooth, durable and static free, the fabric was a royal tribute in the past, only used by people of wealth and power.

Today in Nedong, the manufacture of Tsethang serge has become a pillar industry, bringing in a production value of 346 million yuan to the people living in the remote area.

In 50-year-old Pasang Tsering's weaving workshop, Tibetan women sit in front of their spinning machines, transforming the coarse wool into fine patterned carpets and scarves.

The hustle and bustle in the room almost makes one forget the shadowed past of the Tsethang serge's craftsmanship—that it was once on the brink of being forgotten and lost.

"When I was small, I saw my parents weaving the serge, and I learned a little about it but seldom made any practice in 20 years. The procedures are very complicated and for a period of time the craft was deemed obsolete and became an endangered art. It would be such a shame if we lost it. So I tried my best to save it."

In 2007, after months of searching, Pasang managed to put together 5 weavers in their 80s, who gathered to rebuild the tools and retrace the 18 procedures of the complex weaving with their memory.

Through trial and error, Pasang and his group successfully recovered the technique. Later on he founded a cooperative in the village, inviting those who were unemployed, impoverished and disabled to join in.

This cooperative is the first of its kind in the entire Lhoka prefecture. It's now grown into a booming business with 122 workers.

However, Pasang said, recruiting wasn't easy at the early stage.

"In the beginning, 22 people joined in the cooperative. But they were not motivated enough to learn the skill. Many wanted to seek a job somewhere else. So I came up with a solution by providing them free training, free accommodation as well as a monthly allowance. Now they have all become master weavers, earning much more income, enjoying their lives."

Kelsang Wangdu became an apprentice of Pasang in 2008. Before coming to the cooperative, he was a carpenter. 9 years of practicing and working has turned him into a skillful weaver and designer.

Wangdu said changes in his life have been dramatic.

"I raised lots of cattle and sheep before. After joining the cooperative, there are fewer livestock in the house because the job brings me much more money. Now my wife and I both work at the cooperative, each making 6000 yuan a month, plus a company bonus at the year end."

Last year, Wangdu took part in a competition of Tibetan arts and crafts. He stood out from 99 candidates and won the title of craft master.

"I want to thank Pasang for teaching me the skills. But most of all, I made this achievement with my own hands. I'm not a very talented man. It's all because of the hardworking. As for the future, I will continue what I do at the cooperative and I hope the craft of making Tsethang serge can be promoted and inherited."

The booming development of the weaving cooperative is further fueled by financial support from the government, which funded the purchase of all the manufacture equipment and the construction of its new factory.

Upon project completion, the factory will create over 400 jobs for local disabled people. And now Tsethang serge is on track to achieve fame all over China.

During the country's 2017 Trademark Festival in September, brand "Zetieer" - Tsethang serge - grabbed headlines by winning the golden trademark award.

In 2016, the brand created a net profit of 1.2 million yuan for the workers, with each earning an annual income of 45,000 yuan on average.

This transformation in Tsethang is reflective of the whole Nedong district, where its poverty rate has fallen below the state-classified 3 percent.

According to Zhang Wei, head of the district, nearly 2,000 households have shaken off poverty in Nedong, and the average income per capita has doubled to more than 4,600 yuan.

Zhang said Pasang's weaving cooperative can work thanks to government poverty reduction measures.

"The government has 60 million yuan credit enhancement funds at banks, meaning we could borrow a 500 million yuan loan and use it in industrial development. In Nedong district, anyone who wants to start a business can apply for government-subsidized loans. So they can focus on making up for their initial investment capital, with no worries about the interests."

While great progress has been made, more challenges are ahead.

The regional government says poverty remains a deep-seated problem in at least 33 counties in Tibet.

The government will make differentiated poverty-relief policies that suit every county and every household.

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