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Incense-making becomes cash cow in millennial Tibetan village

(Xinhua)    17:14, November 30, 2020

LHASA, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) -- As high-altitude winds greet the early morning, Gyatso loads the packages of incense sticks into a car. The incense is bound for the city of Lhasa more than 100 km away.

These incense sticks are made through a unique process -- a waterwheel drives wood strips around, causing them to beat against stones underwater, turning the strips into a wood-mud material that is used to make the Tibetan incense.

The tractional technique dates back more than 1,300 years in Tonta, a village in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.

"Our family has been making Tibetan incense for generations. When I was a child, the Tibetan incense was made by hand. During our spare time, we carried the incense to Lhasa, Shigatse and other places to sell it. At that time, it was very hard and we didn't make much money," said Gyatso.

The Tibetan incense is a kind of medicinal incense. Due to the high price of Tibetan medicinal materials needed to make such incense, many people have given up the traditional craft and moved on to other places to make a living. The prices of incense made in family workshops vary greatly, thus leading to blind competition and a lack of innovation.

In order to open up a market, Gyatso began to innovate the incense varieties. After hundreds of failures, eight new Tibetan incense products were born. With the new products, Gyatso's business gradually improved.

In 2008, Gyatso established a company based on his original workshop with his own trademark. In 2019, his incense brand won a gold award at the China Trademark Festival.

Increasing in popularity, Gyatso's Tibetan incense is not only a hot commodity in Tibet, but also deeply loved by customers in other regions including Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangdong. In 2019, the turnover of his company reached 950,000 yuan (about 144,000 U.S. dollars) and profits exceeded 300,000 yuan.

"Now we have 25 employees, most of whom are local women, with an average age of over 40, and some of them are from poor households," he said. "We provide our employees with raw materials, venues and training and pay according to output. Now everyone's income has increased, and poor households have been lifted out of poverty."

In August 2016, Tonta Village set up another Tibetan incense company in the form of a cooperative. The local government gave favorable policies to those who bought shares, and 35 villages have joined the company.

After the establishment of the company, the village officials started to look for markets and orders. Some villages were in charge of production and management. A dividend mechanism was also established.

In 2018, Tonta Village cast off poverty, with an annual per capita income of over 11,000 yuan.

In recent years, the company has actively explored the domestic market and cooperated with major e-commerce platforms to sell the incense.

"We are also going to cooperate with a professional e-commerce team in Lhasa to continue to expand our online business via livestreaming and short videos," said Tenzin Jigme, a village official.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Wen Ying, Bianji)

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