Blacksmiths' family offers iron-clad account of progress in Xizang

(Xinhua) 08:22, March 29, 2024

People watch a performance at a park to celebrate the Serfs' Emancipation Day in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region, March 28, 2024. (Xinhua/Jigme Dorje)

LHASA, March 28 (Xinhua) -- Dorje, a 70-year-old blacksmith, has navigated numerous twists and turns throughout his life, with three pivotal moments propelling him from being the son of a serf to becoming an inheritor of an intangible cultural heritage.

Born into a blacksmith's family in a village in Qonggyai County, southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region, Dorje is the fifth generation of his family to master iron forging.

At the age of five, he experienced the first major event in his life in March 1959, when democratic reform in the region abolished the feudal serfdom system, freeing some 1 million people.

Gone are the days when his father was treated as a low-ranking serf, as in old Xizang, ironware was considered inauspicious for ending lives and killing in war.

Following the democratic reform, Dorje followed his father to learn blacksmithing and became a well-known blacksmith in the county.

At that time, farmers in the region mainly used wooden plows with iron on top to grow barley, wheat and other crops. Therefore, Dorje's skills were highly sought after during farming seasons.

"During my busiest period, my father and I would forge more than 100 kinds of farming tools, including plows and sickles," Dorje recalled, adding that almost every nearby household required their services back then.

The second turning point of his life came in the 1970s, when tractors started to show up in the region. Embraced by a growing number of Tibetan residents, these "iron cattle" supplanted the traditional reliance on blacksmiths for crafting farming tools. At the time, cultivators, harvesters and other farming machinery soared in popularity.

In light of the dwindling demand for his services, Dorje purchased a discarded tractor and leveraged his experience as blacksmith to study tractor repair. Two years later, Dorje became one of the few people in the village capable of repairing tractors.

Figures show that the integrated mechanization rate for major crop cultivation and harvest surpassed 71 percent in 2023 in this region, with the grain output hitting a record high of 1.09 million tonnes.

Despite seeing the traditional art of blacksmithing that had endured in his village for 200 years fade into obscurity, Dorje welcomed a new chapter in his life in 2018. This turning point came when the craftsmanship was listed as the regional intangible cultural heritage.

As an inheritor of the intangible cultural heritage, Dorje once again found himself very busy. With the support of the local county government, Dorje established a blacksmith cooperative in his village in 2022, hiring multiple apprentices.

Tibetan knives, locks, wine jugs and other ironware are produced in the cooperative, which are sold to various areas in nearby cities, including the regional capital of Lhasa. The annual sales revenue of the cooperative amounts to around 150,000 yuan (about 21,000 U.S. dollars).

"The craftsmanship has been passed down from our ancestors, and I will teach everything I know to help blacksmithing persevere for generations," said Dorje.

Tsering Dorje, Dorje's son, learned blacksmithing from his father when he was a child. He is currently working with his father to create ironware as souvenirs for tourists.

"The iron seems to come to life, changing shapes in my hands under my will," said Tsering Dorje.

"The iron remains the same, but the era has changed," he added.

(Web editor: Tian Yi, Liang Jun)


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