Tourism drives cultural and creative industries in SW China’s Tibet

Photo taken on August 19, 2020 shows characteristic decorations in Jokhang Temple during the Sho Dun Festival, a traditional festival of the Tibetan ethnic group, in Lhasa, southwest China’s Tibet autonomous region. (Photo by Tang Mingdeng/People’s Daily Online)

Southwest China’s Tibet autonomous region is seeing booming cultural and creative industries as a result of a rapid growth in tourism in recent years.


At the beginning of the year 2021, manufacturers of cultural and creative products from Tibet autonomous region brought various products to Zhongguancun Innoway, an innovation and entrepreneurship-themed block located at the core of Beijing’s Zhongguancun Science Park.


Their products included Tibetan-style carpets woven from sheep’s wool, bath cream with formulas deriving from world’s intangible cultural heritage Lum medicinal bathing of Sowa Rigpa, knowledge and practices concerning life, health and illness prevention and treatment among the Tibetan people, and necklaces and earrings with distinctive Tibetan characteristics.


“In recent years, the growth in tourism industry in Tibet has driven the development of cultural and creative industries,” said Ouyang Xu, chairman of Tibetan chamber of commerce in Beijing, adding that local small and medium-sized firms are trying to reach the domestic top level of the cultural and creative industries in terms of inheriting and promoting culture heritage, business operation and management, and creativity.


Li Aoran, a post-90s entrepreneur, has run her own business in Lhasa, capital of Tibet autonomous region, for seven years. Last year, she won a gold award in a local tourism creative and cultural commodities competition for her activated carbon ornaments made from highland barley straws.


“It was the second time I took part in the competition,” Li said, stressing that the key to a successful business is creativity and innovation.


Li was once mainly engaged in making Tibetan-style milk tea. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak last year, she stayed at home for a while. It was since then that she started to shift her attention to the development and utilization of highland barley straws.


Most of the existing activated carbon on the market are processed from wood and coal, according to Li.


“By turning Highland barley straws, renewable resource, to activated carbon products, we turn ‘waste’ into wealth, not only helping increase the income of local farmers, but protecting the ecological environment of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau,” Li explained.


“Activated carbon can absorb harmful gas and be used to purify water,” Li said, adding that her company has developed colored activated carbon ornament series featuring Thangka, a unique style of traditional Tibetan scroll paintings, by integrating cultural and creative ideas with scientific and technological innovations.


Our products have bright market prospects, said Li, who has achieved technological breakthroughs for processing highland barley straws into activated carbon with the help of experts.


Her achievements have made Li a minor celebrity in Lhasa’s entrepreneurial circle. She has obtained patents in China on her activated carbon products made from highland barley straws.


These activated carbon products were listed on the country’s list for national key projects that aim to promote economic growth with scientific and technological innovations and breakthroughs in 2020, and have won support from China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.


A biotechnology company based in east China’s Jiangsu province has already reached Li’s company for cooperation. “We have newly hired a number of young painters this year to design and create more cultural and creative products,” Li told People’s Daily.


In Lhasa, a local brand named Zhuofanlin has also achieved success in integrating the growth of its own with efforts to increase the income of locals.


Zhuofanlin, which sells various Tibetan-style handicrafts, has offered nearly 400 local handicraftsmen the opportunity to earn an additional income in their spare time or during the slack season.


“Zhuofanlin has provided jobs and free skills training for us. It has not only improved the quality of my life, but helped me find my own value,” said a local craftsman while weaving wool into a doll with Tibetan characteristics for the brand. He can earn 3,000 yuan ($463.5) to 5,000 yuan per month, according to the craftsman in his fifties.


Zhuofanlin has developed a relatively mature operating model, said an executive of Zhuofanlin, who explained that the brand finds suitable craftsmen, supports them in such aspects as technology, design, and market, improves existing products, expands market, provides loans for craftsmen, and sells products after confirming the quality.


With the support of the Women’s Federation of Lhasa, Zhuofanlin established an organization that functions as both school and factory in May 2020. By offering skills training via courses, simulation, and practice, the organization has helped 365 women acquire vocational skills.

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