Regung art is a particular wonder of Tibetan Buddhism art, blending blends religious and folk art in a way that is treasured by Tibetan Buddhists as well as becoming well known in the world.
Art Flower in Golden Valley
Regung is the Tibetan name of areas in Tongren County and Zeku County in Qinghai Province with the meaning of "golden valley".
The Regung area as the birthplace of "Regung art" has an abundance of tangka, duishiu, sculptures and religious architectural structures. Several villages, such as Wutun, Nyianduhu, Guomari, and Gasairi in Tongren County lying in the valley on the middle reaches of the Rongwu River provide the bulk of the artworks. All the adult men there can make Buddhist images. These handicraftsmen's tangka, mural paintings, duishiu portraits of Buddha and Buddha statues sell well among all monasteries and common people in the Tibetan-inhabited areas in Qinghai, Tibet, Gansu and Sichuan, and are also sold to far-off foreign countries. They are almost all done to order and demand exceeds supply.
Regung artists are concentrated mostly in Wutun, where sub-villages on each side of the east- west highway, and they mainly depend on selling tangka Buddha portraits and Buddha statues. A common tangka is priced at 3,000 Yuan, and a larger one is 10,000 Yuan; sometimes, they can cost tens of thousands of Yuan. Each household has an income of 40,000-50,000 Yuan per year from selling portraits alone. Entering the village, you will see few idlers and every household closes the door to bend their head to the making of portraits.
Each village has a monastery and both receive State protection as cultural relics. Most of the monks in monasteries are also painters and engravers.
This writer paid visits to three painters in succession in Wutun Upper Monastery. A young painter named Dorje Renqin was painting a delicate White Tara; a 33-year-old monk painter named Lhotsang Huadain had five tangka mounted in a small showroom. Each one was exquisite and refined. One particular colorful one, Time Wheel Buddha's Warrior Attendants, involved the use of much gold leaf and had taken four months to complete. It is valued as 10,000 Yuan. He once spent 11 months on painting a large tangka with his two disciples. It is valued as 200,000 Yuan and was offered to the monastery where it has become a treasure.
Another famous painter in Wutun Upper Monastery is Gendun Dagyi, who came from a tangka painting family. When I met him, he was guiding some students to paint sketches of a tangka. His works sell both at home and abroad. The larger ones were priced at some 10,000 Yuan, the smaller cost several thousand and the most exquisite ones with more gold are priced as high as 30,000 Yuan. He once did some gold work for the 9th Panchen Erdeni. His father Shawo Cerang was a famous painter of Regung art as well as national class artist who once followed Zhang Daqian to Dunhuang to copy many of the mural paintings.
There are many treasured tangka and painters in Wutun Lower Monastery. I met a young painter named Guanqoi Nyima. He was painting a very exquisite Portrait of Master Zongkapa and had been working on it for three months. In Wutun Lower Village, I visited a famous painter named Chincug. He was leading his disciples to paint the Four Devil Kings, ordered by Tar Monastery at the price of 20,000 Yuan. Some youths were coloring under the guidance of Chincug, a secularized monk of the Wutun Lower Monastery. From the age of 17, he has followed Qumeiqoizong, the painter of the 9th Panchen Erdeni, to study for nine years. He has painted all together more than a thousand tangka. He has been to Wutai Mountain, the Tar Monastery in Qinghai, and to various parts of Tibet many times to paint portraits. Many of his works have been sold to foreign countries and he is now leading more than 30 disciples.
Regung's duishiu portraits of Buddha pasted with colorful brocade pieces with a light relief effect come mostly from Nyidohu Village. At the home of the famous painter Zhaxi, I found him leading a group of women disciples to make duishiu portraits of Buddha. It was Zhaxi who made the huge duishiu portraits of Sakyamuni measuring 130X80 square meters that is laid out on a mountain slope during an unfolding ritual of Labrang Monastery during the first Tibetan lunar month each year. It is valued at 250,000 Yuan. Zhaxi's tangka is exquisite and elegant with a unique style. This writer also had the good fortune to meet Qoimei Nyima, 74, who is still in good health. He is Zhaxi¡¯s father. Another famous duishiu painter, Manba in Nyidohu Village, led more than 100 local artists two years ago to make a huge duishiu portrait of Buddha measuring 380X470 square meters for Yunnan, which is valued at 1.7 million Yuan. In 1999, this village made a greater embroidery painting more than 500 meters long that was bought by a private museum. It is reported that these two portraits of Buddha are the greatest duishiu works in the world.
The emergence and development of Regung art are directly related to the fortunes of Tibetan Buddhism. The emergence and development of Regung art are directly related to the fortunes of Tibetan Buddhism. The emergence and development of Regung art are directly related to the fortunes of Tibetan Buddhism.
In middle of the seventh century, Buddhism was introduced to Tibet and co-existed with the Bon religion. In 838, the Tibetan King Landama succeeded the title and began to forbid Buddhism on large scale, leading to its decline. At that time, three eminent Buddhist monks fled to Ngari, Xinjiang and Qinghai respectively, and taught sutras and instructed disciples in the areas of Xunhua, Hualong and Jiazha in Huangnan Prefecture of today, so that Tibetan Buddhism survived.
In the latter part of the 10th century, Tibetan Buddhism gradually began to prosper again. A yogi named Lhagyi Zhinawa of the Pagba Sect and some painters came to Regung to spread Buddhist teachings and, in the process, encourage the development of Buddhist art. The painting works brought by these painters became the first model for Regung painting and sculptural art.
At the end of the 14th century, Zongkapa established the Gelug Sect and brought about a faster development of monastery construction and a sudden upsurge in religious art. Regung Buddha portrait art absorbed some characteristics of religious art in the Han areas, Indian Buddhist art and local folk art to form a unique style.
Regung Tibetan art involves including colorful sculpture, construction decoration, wood carving and engraving, duishiu portraits of Buddha and various forms of integrated painting. The principal forms of Tibetan paintings are tangka and mural paintings, and the themes include Sakyamuni (life story of Buddha), Buddha's biography, Buddhist history, customs and practices, and construction decoration.
Tangka is the favorite form among Tibetan common people. The shape, color, outline and use of gold are all very exquisite. It is divided into three kinds including paintings, duishiu portraits of Buddha and embroidery according to different materials and crafts. But tangka usually refers to painting. Regung tangka includes colorful, black and golden tangka. The composition is crowded with less open space; the view is panoramic; colorful and bright, with great use of contrastive color; and the great user of gold is a particular characteristic.
Mural paintings are large-scale Tibetan paintings on the wall of the halls in monasteries. Some are painted directly onto the wall and some are painted on canvas before being inlaid in the wall. Most of them are pasted with gold leaf, have splendid tones of green and gold and strong decorative style. The existing mural paintings in Duhu Monastery and Wutun Lower Monastery are the most representative treasures of the genre.
The sculptures are mostly of clay, but also include woodcarving, stone engraving and brick carving. Clay sculpture is called colorful sculpture; Buddha and Bodhisattva are painted with gold and Buddha's warrior attendants are painted with various colors. Woodcarving often uses red birch and pear wood that are then painted in gold or other colors. Stone engravings of Buddha appear on flagstones and Mani mounds. Brick carving is fired after the clay is molded into a base and is used to decorate roofs and walls of a building. Regung sculpting attaches importance to decoration and a brilliant and elegant demeanor.
For duishiu portraits of Buddha, the smaller ones are used to decorate sutra halls and the composition of paintings mainly consists of a master Buddha and two small Buddha's below. The huge ones give prominence to a master Buddha with more Buddha's, Bodhisattva and Buddhist Guardians all around, as well as various designs. The size can be as large as hundreds of meters and they are only shown during certain monastic rituals. According to textual research, duishiu portraits of Buddha were changed from the art in Regung that was introduced from the Han areas some 250 years ago.
For Regung construction decoration colorful paintings, the color is bright and strong. Much gold is used. They have high aesthetic value and decorative character.
In the initial development period of Regung art it was greatly affected by the religious art of the Central Plains. The designs were simple and plain and did not need the addition of any gold; during the prosperous time of the Qing Dynasty, the style changed and sought for religious orthodoxy in standards of exquisiteness, magnificence, awfulness and solemnity. The color was bright and strong with prominence given to decorative effect. There were an unprecedented number of famous painters and the influence spread throughout Gansu, Tibet, Sichuan, Xinjiang and Mongolia. Even in the royal family in Beijing, in the Yonghegong Lamasery and Chengde Summer Resort in Hebei Province, there were Regung art treasures stored. Until the later period of the Qing Dynasty and the period of the Republic of China, Regung art tended towards commercialization. The works were more exquisite and magnificent and gave more prominence to decorative character with the use of far more gold. Regung artists went along to Qinghai, to the Mongolian and Tibetan areas, to India and Nepal and other Buddhist countries to investigate and paint. Many good works have been stored up in some great monasteries and museums in foreign countries.
Talents Cultivated in Great Number
Generations of Regung artists have been largely enlightened by monk painters in the monasteries since early time. Among all such in the Regung area, there are religious artists in all generations who can paint and engrave and have produced excellent works.
When Regung artists start to make Buddha portraits or statues, they will first hold a grand religious ceremony, and the same thing occurs at the conclusion of the work. For large-scale works, some grander blessing ceremony will be held. The artists view the painting of Buddha portraits and the sculpting of Buddha statues as an offering to Buddha and they seek for mental happiness and spiritual comfort. Hence, Regung art has survived for a long time.
Boys in the Regung area will be sent to monasteries at an early age to become monks. They study sutras and art, and work starting from processing the canvas, making the paint, mixing the clay in order to become assistants of the masters and start to paint. They have to study for at least 10 years before launching their own business. A custom has developed that monks and common people study art and "everyone paints and every household is engaged in art". This situation cannot be found in other Tibetan-inhabited areas or in the hinterland.
Because of the swift social changes, only several historical Regung art works exist today: the Lungwu Monastery's Painting Scroll of Sakyamuni and Other Buddha's, the Wutun Upper Monastery's Portrait of the Six-Armed Dark Heaven Dharma Guardians and 1,000 Green Taras, the Wutun Lower Monastery's mural paintings Scenes of the Pastoral Areas and the Duhu Monastery's Story of 16 Arhats.In middle of the seventh century, Buddhism was introduced to Tibet and co-existed with the Bon religion. In 838, the Tibetan King Landama succeeded the title and began to forbid Buddhism on large scale, leading to its decline. At that time, three eminent Buddhist monks fled to Ngari, Xinjiang and Qinghai respectively, and taught sutras and instructed disciples in the areas of Xunhua, Hualong and Jiazha in Huangnan Prefecture of today, so that Tibetan Buddhism survived.
In Regung art, famous artists emerge in great numbers in each generation. In the early Yuan and Ming dynasties, the style of the famous painters was simple and natural, but few works survive. In the Qing Dynasty prominence was given to decorative effect and artists became good at painting figures. In the early and middle parts of the 19th century, famous painters such as the Wutun Lower Monastery's Gartsang, Shiawo, Kasigyia etc. produced representative works including Four Devil Kings in the front hallway of the monastery¡¯s small sutra halls. Its decorative character is very evident and surpassed the earlier generation¡¯s innovative works.
The famous latter-day painters also included Nyianduhu's Yuandain, Qudain; the representative works are Mandala in the Tar Monastery in Qinghai and Story of Buddha, a large mural painting, and Portraits of the 1st-9th Panchen and Gasairi's Sanggyita, who is viewed as the reincarnation of Xiangquresairi, a famous painter in the Qing Dynasty. He had deformity in the legs and could only paint in a prostrate position, but this did not have any effect on the paintings.
The most famous modern painters include Shawo Cerang, Gentsang, and Chincug etc., who all became famous in the 1950s. Shawo Cerang, born in Wutun Village, once followed Zhang Daqian in 1941 to Dunhuang to copy mural paintings for a long time. He has made so many excellent works and once obtained the title of "National Industrial Art Master". Gentsang is good at decorative designs. Chincug is a famous artist in Wutun Lower Village who can both paint and sculpt. Famous artists of Regung duishiu portraits of Buddha concentrate in Nyidohu Village including Chinjor, Yanpei, Zuba and Gartsang.
In modern times, a new generation of Regung artist has grown up and tries to launch new themes and adopt new crafts to create works. For example, some large mural paintings reflecting legends and historical stories; the tangka King Gesar and Princess Wencheng in Xihai on the Way to Tibet are representatives of new Regung art works. There has even appeared a large mural painting that is made of colorful pearls by a young painter Chihua in the Lungwu Monastery...
At present in the Regung area, the young and middle-aged famous painters include Zonggyi Lhazhe, Dagyi (son of Shawo Cerang), Chincug, Lhotsang Huadain, Zhaxi, Zhihua, etc. They are inheritors of a long tradition as well as explorers of the future shape of Regung art.