Kham Photo Diary – Part 2

The 8 Stupas of Enlightenment: one of the woodblock art prints that I watched being made by hand at the Printing House in Dege (from the official website)

The Dege Printing House – Day 4


7/5/07 (continued)

This morning I spent about an hour in the Printing House (admission 25 yuan). One of the most important cultural monuments of Tibet, it was threatened many times during the Cultural Revolution but survived. The building has been lovingly restored (a new roof was in the works when I visited), and the atmosphere inside is one of hushed reverence and a sense of the living past.
Great high rooms are shelved floor to ceiling with long rectangular wooden printing blocks. The Tibetan Buddhist canon, works of literature, and works of art are printed here by hand.

A brief introduction from the Printing House’s official website :

Dege Sutra-Printing House (Tib. Dege Parkhang), also called Dege Auspicious and Wisdom-Gathering House, whose full Multi-Auspicious Gate of the Great Dharma Stack-Room of Dege Sutra-Printing House of Tibetan Cultural Treasures, is located in Gengqing Temple in Dege County on the east bank of the Jinshajiang River northwest of the Ganze Tibetan Nationality Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province, built in the 7th year of Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty by Chokyi Tenpa Tsering (1687-1738), the 12th headman and 6th dharma-raja of Dege. In the house are kept more than 200000 blocks of religious, historical, literature and art, medical, astronomical and calender-arithmetical book edititons in Tibetan, of which the Dege block edition of The Great Scriptures cut in the Qing Dynasty is expectably well-known. The Printing house is the largest of the three big Sutra-printing houses in the Tibetan regiongs of China (Lhasa Sutra-printing House in Tibet, Lhapuleng House in Gansu and Dege Parkhang in Sichuan). It was designated as a major unit of cultural relics under provincial protection in 1980 and as a major unit under state protection in 1996.

Dege, meaning “land of benevolence” in Tibetan, is derived from the “ten benevolences of the 4 orders” of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dege clan and the toponym of Dege both began to appear in the early period of the Yuan Dynasty and the year of 1913 saw the establishment of Dege County. It is the seat of Dege County, and was once the center of the kingdom of Dege, one of the largest and most important of the regional kingdoms in Kham.

The printing room on the 3rd level of the building, reached by a steep wooden stair/ladder

Printers stretch the paper over the printing block (this one has a rubber printing surface)

The operation is very fast; after printing both sides of the page, it is placed on top of the previous pages on the tilted wooden table to the right.

I counted ten work stations in the printing room. I longed to ask for one of the discarded “rejects,” but didn’t.

The inking sponge is dipped in the plate of red ink. Depending on what was being printed, red or black ink was used. I didn’t discover the significance of the color difference.

Stacks of printed pages dry in an upper room.

A corner of the vast library of wooden printing “paddles.” Workers scurried back and forth with the next installments of pages to be printed in precise order. Each plate is carved front and back, corresponding to both sides of each page.


Architectural details in the interior courtyard of the Printing House

 …And some more views of Dege Old Town:


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