Tibetan's obsessive collecting leads to museum of cultural relics

Tibetan's obsessive collecting leads to museum of cultural relics
Antiques on display at the private museum funded by Chojor.
PHOTO: China Daily/ANN

He is curator and founder of the newly opened Chojor Ancient Weapons Museum in Maizhokunggar county, Tibet autonomous region. The story goes back 30 years when Chojor went to Lhasa with only 10 yuan (S$2.20) seeking his fortune.

The then 17-year-old got his first job building the Banakshol Hotel. A month later, he earned around 60 yuan and bought a handcart with it, starting a cargo business. He also sold Tibetan butter for a while.

Chojor later learned that people were keen on buying traditional Tibetan furniture so he transported some from pastoral areas to Lhasa. To his surprise, his goods sold out immediately which made him realise the value of the furniture.

Unwilling to let them be taken out of Tibet, Chojor became committed to collect and preserve the "old things". He also accumulated knowledge about cultural relics and was able to identify the dates and value of them.

"The intuition was born with him. Although Chojor did not receive much education, he did really well in recognising valuable pieces which should be collected and preserved," said Tsering Namgyal, chief of the Cultural Heritage Administration of Maizhokunggar county.

"Right after we got married he often went out for a month or two to collect things he liked. Now he still spends a lot of time at the antique market at Tromzikhang and Barkhor Street in Lhasa," said Phurbu Dolkar, Chojor's wife.

Phurbu quarrelled with Chojor a lot about his collecting habit but compromised in the end. Being influenced by her husband, Phurbu learned how to distinguish pieces of china and learned to drive. Now she can collect china from distant places on her own.

Chojor soon made a name for himself in the local antique market. An increasing number of visitors came to him to sell their collections as well as "treasure hunting".

Things changed when two ranchers from the US visited Chojor in 1997, trying to buy some of his collections at a high price. Tibetan antiques are popular in US museums, which made Chojor realise that he wanted his collection to be displayed in China only.

Chojor decided to build a private museum in his hometown. After years of preparation and with the support of the local government, the seemingly unachievable goal was reached when construction finally began in April 2013.

During two weeks of evaluation organised by the government, experts were shocked by the scale of Chojor's collection.

"I was not only surprised by how many items he had, but there were also some legendary Tibetan white ware. If justified by further investigation, it will definitely fill a gap in the history and art research," said Lobsang Tashi, chief of the department of Identification, Cultural Heritage Administration of Tibet.

One section of the museum exhibits Tibetan writing materials and books yellowed with age. There is also a Tibetan abacus, a brochure of the astronomical calendar and other items related to science, art and religion.

The most remarkable exhibits are 17 complete sets of ancient Tibetan weapons from the last 1,000 years from the Tang to Qing dynasties.

"They are the reason we named the place an ancient weapons museum. One set can be sold for $800,000. The price is estimated by US experts for a similar set in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York," said Chojor.

The set in New York was taken there by a nobleman. "The helmet and the spear were missing. I wish they could have been preserved in Tibet and never be taken overseas," said Chojor.

Even for less impressive exhibits, Chojor knows the background and significance of each.

"An ancient javelin was found in Xigaze. When Tibet was invaded by Gurkhas from Nepal in 1791, the javelin was given by the Qing government to support us to protect our homeland, so it is also a symbol for the ethnic unity of China," said Chojor.

He hopes that when the museum is able to run on its own, it can be developed into a patriotic education base.

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