Derge Parkhang is commonly known as “Derge Sutra Printing House”, or in short “Derge Printing House“
It was found in 1729 AD (the 7th year of Emperor Yongzheng of Qing Dynasty). After the efforts of 12th, 13th and 14th Dege chieftains, it took 27 years and finally formed the scale and architectural style of Dege Sutra Printing House.
The entire ancient building of Derge Parkhang covers an area of 1632 square meters and a building area of 5,886 square meters. The building faces south, tall and majestic, simple and solemn. Its style is traditional Tibetan architecture, integrating Dege temples and residents’ architectural forms, with a strong Dege flavor with location of Dege (Gengqing Town) Cultural Street.
With Dege County
Dege County is one of the three major cultural centers in Tibetan areas of China, the other two are Labrang in Gansu, and Lhasa in Tibet. It has the most extensive collection of Tibetan cultural classics, the most complete categories, strict management, and exquisite raw materials production. Its creative craftsmanship, high-quality printing, and comprehensive protection of architectural murals, engravings and other cultural relics are extremly unique.
Derge Parkhang has a collection of more than 830 various classics, more than 290,000 woodcut printing plates, and 500 million words. The vast printed editions and classics in the volume have extremely high academic value for studying Tibetan history, politics, economy, religion, medicine, science and technology, literature, and art.
Derge Parkhang was listed as a national key cultural relics protection unit by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China in 1996. In 2009, the engraving and printing technique of Derge Parkhang, a traditional technique, was included in the Representative List of Human Intangible Cultural Industries by UNESCO.
Derge Parkhang Historical Origins
According to Tibetan “Ode to Derge”, Derge Parkhang was founded by the 42nd chieftain of Derge kingdom of Choji Dambazeren (1689 ～1750). In 1729 AD, with encouragement of the great lama Situ Choji Cheongnai (1700～1774) of Palpung monastery, Choji Danbazeren decided to build Derge Sutra Printing House when he was 52 years old. When he died at the age of 61, The Printing House was not yet completed. After his death, his son Phuntsok Demba, Solangompo and Luozhu Gatso inherited their father’s will and continued to build the printing house. It took another 16 years to complete the construction. After continuous expansion, it finally reached the current scale. .
Derge Parkhang Building structure
The printing house is unique in structure, with towering red walls, green trees, quiet and spectacular; The side close to front gate is the first floor and the bottom; The main building is the second and third floor, which are varied and typical of Tibetan architecture.
The courtyard is divided into a collection of plate library, paper library, scripture drying building, printing platform, paper cutting room, Buddhist hall, and scripture hall. There are 6 collections of plates in total, accounting for about half of entire building area, and printing operations are among them.
The plate library is lined up with neat plate racks. The book plates are filled with plate racks in different categories. Each plate has a handle. This is one of characteristics of “Derge Parkhang”.
There are many kinds of book specifications, the largest is more than 110 cm long, 70 cm wide, and about 5 cm thick; the smallest is about 33 cm long and only 6 cm wide. By the end of 1880s, there were 217,500 book plate editions in courtyard, each carved with two sides. If the large, medium, and small versions are calculated with 600 syllables on each side, the total number of words is about 260 million, which is huge.
Due to the climate, the printing time is only half a year each year, which is from March 15th to September 20th in Tibetan calendar. During this period, people are allowed to go to Printing House to worship book board.
The printing house stipulates that Tripitaka should be printed in vermilion ink (the cinnabar is finely ground, glued, and made into red ink) , and the rest are printed in black ink.
The collection of wood book plates is basically intact ever since printing house was established. It is not only famous for its inclusiveness, good version, and exquisite printing, it also enjoys a high reputation for its rich collection of various printing plates and complete content. In the late Qing Dynasty (1616 AD – 1912 AD), the Duogu Seng brothers of Dege chieftain vie for the throne. In the chaos, the concubine of Dorje Senge took the opportunity to steal a book plates of “Treasure House” of more than 20,000 pieces and sold it to Kagyu pa of Palpung monastery which was the only major loss.
A brief history of wood engraving
The engraving history of Derge Printing House can be divided into the following stages.
1, The embryonic stage before the establishment of Dege Sutra Printing House
The history of Tibetan printing plates of Derge Sutra Printing House can be traced back at least to the forty-two years of Emperor Kangxi of Qing Dynasty (1703 AD), 26 years before the establishment of Printing House. The number of printing plates engraved by Dege chieftain was about 1,500, mainly is “Prajnaparamita Sutra” which is a combination of Sanskrit, Urdu and Tibetan.
2, The early stage of the establishment of Derge Sutra Printing House
During the reign of Chieftain Choji Demba Zeren, he set out to establish Printing House on one hand, and actively planned engraving of printing plates on the other. In nearly ten years from 7th year of Emperor Yongzheng (1729 AD) to 3rd year of Emperor Qianlong (1738 AD) of Qing Dynasty, large-scale engraving work was fully carried out. The goal was to complete editing, proofreading and engraving of “Kanjur” and initial work of printing plate engraving of “Danjur“. At the same time, engraving of printing plates of some other classics was completed, the total number of printing plates reached nearly 100,000.
3,Prosperous stage after the completion of Derge Sutra Printing House
This stage, from 1840s to the end of 18th century, was called the booming stage mainly because the number of printing plates engraved was so large that it was incomparable in all periods before and after. There are dozens of important documents edited and carved with a total of more than 340 volumes, making the number of printed editions of Dege Printing House exceed 200,000. The printing plate of “Danjur” alone reached more than 32,000 pieces.
4, Maintenance stage since 19th century
After the first two stages of large-scale printing plate engraving, the printing house has reached a considerable scale. In 19th century, the ruling power and economic strength of Dege chieftain had begun to decline, so the engraving of printing plates was gradually reduced, and it was in a relative maintenance stage.
5, The revival stage since 1980s
Since 1980s, Dege Sutra Printing House has been repairing, and at the same time, it began to engrave the incomplete printing plates and new versions. From before 1980s to December 25th, 2001, more than 80,000 re-engraved and newly-engraved plates have been completed, which is equivalent to 20% of total number of printed plates in the collection in late 1970s.
Wood Printing Plate
Wood printing plate is the main part of cultural relics of Dege Printing Hous. Up to now, the total number of printed plates in its collection of pringting house has reached more than 290,000, which can be divided into two categories: book plates and painting plates.
The book editions can be divided into six types according to traditional classification, namely “Kanjur“, “Danjur“, anthology, series, comprehensive, and single edition of Tripitaka. Among the large number of book editions in Dege Printing House, there are many rare books, the only existing copy and model for calligraphy. For example, “The Origins of Indian Buddhism” which has long been lost in India, and there are also rare books such as “The Origins of Buddhism in Chinese Dynasty” and the early medical masterpiece “Rgyud Bzhi” . Another example is the oldest edition of “Prajnaparamita Sutra” which currently is the only surviving original in entire Tibetan area. As an archive document, this sutra was approved for the first time in “Chinese Archives Document Heritage List” in March 2002. Although the number of the 376 old plates collected by Dege Printing House is small, they are all important and precious.
Derge is regarded as a traditional Tibetan painting “Door” school in history, And also the important place of inheritance of “Karma garze” (called “Karma” in the early days), In particular, the “Karma garze” painting school has formed a center in Derge since 18th century, and has integrated “Thangka” art of traditional Tibetan painting into the engraved plates. It is the wooden stamp of Derge Printing House which is a major breakthrough and innovation.
Derge Parkhang Sculptures and murals
The sculptures of Dege Scripture Printing House are mainly clay statues representing Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Arhats, Dharma protectors, eminent monks and historical figures. All of those are housed in the large and small assembly halls. Among of which, 14 scriptures are in major assembly hall and 61 scriptures are in small assembly hall. These statues have bright colors, smooth lines, and lifelike, which fully demonstrate the aesthetic appeal and superb skills of Tibetan Buddhist sculpture art.
The mural is an integral part of the cultural relics of Derge Printing House. The murals are mainly distributed in the large and small assembly halls and above the outer walls of the large and small assembly halls. In addition, there are also a few murals painted on the left, right and top of the entrance corridor, as well as on individual walls in the Tibetan scripture library. The total area of the murals is about 950 square meters, 95% of which are ancient murals. Among the many murals, except for the “Green Tara” mural in the Tibetan scripture library, which is an early “Door” school work, the rest are all works of “Karma garze” school.
These works represent the highest artistic achievement and stylistic characteristics of “Karma garze” School of Painting, and also making Printing House to be one of the places where the early murals were kept the most intact.
Wood Printing Plate Process
1, Printing plate making, ink making, paper making technology
From its establishment to the end of 1950s, the Dege Printing House except for the printing pigment cinnabar, the printing plates, inks and papers were all prepared locally and produced using traditional techniques.
1.1, Printing Plate making The printing plate making process can be roughly divided into three processes: raw material processing, writing, and engraving.
Raw material processing: Red birch wood is selected as the raw material of the printing plate. Choose straight and unknotted tree trunks, first saw them into knots according to the required size, and then sawn into 4-5cm boards, smoked and roasted those with a slight fire, dehydrated them, and transported them home, and put them in the livestock manure pile (or pool) After the woody retreat of the wood, take it out, boil it in water, dry it, push and plan it, and finally become a finished blank. The processed blank is shipped to the Printing House. After passing the inspection, it will be put into storage.
Write: Before engraving the printing plate, the Tibetan writers write in strict accordance with the “Forty Articles of Tibetan Calligraphy Standards” and the size of the printing plate.
Engraving: The engraving craftsmen of the Derge Printing House are selected through strict examinations. They are not only skilled in techniques, but also have a good foundation in Tibetan and painting. In order to ensure the depth, accuracy, and accuracy of the engraving, it is stipulated that each person can only engrave one inch of wood plate per day.
1.2,Ink making The printing ink of Derge Printing House belongs to the smoke ink category. There are generally two types of smoke ink produced: one is for writing, and the other is exclusively for printing. The raw material of the printing ink is the bark of the big azalea tree, and the raw material of the writing smoke ink is the big leaf willow
1.3, Paper making Derge paper making raw materials is very unique. It is made from the roots of a herb called “Ejiao Rujiao” (also known as “Stellera chamaejasme L”). The paper that is made of this type of plant roots is slightly yellow in color with coarser texture and thick, but the fiber is flexible, not fragile, and has strong water absorption. At the same time, because “Ejiao Rujiao” itself is a kind of Tibetan medicinal material and contains slight toxicity, the produced paper has the characteristics of not being moth-wormed, not biting by rats, and not damaged for a long time. It is an ideal paper for printing and preserving documents. The pape rmaking process basically uses the ancient hand-made papermaking technology. There are more than 100 paper-making households in the Derge county, located in the villages of Guze, Sege, Niequ, Gongya, Kasongdu, etc. More than 100,000 sheets of paper can be made every year (each sheet is larger than 760mm X 530mm), all of which are sent to the Printing House
The printing process of Derge Parkhang can be divided into four processes: paper cutting, pigment processing, printing, and binding.
It can also be subdivided into more than ten processes such as cutting paper, foaming paper, ink, grinding, cinnabar, taking plate, printing, drying, washing, returning, paging, checking, binding, sanding, coloring, packaging, etc.
The above-mentioned processes are not only streamlined operations, but also intersected and orderly. The pigment processing group mainly mixes two kinds of pigments: smoke ink, grinding, and cinnabar, and timely supplies the needs of the printing group.
Blending smoke ink is relatively simple, just add an appropriate amount of water to the container containing the dried smoke toner, and then slowly stir it evenly.
The binding group sorts the numbers first, and then binds them into a book after the retrieval is correct. The Tibetan books are all loose pages, and the binding is relatively simple and distinctive.
Printing is a key part of the entire production process with heavier worker load and relatively more procedures. One person in each printing group is responsible for picking up the printing plates from the scripture library for use by the people responsible for printing in the group. After use, a dedicated plate cleaner will clean it in the wooden sink, dry it, coat it with butter and return it to the original shelf.
The printers consist of two persons, one sit higher and one sit lower with opposite each other, and the printing plate is placed on the inclined plate between them.
The person sitting higher is responsible for receiving the paper and accurately fixing the rubbing surface between the printing plate and the printing paper, and rolling ink on the printing plate.
The lower-sitting person handed the paper while holding the dryer roller, pushing it with both hands from top to bottom, and quickly raised the printed page and set it aside, and so on.
After printing the specified number of prints on the day, turn the printing plate over and printing again to reach specific numbers of the other side for this day.
Depending on the proficiency and the required number of printed copies, 700 to 1,000 pages are required to be printed per day for each printing group. The printed pages are dried on the ropes in the fixed areas of each group. After drying, they are put away and handed to Ba-Zong (a title of printing house management). Ba-Ben (The title of butler of the Pringting house) and other 2 people will conduct the final inspection and proofreading. Only those with qualified quality can be sent to the library. Straighten, smooth, paint all around with red, and tie them together to form the finished product.
Since 1979, the printing production process of Derge Parkhang has remained the same except that the finished ink is no longer made with water.
Derge Parkhang Data
Add: Culture Street of Derge Count
RMB 50 per person
How to get to there
The closest airport is Garze airport, from which you can use daily flight to fly from Chengdu .
The distance from Garze airport to Derge Parkhang is about 165 kilometers. There is no shuttle bus from Garze airport to this site, you can hire local taxi or chartered vehicle to get to Derge;
Garze Gesaer Airport
Address: Laima village
IATA Code: GZG
Altitude: 4,061 meters
Derge Bus Station
Add: No. 18, Cha Ma Upper Street
Contact: +86 836 822-2888
Altitude: 2,950 meters
Distance from Derge to
- Chamdo City : 350 kilometers, about 7.5 hours drive
- Baiyu County : 100 kilometers, about 3.5 hours’ drive
- Manigango town: 115 kilometers, about 2 hours’ drive
- Garze County: 205 kilometers, about 3.5 hours’ drive
- Sershul County: 330 kilometers, about 7.5 hours’ drive
- Yushu City: 460 kilometers, about 10 hours’ drive