Musical heritage resounds in Xinjiang village

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Sitting in the shade of the grape trellises, 70-year-old Rehman Abdulla wields his chisel knife, expertly carving the hard mulberry wood into the body of a dutar.

"I have been making traditional musical instruments for more than 60 years, since I was a kid," said the Uygur man, who has inherited his skills from a long line of traditional instrument makers.

His home village of Towanki-ogusak in Kashgar Prefecture, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, is widely known for manufacturing and selling traditional instruments.

"Musical-instrument fabrication has persisted in the village for more than 150 years," said Dong Yantao, Party chief of the village.

"There are more than 70 households in the village that are mainly engaged in making traditional musical instruments, accounting for one tenth of the total," added Dong.

Rehman Abdulla has been teaching the craft to more than 50 people, including his son, Mamut Rehman.

"I can make four kinds of musical instrument, such as the dutar and rewap, while my father can make 27," said Mamut.

In 2021, Mamut started to sell instruments on short-video platforms. "Last year, I sold more than 100 musical instruments via livestreaming and earned more than 50,000 yuan (about 7,500 U.S. dollars)," he said.

In order to protect and carry forward the instrument-making techniques, authorities established a workshop for the craftsmen in Towanki-ogusak in 1999.

With financial support from governments at all levels, the inheritors of intangible cultural heritage and the makers of musical instruments in the workshop receive an annual subsidy of 10,000 to 40,000 yuan. Now, the village produces more than 50 kinds of traditional instruments, including almost all of those in the Uygur culture.

In recent years, schools nearby Towanki-ogusak have organized extracurricular practical classes in the village, allowing students to observe the production process for traditional musical instruments and the skills used in playing them.

"If children are nurtured at an early age, they can pass on these excellent cultural traditions from generation to generation," said Dong.

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