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A 303-year-old temple in Gansu province, a leading school of Tibetan Lamaism, will receive 300 million yuan ($47.4 million) from the government over the next five years for renovation.
Labrang Temple, located in the west of Xiahe county, in the Gannan Tibet autonomous prefecture, was built by Jiamuyang, the first Living Buddha, in 1709. One of the six major monasteries of the Gelukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, the temple was known as the "Vatican of the Orient".
Labrang, in the Tibetan language, means "Palace for the Buddha". The temple occupies a large architectural complex just smaller in size than the Potala Palace in Lhasa. It houses more than 30,000 Buddha statues, 65,000 volumes of Buddhist scriptures, a rich collection of sutras, murals, Tibetan books and, of course, numerous monks in residence.
The temple is in urgent need of repair due to subsidence.
Architectural and cultural treasures have been damaged and conditions for the monks have deteriorated, said Suonanjia, deputy director in charge of cultural affairs in Xiahe county.
Gansu provincial and Xiahe county authorities will make "no alteration to the original relics" and use traditional craftsmanship and original materials, he said.
"We will be prudent. We can't mend everything at once."
Five halls (15 others are on the waiting list) will be renovated initially, with a fund of 50 million yuan from the government. Renovation has already started following 10 million yuan in funding last year, he said.
Suonanjia said the next step is to invite qualified engineering companies to submit bids.
Local artisans and craftsmen will be included in the process, and their knowledge will help guide workers not familiar with Tibetan architectural traditions.
A blueprint of the plan was presented by a group of experts led by the Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University in 2009, after preparations lasting 18 months.
Zhu Yonghua, director of the cultural heritage protection institute at Tsinghua University, has made more than 10 visits to the temple for the project.
Zhu said the temple has a unique position in inheriting and transmitting Tibetan Lamaism by keeping intact old-fashioned teaching and education systems.
"Letting the temple thrive as a Buddhist higher education center is the best way to build on its appeal to tourists at home and abroad," Zhu said.
Cairang, 37, is from the Aba Tibet autonomous prefecture of Sichuan province. A Lama temple in Aba prefecture hired him and four monks to manage an estate near Labrang Temple in 2009.
The estate functions, in part, as a hotel. Unlike conventional hotels that raise the rates during peak season, he is instructed to charge 80 yuan a night for one person throughout the year.