Yixing Clay

Yixing clay is a type of Chinese stoneware produced in the Jiangsu province. Its use dates back to the Song dynasty. They produced red and brown stoneware, teaware, and other small items, usually unglazed, known in China as Zisha ware. Chinese export porcelain refers to a wide range of porcelain that was made and decorated in China exclusively for export to Europe between the 16th and the 20th century. … Jiangsu is a province of the Peoples Republic of China, located along the east coast of the country. … The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China from 960-1279. … Stoneware is an impervious type of pottery distinguished primarily by its firing temperature (from about 1200°C to 1315°C). … Teaware is the entire spectrum of quipment used in the production of tea. …

From the 17th century, they were exported to Europe. (16th century – 17th century – 18th century – more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 17th century was that century which lasted from 1601-1700. …

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Five Yixing Clay Teapots – showing a variety of styles from formal to whimsical.Yíxīng teapots are not actually made in the formless regional city of Yíxīng, but rather in nearby Dīngshān: a popular place with Chinese tourists, as witnessed by the hundreds of teapot shops that cling like limpets to the edges of the crowded streets leading through town. Dīngshān is a ceramics enthusiast’s wet dream, housing dozens of factories producing thousands of products besides the famed teapots: frescoes, oil and grain jars, flower vases, figurines, glazed tiling, tables, ornamental rocks, and even ornamental garbage bins. But despite the beauty of many of the products, Western tourists here are rare fish indeed.

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The source of all the decent clay and much of the best Yíxīng pottery currently produced is an uninspired concrete box of a building known as Yíxīng Zǐshā Factory Number 1, which was opened in October 1958.

Yíxīng teapots, like fine violins and classical guitars, are meant for use—in particular, they are meant for use with black and oolong teas, as well as the half-rotted tea known as pǔ’ěr. A special characteristic of zǐshā clay is that it holds heat for a long time—thus, it can overcook delicate green teas, which need lower temperature water to begin with. Other characteristics of zǐshā are also distinctive—unlike more ordinary clays, it is remarkably tough. Seemingly perfect teapots made of clay from Cháozhōu, for example, tend to have spouts that break because of the undesirable presence of sand. Zǐshā’s exceptional malleability allows for a variety of shapes that other types of ceramics simply can’t match. Moreover, the studied technology of the dragon kiln, as well as more modern kilns, along with awareness of the characteristics of the clay and its interaction with heat, makes an enormous difference in whether a zǐshā pot cracks during firing, or looks perfect but eventually imparts an undesirable muddy flavor to the tea. A popular saying is that a piece is “30 per cent making and 70 per cent drying.”

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An interesting aspect of Yíxīng teapots are “revolution” teapots. These pedestrian teapots were manufactured sometime in the decade following 1966. The bottom of the pot is stamped “Yíxīng, China.” They have no maker’s mark.

Revolution teapots are distinctive, in fact, for their lack of distinction. These plain-looking teapots were manufactured during Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, when even the faintest whiff of creativity was suspect. Workers were not allowed to put personal marks on individual pieces—it was the factory or the unit, not the individual, which was important. Walls at the factory were filled with slogans demanding literature and art serve the people and the cause of socialism; the state exercised complete control over everything, including arts and crafts. Master potters had no incentive to pour their souls into their craft, since a well-done creative work would attract envy and enemies, and in any case wouldn’t earn the potter any more money. “Work—earn 36. Don’t work, earn 36,” went one expression of the time, reflecting the amount of money in yuan a worker earned each month. Many revolution teapots cannot even pour water in a straight line; or smell of mud from being baked at the wrong temperature, or have caps that are not level. In one of those twists that makes collecting interesting, revolution teapots are still relatively expensive, despite their pedestrian artistry, because the zǐshā being mined during that period allows for a roughness that results in an exceptionally beautiful patina upon use.

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