(Written by Yiqing)
What's Jingdezhen like in the eyes of the foreigners? Why has it been attracting so many out-of-towners from China and abroad? From July 20 to 27, international students Muheet, Nazif, Yonas and Patrick, currently all studying in Nanchang Hangkong University, had an 8-day field trip to Jingdezhen with their tour guide, Russian PhD student Tasia from Jingdezhen Ceramic University, and visited people in various businesses. Through this trip, they learned more about not only this city, also the group of people nicknamed Jingpiao. (Jingdezhen drifters, referring to non-locals working and living in Jingdezhen.)
Shiziyuan: a must-visit destination built up by Jingpiao
"Whether a society is moderately prosperous is judged according to the living standards of its people." Pakistani student Muheet is most interested in the countryside life of Jingdezhen. So the first day when they arrived, the travel group paid a visit to a local place called Shiziyuan recommended by Tasia, which boasts a complete tea industrial chain that transforms the tea mountain into a valuable asset for local economy, and a tea farm into a beautiful park. Relying on the advantageous tea industry, local villagers there have all enjoyed a much better life now.
The moment they stepped into Hanxi Village, Zawan Township, Fuliang County, Muheet and Nazif took pride in being able to recognize and understand every Chinese character in the two sentences "Lush mountains and lucid waters are invaluable assets" and "Filial piety tops all virtues" painted on the big white wall at the village entrance, and they showed their pride and joy by reading the words out loud. Walking into the tea farm, what they saw first are the turquoise tea plantation, tea trees grown in one row after another, and exquisite residential houses. Basking in the brilliant sunlight, the whole village is as beautiful as a painting.
"Integrating a rustic tea mountain with a picturesque village, Shiziyuan is a comprehensive Chinese-garden-style Tea Industrial Park. Here we have businesses in graded distribution of tea products, sales, scientific research, tea cultural exchanges, education, and tourism." Local villager Hong Tao kept introducing,"Our focus is on tea industry, which is the pillar industry with an average net profit of CNY 3,000 to 4,000 per mu. Just this one industry alone brings each household an annual income of CNY 60,000." Hong insisted on inviting Muheet and Nazif to try the local Fuliang tea and asked them if they could taste that fresh, rich and smooth mouthfeel.
"I'll never forget the uniqueness of Fuliang tea," Nazif replied in a humorous way, "Just like the ancient Chinese used to say they won't bother visiting another mountain after they've visited the top five ones in China, I'll say I won't try other tea type since now I've tasted Fuliang tea."
Hong burst into laughter and told the two that Shiziyuan was completely built up by non-locals. In 1966, the country started to build the Xin'anjiang Reservoir. In response to the call of the nation, the villagers came to settle in Shiziyuan from Chun'an County, Zhejiang Province. At that time, Shi Ziyuan was overgrown with weeds, and everyone had to live in thatched huts. By virtue of a hoe and a pickaxe, the villagers built up today's hundreds-acre tea farm. In the past two years, people in Shiziyuan are making great efforts to improve the living conditions. Now, the environment has become much better and the roads into the village much wider. Even large vehicles with loaded tea products can be parked without trouble right at the doorstep.
Hong took Muheet and Nazif on a tour of the organic fertilizer production site in Shiziyuan, which produces tea leaves and tea oil that are nurtured with agricultural eco-friendly fertilizers. The village also boasts a well-developed production chain for harvesting, transferring and reusing tea leaves and branches for fertilization. After the rice is harvested, the villagers will recycle and clear the straw; when the tea seeds are made into tea oil, they will recycle the tea seed residue and tea branches at the transfer center, thus forming a production model chain of on-farm collection - centralized composting - product processing - sales and use, and embarking on the green development road of "turning waste into treasure".
Standing on the observation deck in the middle of the tea farm, one can enjoy the gorgeous view of the whole village including the tea farm itself. Muheet told Nazif that "This is a must-see tourist destination with a relaxing idyllic vibe."
The story of an international Jingpiao: promoting the communications between Jingdezhen and the world
Yonas and Patrick both take up oil paintings as their pastime. At the studio called "Wubian Kiln" in Sanbao International Ceramics Village, owned by Takayanagi Ayao, the two are trying to paint patterns using a brush on the ceramic plates. As they all enjoy art, three of them clicked right away.
Takayanagi Ayao, from Japan, followed her husband Wen Minxiong to Jingdezhen and started their studio in 2013. They've since been studying how to make porcelain products of the Jizhou Kiln style in Tang and Song dynasties, in a place named Sanbao Village, which gathers numerous porcelain lovers. For the past 9 years, she and her husband have kept honing their skills, producing porcelain wares, and making new friends, all of which is to enhance their understanding of this profound art form and perfecting their craftsmanship.
Takayanagi told Yonas and Patrick that when she was practising her skills of tea ceremony back in Japan, the beautiful ceramic wares imported from Jingdezhen held such a strong appeal for her that coming to Jingdezhen quickly became her dream. In her opinion, this is a city that is inclusive, artistic, and welcomes artists from across the globe. She said, "When we first came to Jingdezhen to start our career, we had no molds, no clay or clay bodies. However, we got full support from the Sanbao International Ceramics Village. The locals even shared their home-grown vegetables, took us to pick up the wild Chinese red bayberries and taught us how to make wine out of the fruit. So we instantly blended in."
She also added that there had been drastic changes to this city in all these years, out of which the most impressive one for her is the change that took place right here in the Sanbao Village. Built beside mountains and waters, Sanbao is full of pleasant bucolic scenes. So when artists, wherever they're from, come to the village and design their buildings, they all value the same designing concept, which is respect the nature. They built "invisible" structures which are perfectly integrated into the natural surroundings and that can "grow" with Mother Nature. By choosing to stay here permanently, the Jingdezhen drifters, known as the Jingpiao, are showing their love not only to the local culture, also to the natural and living environment. When explaining why the couple regard this place as their home, Takayanagi said it's because of the very friendly and welcoming local atmosphere that respects their personality and nurtures their creativity, making them believe they can lead a poetic and free lifestyle here.
In Sanbao, Yonas and Patrick also came across Ryan Mitchell, an American porcelain artist who has lived in Jingdezhen for 7 years, since he ended a 13-year-long stay in Shenzhen. He created Jingdezhen International Studio and works as its project leader. He has been committed to bringing more foreign artists to Jingdezhen by inviting so far a total of 45 outstanding artists in this industry from around the world to work and create their works here and initiating a series of academic seminars on contemporary pottery. Besides, Mitchell has also met the love of his life, had children and become a Jingdezhen's son-in-law. His work explores the interdependence of the world in the form of porcelain art, and expresses his thoughts on history, culture and the arts in both abstract and figurative ways.
Jingdezhen used to be famous for its decorative ceramics and decorative techniques, however, it's evolved into more of a free fusion of the arts and life. Chinese and international artists are establishing their own working platforms and living spaces in Jingdezhen, realizing their own dreams and expressing their respect for Jingdezhen's porcelain culture in different ways. More and more artists and craftspeople are willing to try new ways and means to create new ceramic art, promoting Jingdezhen's ceramic art in communications with the world and making the city more dynamic.
The trip of exploring the origins of Jingpiao
Walking in Sanbao, Nazif saw that on one side of the road is the living area, where Chinese and foreign artists sit on the street and talk about art, aspirations as well as life; on the other side is the working area, where there are workshops for making, painting and firing ceramics. For "Jingpiao", Jingdezhen is not only a place to work, but also a space to live. Here, these non-locals are integrated into the local life and become part of the harmonious element of Jingdezhen culture.
The very humorous Turkish student Nazif took the initiative to interview Yu Yingzi, one of the many Jingpiao: "I won't ask you if you know kung fu, if you eat dog, or if you have a panda raised at home. After all, I've been in China for 7 years. Just tell me about your daily life. As a non-local living in Jingdezhen, can you support yourself here?"
Yu Yingzhi grinned. After receiving her master's degree in design and art from Jingdezhen Ceramic University in 2009, she and her husband, Huang Haihong, started working in Jingdezhen. Starting from selling porcelains on a stall, they rented a store in Sanbao the next year and founded their store named Wenxinshe together. After ten years of joint efforts, the couple has their own store and business in Sanbao. Yu Yingzhi said, "the integration of human and wares" is her philosophy of porcelain making, which means that each ware should be imagined as a specific person when designing it. Since there are thousands of different kinds of people, there are naturally thousands of different kinds of wares. Appreciating her works of Gaoshi series, you will see that the langyao-kiln red general jar seems to have the temperament of an elegant scholar in ancient times, while the vase she designed is like a graceful and attractive lady.
At Mishengshe studio, Gao Yongwang, a Shanxi-born ceramic artist, taught Nazif by hand how to mold, shape, decorate and fire the clay body in the kiln, and eventually make a Lang-kiln red covered tea cup. Nazif asked his wife, Zeng Lijun, for information about the origins of Jingpiao. She answered, "Jingdezhen's craftspeople come from all over the world, yet the works they make travel worldwide. After the Song Dynasty, Jingdezhen attracted a large number of artisans. By the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, famous masters had arrived in Jingdezhen from different parts of the world, which helped establish Jingdezhen's status as the porcelain capital and brought about its heyday. The ancestors of "Jingpiao" were the famous "Eight Masters of Zhushan" in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Nowadays, the number of Jingpiao remains around 50,000 per year, 5,000 of whom are not Chinese. They come here either to enjoy a short trip, to spend a fixed amount of time each year, or to settle here permanently. A thousand people coming to Jingdezhen means at least a hundred different ways of living." Together, these non-locals and locals contribute to the richness and diversity of Jingdezhen culture.
As night falls, the lights on the streets begin to twinkle. Evenings in Jingdezhen are lively: people meet together, drink tea and exchange ideas passionately, even at 10 o'clock at night you could knock on the door of a master craftsman's home, or of a porcelain creative studio, and there is always someone to introduce their porcelain works and creative ideas in detail, invite you to chat while enjoying a cup of tea.
Jingdezhen culture, like the Chinese culture to which it belongs, is very inclusive and open, encouraging the development of new human cultures through dialogue and integration between different cultures, while each keeps to its own characteristics. With the arrival of a large number of Jingpiao, Jingdezhen today is transforming from an ancient town of traditional ceramic craftsmanship to a modern, international city of creativity. The perfect fusion of traditional craftsmanship, contemporary art and infinite creations has allowed Chinese culture to find its own identity and place in the process of connecting with the world, and to make its own unique contribution to the world culture.
The history hidden in Taoyangli
During their days in Jingdezhen, the international students were immersed in the free vibe and artistic atmosphere of ceramic culture. While watching the International Ceramics Biennale at the Ceramic University, Yonas said that here they could clearly feel the dynamics of ceramic art in contemporary times, enjoy the sparks of creativity when old and new elements clash and click, and see firsthand the most up-to-date styles and designs in global ceramic art. Pat said, "The world gets to know this country from the word China; and the world gets to know china in the city of Jingdezhen. Before coming here, I didn't expect it to be so accommodating and welcoming, a cultural gathering place that countless ceramic artists dream of."
On Tasia's strong recommendation, the international students came to an art community named Taoyangli to search for treasures. An old poem line goes,"In the 13-li area of Taoyang, lived 100,000 ordinary families enjoying a simple and happy life". Taoyang is the "living fossil" of Jingdezhen for thousands of years. The history of porcelain production in Jingdezhen can be traced back to the Han and Tang dynasties. Joseph Lee once called Jingdezhen as the world's first industrial city. If you ever come here, the road under your feet is an ancient road from the Song and Yuan dynasties, and the high walls beside you are part of the old buildings of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The kiln clusters, alleyways and dwellings, chambers of commerce and porcelain shops, tea houses and academies, as well as ceramic industrial ruins, each of which is rich in history, cultural heritage and interesting stories. The broken porcelain tiles beneath the tempered glass under your feet are of the same origin as the collections in the National Palace Museum and in the world's top museums, and they illustrate well the reasons why Jingdezhen porcelain is world renowned: its 2,000-year history of smelting pottery, its 1,000-year history of official kilns and its 600-year history of imperial kilns. It is the dedicated site of royal porcelain production during the Ming and Qing dynasties, representing the pinnacle of ancient Chinese ceramic skills. On the doorpost of the gate of an imperial kiln is posted this well-written couplet, "The fame of Jingdezhen's imperial wares is renowned at home and abroad, and the fire in the kiln can burn for a thousand years." Song porcelain was sold to other countries in East Asia, while Yuan porcelain was exported farther west. Along the ancient Silk Road, Jingdezhen porcelain reached all parts of the world and had a lasting impact on the life, aesthetics and technology of human society. In the 17th century, the French missionary Pere D'entrecolles called Jingdezhen "a city without walls". The history of porcelain development in Jingdezhen is a condensed history of China's development.
Strolling through the Taoyangli neighborhood, Tasia took the group to see the kiln ruins and residential houses, explore Nanhuo Street and Hongdian Street, and relax in a music bar. After leaving the time-honored local stores, they went to the Arts and Culture Factory and watched students rehearse and perform traditional plays at a teaching facility for the Central Conservatory of Music. All of these show that this ancient porcelain city is brimming with youthful energy and eternal vitality.
Jingdezhen culture has both a glorious history and a splendid present, which should be seized well in order for us to look forward to the future. In Jingdezhen, each Jingpiao carries part of its vibrant ceramic culture. Their innovative creativity nourishes the local ceramic culture and promotes the "going global" of Jingdezhen's ceramic art.