Saturday, July 7, 2012

Jingdezhen, Porcelain Capital of the World


Jingdezhen is akin to a porcelain enthusiast's Mecca.  THE place to go.  Jingdezhen has been famous for its porcelain ware for about 1700 years now (at least according to Wikipedia's entry,) and it's still producing unimaginable amounts of beautiful work today.  Since my boyfriend Ben is a potter, I was fortunate enough to tag along on tour there that he and his company organized.  Simply put, it was awesome.

One of Jingdezhen's most famous exports is a category of porcelain known as Qinghua, or Blue and White.   When most people think of Chinese pottery, they think of Qinghua.  We attended a lesson on how to draw with the famous blue pigment (see below) before seeing lots and LOTS of examples everywhere else we went in the city. 

The beautiful blue and white is everywhere, although my favorite was the giant Qinghua vases.   And when I say giant, I'm not exaggerating.  

One of the other tour participants who's on the short side was gracious enough to stand next to them for a picture to emphasize their crazy size, but they'd easily dwarf anyone.  These are the sort of pieces that only large corporations and hotels buy.  In fact, if you've ever been in a hotel lobby anywhere in the world with one of these giant Qinghua vases, it's probably from Jingdezhen.

We toured lots of factories to see the pots being made.  It was great to see every step of the process, and also made it obvious that the word "factory" here is not how we normally use it back home.  This was more like a collection of artisans who were all exceedingly talented at doing just one stage of the process.  There are lots of pottery-making professionals here, but few who control every step of the process like a pottery artist in the US. 


We also toured the fake antiques market, and saw first-hand how the "antiques" are faked.  Everybody knows that these are just reproductions, but in order to keep them as close to the originals as possible, we passed many a diligent worker rubbing ink, dirt, or other aging substances into pots, beating them with stones, or otherwise making these newly made (and often skillfully so,) works.  They were even happy to have their picture taken, or in Ben's case, a video. 

And, in the perfect way to round off the weekend, we even saw a bit of nature outside the city.  You can see some misty mountains in the background of this picture.  It was China to perfection.

Lastly, I'd like to highly recommend a recent episode of the fantastic radio program This American Life.  They did a show about Americans living in China, and it's spot-on.  But no, I've never been on Chinese TV.