Making history on a potter’s bench
A master is writing Chinese characters on Nixing pottery teapots. (Wu Kaixiang/Xinhua)
In an extremely hot and humble workshop, Nixing pottery workers are busy, surrounded by unfired clay wares that are about to become living history.
More than 10,000 potters work with one of the earth's most basic materials in Qinzhou city, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Despite a 1,300-year history, Nixing pottery was really only introduced to the wider world in 1915 when a piece won a gold medal at the Panama Expo. The exhibition hall of the Nixing Pottery Museum in Qinzhou features an enlarged replica of the medal in a window.
Qinzhou boasts about 150 pottery workshops and hundreds of artists who are trying to integrate this ancient Chinese craft into modern life.
The most famous, Li Renping, 68, has practiced for more than 40 years and was recognized as a national-level master and inheritor of Nixing pottery in 1997. Since then, Li has put great efforts into raising the cultural and artistic value of Nixing Pottery.
Li’s roughened palms are testament to the pottery form being part of the living history of Guangxi.
"The relief on the top part shows how local people's ancestors fished in the sea," Li says, pointing to a large goblet on the shelf. "On the bottom, people are dancing in the shape of a frog, because the frog is the totem of the Zhuang people."
Nixing pottery is famous for its unique transmutation, says Li. With no ceramic pigment, Nixing potters can produce minium (red lead) or aubergine colors on the surface, and occasionally, green or bronze colors that are quite rare and very collectible.
In 2008, Nixing pottery was listed as a state-level intangible cultural heritage.
Today Nixing pottery is sold in more than 30 countries and regions around the world.
In 2012, the masterpiece, “Impression of Zhuang Land”, was presented as a state gift to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Two workers are pasting handles to the teapots' bodies. (Wu Kaixiang/Xinhua)
However, few young people, especially those born after 1990, care to spend their days in a humble pottery workshop. “It could take three to five years to cultivate a qualified pottery maker,” Li says. “Who would not prefer to sit in a comfortable office?”
Despite that, he adds, Chinese traditional arts have a large and growing market.
A piece of Nixing pottery can cost up to five figures and accumulate in value for a collector.
This demand means an average worker can make at least 3,000 yuan a month. “And an excellent producer can earn more than 10,000 yuan,” Li says.
To promote this unique art form, Li gives free lessons to anyone who wants to learn.