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16 September 2019—China Arts & Crafts Exchange held a press conference at the Studio of Esteemed Excellence (Jingsheng zhai) in the garden of the Palace of Established Happiness (Jianfu gong) to announce the reproduction of court-style zisha (lit. “purple clay”) pottery. Present at the event were Li Jing, Party secretary, trustee, and CEO of China National Arts & Crafts Group Corporation Ltd.; Gao Changzi, chairman of the board of China Arts & Crafts Exchange; Deputy-Director Lou Wei of the Palace Museum; Lian Ji, former director of the Chinese National Academy of Arts; Yu Fuchun, supervisory expert for the reproduction of zisha court pottery; Hua Jian, ceramic-arts specialist from Jiangsu Province; Zhang Zhenzhong (also known as Zhang Zhengzhong), arts and crafts specialist from Jiangsu Province; and nearly a hundred guests from the art, collecting, and media spheres.
Court Vessels: Beautiful Intangible Heritage
Pottery made from zisha (lit. “purple clay”) can be traced back as early as the middle of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and was developed along with China’s ancient tea culture. Leisurely pursued by literati and loved by the imperial clan, this type of pottery became an important part of traditional tea culture. Many of the zisha vessels in the Palace Museum collection have unique traits and were probably made exclusively for the imperial court according to the household’s specifications in Yixing, Jiangsu Province during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Those articles made for imperial use became known as court zisha (gongting zisha), a style recognized by its advanced artisanal skills and quality materials.
Supervised by the Palace Museum, the reproductions of court zisha by the China Arts & Crafts Exchange are fashioned after originals made in the Qing dynasty. Ten of China’s renowned zisha artisans, including Chen Guoliang, Zhang Zhenzhong (also known as Zhang Zhengzhong), and Hua Jian have been charged with research and production supervised by the Palace Museum’s specialists Lü Chenglong and Yu Fuchun. The six designs chosen for the series were meticulously crafted according to detailed illustrated precedents in workshop archives of the Qing court’s Imperial Household Department (i.e., Neiwu fu zaoban chu gezuo chengzuo huoji qingdang). Each item bears the Museum’s signature Gong (lit. “Palace”) brand mark, serial number, and production certificate. These carefully researched items are bound to become treasures of cultural heritage passed down as heirlooms.
Classic Styles: Lasting Significance
The six designs are reproductions of zisha court pottery made at the kilns of Yixing, Jiangsu Province during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736–1795) of the Qing dynasty that are now part of the Palace Museum collection. They are, namely, a round zisha tea pot with a scene of pine and rockery and an inscription of an imperial poem; zisha ewer with a scene of figures enjoying tea and an inscription of an imperial poem; square zisha tea pot with gold-painted embellishments, an inscription of an imperial poem, and a case-style lid; zisha tea pot with a Dongpo-style handle; gourd-shaped vermillion-clay (zhuni, a type of zisha) tea pot; and bamboo-style zisha tea pot with a gold exterior. Each of these exquisite vessels embody the unique appeal of the Qing court’s zisha pottery.
Rare Materials: Pure Clay
The reproduction court zisha ware is made with expertly selected clay mined from Mount Huanglong, which is the material stipulated by the Qianlong court for the original ceramics. With a granular structure that gives the tea pots permeability, the clay has undergone scientific inspection and mineralogical classification to ensure the reproductions are historically accurate, even at the microscopic level. Tea steeped in pots made of clay from Mount Huanglong has a rich aroma.
Master Artisans: Limited Production
Each tea pot in this series will have been made personally by one of the great masters of Yixing zisha over a period of three years. Only one hundred sets (with each set containing all six tea pots) of the meticulously crafted items have been made. In 2019, sixty sets will be completed and sold. The remaining forty will be made in 2020. Having received high ratings from industry leaders and connoisseurs, the first ten sets have already been reserved.
Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying