Contemporary Jingdezhen porcelain owes its quality and appearance to generations of experimentation and adaptation, as well as to the retention of what is special and beautiful from earlier periods. This combination of tradition and innovation characterizes Jingdezhen porcelain. While retaining traditional techniques and patterns is important to the art of Jingdezhen porcelain, it is especially important to a specific class of Jingdezhen porcelain called “fanggu.”
Fanggu 仿古, meaning “in the old style” refers to the deliberate reproduction of an old kind of glaze color, porcelain/glaze recipe, shape, pattern, production process. It can be a reproduction of any or all of these aspects. Fanggu has its origins in the nostalgia felt by emperors for the ceramic ware of earlier dynasties, and is also experiencing renewed popularity among ceramic art enthusiasts and tea ware collectors.
Origins of Fanggu
Fanggu popularity often coincides with economic boom periods. Because of the difficulty of reproducing earlier styles using antiquated techniques and materials, the production process of fanggu is both more difficult and more expensive than other forms.
The practice of fanggu production began during the Song Dynasty, but it would achieve its peak in quantity in later periods.
Ming Dynasty: During the Ming Dynasty, the guanyao (the Emperor’s official kiln), was instructed to reproduce the wares of the Song dynasty’s 5 major kilns, with a special focus on reproducing the glazes, including the later Song Dynasty’s own fanggu reproduction of earlier Song Dynasty glazes. The 5 famous kilns whose wares were reproduced were the Guan Kiln, Ru Kiln, Ge Kiln, Ding Kiln and Jun Kiln.
Qing Dynasty (Kangqian period): The peak of fanggu popularity was during the Kangqian period of the Qing Dynasty. This was a period of harmony, prosperity and continued development. The Emperor established an official office in Jingdezhen to manage porcelain production. The title of the head of this office was “Du taoguan,” and it was his job to manage production of all porcelain used by the Royal Family. The Jingdezhen kilns were instructed to produce more fanggu covering many earlier varieties of porcelain, such as jihong glazed porcelain (a style of dark red glaze from the early Ming Dynasty). Another kind of red was produced accidentally during this period when failing to reproduce jihong glaze. The new red glaze was called langhong. Langhong, a new kind of porcelain glaze at this time would later be reproduced as Fanggu. Song Dynasty styles were also reproduced, including ruyao (ru kiln). So exquisite and refined was the fanggu produced by the official kiln that it sometimes surpassed the beauty of the original.
Republic of China: The republican period was a period of turmoil and decline, especially in comparison to the Kangqian period. This was also evident in fanggu production which witnessed a degeneration of fanggu to producing fakes or knock-offs of original antiques to fool customers.
People’s Republic of China 1950s: Zhou Enlai issued directives for the reopening of fanggu production to encourage a rebirth of traditional techniques originating from these earlier periods and kilns.
PRC, 1980s: The Jingdezhen government named fanggu production as a government supported project. The government supported a team of researchers and ceramic masters to study the surviving examples of master works from previous dynasties. Production of traditional techniques began to revive following the beginning of the opening and reforming of China.
Fanggu, although less common than other forms, is enjoying a renaissance as the new fanggu artists perfect their ancient techniques, styles and processes. mud and leaves carries several fanggu lines, included under the sections: Jingdezhen Ruyao, and Fanggu Special Collection. The work of Lee Shanming, reproduces the color, texture and crackled appearance of Ruyao from the Song Dynasty. Our white porcelain studio in Jingdezhen has a workshop devoted to the manufacturing of fanggu white porcelain using ancient glazes, techniques and styles reproducing styles from the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
As modern techniques, materials and machines become more common in the ceramic industry, fanggu remains one of the strongest links to the ancient art of Chinese porcelain and to the golden age of Imperial China. Aside from the original pieces kept in a few private collections and museums, fanggu pieces are the only examples of these ancient techniques and styles. The demands in time, skill and materials make fanggu more costly and precious than other contemporary Jingdezhen pieces.
Nixing has a long history in China, however it has often been overlooked by the tea drinking community outside of the country. While much has been written online about Yixing Zisha and Chinese porcelain, very little has been said about this other ceramic art.
What is Nixing?
One of the four famous varieties of Chinese pottery (the other three varieties are: SiChuan RongChang clay; Yixing ZiSha Clay; and YunNan JianShui Clay). Nixing tea ware is produced in the town of Qinzhou, in Guangxi province, China. Qinzhou ceramic artists have been producing Nixing ceramics, including storage vessels for food and tea, cook ware and tea ware, for centuries. The art form has an official history of 1300 years. Nixing tea ware had a major boom in popularity towards the end of the Qing Dynasty, during the Xianfeng period.
Nixing ceramics have a very special production process for the clay before it is wheeled by Nixing artists. Nixing clay is a mixture of clay from the East and West banks of the Qinjiang River in Qinzhou. The two clays are prepared differently and then mixed to create Nixing clay. Clay from the East bank of the river is stored wet in a sealed container before being mixed. Clay from the West bank of the river is left outside, exposed to the elements (under rain and sunshine) for 4 to 6 months. The exposed West bank clay becomes hard and weathered. The clay is then taken and crushed into powder and mixed with the wet East bank clay. The common ratio of mixture is 4 parts East-bank clay to 6 parts West-bank clay.
The clay is then shaped on a pottery wheel by hand. The artist may or may not add a carving to the outside of the piece. When the artist is finished shaping the piece it is fired at a high temperature of 1200 degrees Celsius.
The Nixing Difference
Nixing is known for six important defining features.
Nixing Clay is non toxic and non-reactive. It does not react when in contact with acids or bases. It is porous and can breathe. These characteristics made Nixing clay an ideal material for vessels used for food and drink. As such, Nixing is commonly used for storing food and tea, as well as for brewing and holding tea and coffee. It is most widely used for tea ware.
Often overlooked in the tea world, Nixing clay is a hidden gem. It has been spared the hype that has pushed the prices of other kinds of ceramics (like Yixing Zisha) very high and given rise to fakes in the market. Nixing offers beauty, good tea brewing, safety, all at a great value.
Check out our Nixing Teapots here: