• by vinux

Zisha teapots are an important part of Chinese tea culture, a unique drinking utensil China has to offer. It is a combination of pottery, color of the pot, shape of the pot, style of the pot, seal mark on the pot, inscription, painting, calligraphy and sculptures with engraving forming an elegant work of art. The Zisha teapot art started in Song Dynasty but flourished during Ming and Qing Dynasties; in the past few hundred years this technique had seen its ups and downs but through it all never disappeared and gradually developed into today’s worldwide cultural trend of Zisha teapot culture.

Purple sand pot is loved by tea lovers for its beautiful shape, various styles and unique features. At the same time, it also has many advantages when brewing tea. Therefore, the Tea Culture Platform will start from the appreciation of purple sand pot and introduce its history, raw materials, shapes, production and decoration techniques, usage and maintenance as well as related identification tips one after another. We hope to help tea lovers who love purple sand pot in some way.

I love purple sand pot. We should understand the history and development of it.

The Song Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China that ruled from 960 to 1279 CE. It was the first government in world history to issue paper money, and had a flourishing economy with advanced technology and culture. During this time, China saw significant technological advancements, including the development of gunpowder, advancements in printing and bookmaking techniques, and the creation of a compass for navigation.

Let’s celebrate together with purple clay pot and have a sip of tea, I admire your graceful attitude and the remaining clearness. This is the earliest record of drinking tea with a purple clay pot found in ancient literature(”He Mei Gong Yi Tasting Tea Poem” by Ou Yang Xiu). Purple sand teaware was developed from pottery and is a new type of ceramic, beginning from Northern Song Dynasty, flourishing in Ming and Qing Dynasties, and still famous today both in China and abroad. As to who invented purple sand teaware, it cannot be verified.

The relics of early purple sand teapots found in Yingshu Town, Yixing City, Jiangsu Province have been dated to the mid-Northern Song Dynasty, proving that the production of Yixing purple sand teapots has a history of almost one thousand years. The pottery includes three types: high-necked pots, low-necked pots and beam-lifting pots. The body is purplish red with no glaze inside or outside and coarse material. From the shape and craftsmanship, it can be seen that the prototype of purple sand pottery has appeared.

Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644, a period of Chinese history marked by economic growth, expansion of government control, the rise of neo-Confucianism and its influence on politics, culture and literature.

The Ming Dynasty was the heyday of the purple sand pot, with many potter artists such as Gong Chun, Shi Dabing, etc., marking the official entrance of purple sand pot art onto the historical stage. The purple sand tea sets in the Ming Dynasty were simple and generous in shape, plain and elegant in color.

According to the “Yang Xian Minghu Founding” written by Zhou Gao in the Ming Dynasty: “Monks of Jinsha Temple, who have been living for a long time and their true names have been passed down, it is said that the monks were quiet and leisurely, they used fine soil and added clarified water to knead it into a fetus, then they made it round, carved out the hollow part, attached a handle with a lid on it, fired it with pottery holes, and people gradually passed it on.” The exact date of Jinsha Monks is hard to trace back but Jinsha Poetry Monks are still respected as the ancestors of Zisha Craftsmanship.

According to the Yixing County Records: “Between the reigns of Ming Zhengde and Jiajing, there was a craftsman who made purple sand tea sets. They were novel and exquisite, elegant and natural, thin but strong, with a great reputation. The “Tree Vein Sand Pot” he made is treasured by the world, now stored in the Chinese History Museum.

In the late Ming Dynasty, famous purple-clay masters included Dong Han, Zhao Liang, Yuan Xi, Li Yangxin and Shi Pen. In the late Ming Dynasty, Shi Dabin and his disciples Li Zhongfang and Xu Youquan were known as “the three great potters”. The three styles of purple-clay pots (ribbed type, natural type, geometric type) have been fully established and all have excellent works to their name, enriching purple-clay pots with more cultural connotations and literati flavor.

The Qing Dynasty was the last imperial dynasty in China, lasting from 1644 to 1912. It was preceded by the Ming Dynasty and succeeded by the Republic of China. The Qing dynasty was founded by the Manchu clan Aisin Gioro, and it witnessed a centralized and powerful government, flourishing culture, remarkable economic growth and territorial expansion. Emperor Kangxi (1661–1722) is widely regarded as its most successful ruler who significantly expanded its boundaries and consolidated an effective administration.

From the late Ming Dynasty to the early Qing Dynasty, purple sand pots were highly valued by the royal family due to their exquisite craftsmanship and became tribute, entering the palace and giving rise to luxurious decorative techniques such as clay painting, gold plating, painted glaze, stacking kilns, piling paste and clustering seal. During this period various pottery styles flourished and maintained a brilliant situation.

The style of teapot art is increasingly tending towards exquisite craftsmanship, represented by the outstanding Chenmingyuan. The teapot made is full of new styles, with exquisite craftsmanship, out-of-the-ordinary ideas and clever colors. These purple sand teapots are world-famous works. There are dozens of different types of tea sets and display items.

The ancient Chinese master tea kettle makers include Min Lu Sheng, Chen He Zi, Shen Zi Che, Xiang Bu Sun and Hua Feng Xiang. Meanwhile, both elegant and simple designs are represented by Hui Yi Gong, Ge Zi Hou and Wu Yue Ting, etc.

During the Jiaqing and Daoguang periods of the Qing Dynasty, most pottery artisans abandoned the previous emphasis on ingenuity, and their styles became more elegant and simple. Decoration by carving mainly with calligraphy, painting and seal-carving became the main methods. The shape of the purple clay teapots also changed to mainly geometric forms, with simple decorative lines on the body of the pot to maximize the area of clean surface so that carving decoration can be used to express calligraphy, painting, seal-carving and other contents favored by literati, making the bookish style and stone-like flavor of purple clay teapots stronger.

Chen Mansheng (Chen Hongshou, Zi Gong, nickname Mansheng) and his friends’ teapots and inscriptions engraved on them are a masterpiece created by literati and artists over the past 500 years. It is said that Chen Mansheng designed the “Mansheng eighteen styles”, which were made by Yang Pengnian siblings and others. Jiangtingxiang, Guo Pinjia and other pavilion attendants engraved the books of Ming, among them there were self-made by Mansheng. It is known as the “Mansheng pot”.

As the saying goes: “The value of a pot increases with its inscription, while the inscription increases with the value of the pot”, renowned inscriptions on pots can fetch three times more than ordinary ones without inscriptions.

From the late Qing dynasty to the Republic of China

In the early years of the late Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China, the purple sand pottery industry was still developing slowly. A group of merchants entered Yixing to produce purple sand pots. They opened special stores in Shanghai, Yixing, Wuxi, Tianjin, Hangzhou and other places, ordered purple sand pots from Yixing and hired famous artisans to make them. Purple sand pots were not only sold to major cities in China, but also exported to Japan, Southeast Asia and Europe.

During this period, the shape of purple sand pottery mostly followed that of the Qing Dynasty, and there were not many innovative shapes. What was emphasized at that time was the carving decoration, and popular activities included copying famous paintings, calligraphy in different scripts, stele inscriptions, bronze vessel inscriptions, brick and tile ancient pottery inscriptions etc. A large number of purple sand artisans emerged at that time, such as Cheng Shouzhen , Yu Guoliang , Fan Dasheng , Li Baozhen , Wang Baogen and so on. Before the outbreak of the Anti-Japanese War, the development of purple sand pottery industry was always relatively smooth, and the entire industry situation was prosperous.

After the Japanese invasion of China on a massive scale, Yixing and the entire Chinese purple clay industry were in decline. Of the ten dragon kilns in Yixing, seven were converted by Japanese invaders and Kuomintang forces into bunkers, all factories were destroyed, many masters of purple clay died of poverty and illness, and only more than twenty people remained as practitioners, with few survivors left and artistry gone.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, a group of potters who had already made their mark in the Republic of China period, such as Wang Baogen, Pei Shimin, Zhu Kexin, Wang Yunchun, Wu Yun’gen, Gu Jingzhou, Shen Xiaolu, Wu Chungeng , Chen Fuyuan and Tang Fengzhi formed a cooperative named “Tangdu”, i.e. Yixing Tangdu Pottery Production Cooperative, which was the first purple sand production cooperative established after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. In the mid-1950s, ceramic artists around Shushan and Qianjie cooperated to form Yixing Shushan Potter Cooperative.