Tuesday, November 28, 2006, 11:44 PM ( 40 views )I ran across a news from China's official news Xin Hua. The news clearly pointed out the crisis that the art of Yixings is facing: The sources of clays are becoming depleted, and the traditional craftsmanship is gradually lost.
>> Click to read the original news in Chinese. <<
Here is the translation of the first several paragraphs for you:
" Yixing's Zi Sha teapots are well-known worldwide. The raw clays to make Zi Sha teapots are mined from Huang Long Mountain area, and is Nature's ir-reproducible resources.
However, the raw clay of Zi Sha is getting so rare that locals say "inch of clay, inch of gold". In the past, one ton of raw clay was worth only tens dollars(RMB), but now is increased to 7 or 8 thousands dollars(RMB). The chariman of Yixing Ceramics Business Association, Mr. Shi Jun-Tang, pointed out the current natural Zi Sha clay mines are very rare. And if a proper preservation is not started as soon as possible, the natural recourses will become depleted quickly.
The local Yixing authorities have noticed this problem. Since last year, they stopped issuing any mining license in the Huang Long Mountain area. And they promised no more mining license for the following three years.
No only the natural resources are facing crisis, the traditional Zi Sha craftsmanship are also becoming a lost art. According to the locals, driven purely by business profits, the modern machinery-process, coloring the clay with chemical dyes, and the use of gas-kilns have push the traditional Yixing craftsmanship to the brink of extinction.
So does this news ring any bell for you? I have, not once, mentioned the problems of Yixings in several places/forums. I guess some people may think I was creating the "Wolf is coming" story to justify Hou De's prices on our yixings. Now here is a good reference of the "Wolf".
Yixings locals are worrying the depleted resources and lost art, and could it be possible that we can be so lucky to find "genuine Yixings" at great online/ebay prices from kind-hearted Chinese vendors?
Tuesday, November 28, 2006, 11:18 AM ( 64 views )From the publisher of the prestigious "Pu-erh Teapot Magazine" in Taiwan, the No. 1 issue of English-versioned "The Art of Tea" has been issued!
Hou De will be the first distributor of this exciting new Tea magazine outside the Asian market. First shipment of copies will arrive very soon (scheduled the 2nd week of Dec.2006).
We sincerely hope this magazine, the first-ever step to bridge the professional Asian tea world to the passionate English-speaking tea lovers, become a success.
Contrary to the Chinese-versioned Pu-erh Teapot magazine in which half of the volume are just advertisements, the English "The Art of Tea" will limit the ads section to no more than 20 pages out of a hefty 180-plus-page volume. The goal of this magazine really is to bring worthy information to the readers, instead of an overly-ads platform.
We will make it available immediately when we receive the copies.
Guang : )
Tuesday, November 7, 2006, 05:46 PM ( 53 views )Time to harvest my oolongs (soft-stemmed cultivar) in the backyard! See how lovely and happy they are:
They grow slower than they were in the summer time in Houston. So this harvest I collected only 30g of raw leaves. In the end, I probably will only be able to make 5~7 gram of oolong (Pou Chong). Next year I will plant them into the ground and they will grow quicker.
Sunday, October 29, 2006, 12:10 AM ( 2 views )
I dug out several interesting Nei Zi (inner Zi Sha) Wai Hong (outer Hong Ni) pieces and one very old and lovely "Er Pu"-sealed Shan Tou teapot 75cc. Let's discuss the unique "Nei Zi Wai Hong" method to decorate yixing teapots and a Guangdong-system teapots: ShanTou Teapots.
The picture below shows (A) 80's Nei Zi Wai Hong "Chung Guo Yi Xing"-sealed, (B) 70's Nei Zi Wai Hong "Chung Guo Yi Xing"-sealed, and (C) the old Shan Tou teapot (the knob on the lid was broken, and repaired by plastic clay so not usable anymore but it's a great learning material).
Nei Zi Wai Hong belongs to the group of decoration method for yixings: Make-up Clay, which mean a different type of clay, usually of finer quality of more interesting color, is applied onto the outer surface of the teapot's body. Anoter example is the early R.O.C. "Pumpkin" of Jing-Ding Trademark. This decoration method has long existed in yixing production. But not until 70's has it started been used in large scale for mass production of yixing teapots. The main purpose of using this method in the mass production was to eliminate the time and labor consuming burnishing work that can refine the surface texture. Another important reason is that it enables the use of lower grade clays as the Hong-Ni make-up clay on the surface would render them nice-looking red teapots anyway.
The picture below shows the inside clays. Note the difference in clay colors of A and B.
The clay of B, apparently paler in looking than A, is typical of 70's zi sha that were used for making Nei Zi Wai Hong teapots. The color of A, more purplish, is closer to what we normally see in massively produced yixings nowadays.
Detailed look at the underside of the lids for A and B.
The arrow pointing to the knob's hole of B highlights the "leaked" hong ni during the application step. Two ways to apply thick liquor of Hong Ni onto the surface: Paiting and Showering. If the thick liquor was showered onto the surface, very often some liquor would leak through the knob's hole. So from the inspection of the underside of the lid, we can learn what method was used to apply the Hong Ni liquor.
Onto the interesting ShanTou teapots. Below is a picture of the ShanTou teapot I have, "Er Pu"-sealed.
ShanTou Teapots has a younger history than Yixing Teapots. In fact, they were made as "Yixing Wannabe" initially, as yixings were too expensive for daily use for general public of GuangDong province. So the potters used the local terra cotta-like red clay and hand-thrown on wheels to make the body. Because the color/texture of the local clays were not as attractive as the yixings, they used the "make-up(cosmetic) clay" skill to decorate those teapots.
To identify if a teapot is of the Yixing system or the ShanTou system, the first clue is to find if there are circular hand-thrown lines inside the teapot. If yes, it is most likely of ShanTou. If not, we then need to inspect the clay carefully. ShanTou clays are different from Yixing clays.
If the above discussion of YiXing vs. ShanTou is not complicated enough, several ShanTou teapot producers were so successful that later they went to YiXing to set up companies/studios to produce real yixing teapots. Among them, "Er Pu" is one of the most famous ShanTou teapot producers.
Although the Nei Zi Wai Hong yixings are usually of mass-produced kind, this producing method was soon out of fashion entering 90's as modern clay-preparing skills and analytical chemistry dominate the production method. So for this reason, I still prefer a humble and genuine "nostalgic" yixing Nei Zi Wai Hong than those modern mass-produced kinds.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006, 11:55 AM ( 6 views )3 men with guns rushed into a pu-erh store in TaiChung, Taiwan around 12:15pm yesterday(Oct/24). They tied up the store owner, Mr. Chen, and took away more than 10 pieces of antique (Hao and Yin)-grade pu-erhs and 30+ mushrooms on the shelves. The store owner offered to give them money, but the men said,
"No money, just want pu-erhs!"
Oh my Oh my... isn't it a sign that pu-erh market is over-heated!
Click to see the news (Chinese)
When we used to have a store in Montrose area/Houston, we had thought to buy insurance for all the goods. But later we decided it was the safest store anywhere in Houston: how can you imagine a gun-robbery in Houston:
"Don't move! I just want all your pu-erhs and yixings... Oh... that is a great Zhu Ni, oh man, that shrinkage lines. Woowww... Chi Tsi Xiao Huan Yin!"