Podcast: Story in the Story (9/6/2019 Fri.)
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From the People's Daily app.

And this is Story in the Story.

The National Museum of China received a donation of 195 pieces of ancient porcelain recovered from the wreck of the Tek Sing, an essential record of the prosperity of China's Maritime Silk Road.

In 1822, the Tek Sing, loaded with silk and porcelain from China, sank in waters off the coast of Indonesia. The sunken ship was salvaged by a commercial team in 1999, and the artifacts were then auctioned off.

Zheng Changlai, chair of Waterside Culture Group, said the ship's cargo of blue-and-white porcelain was manufactured at the Dehua kilns in East China's Fujian Province during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). 

The sintering techniques of Dehua porcelain have been inscribed on the list of China's national intangible cultural heritage.

Archaeological findings show that, with the rise of Quanzhou port in Fujian as the largest port in the East during the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, Dehua ceramics became bulk commodities on the ancient Maritime Silk Road.

According to experts, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the techniques used to create Dehua ceramics reached its peak with porcelain being produced as white as cream.

Today’s Story in the Story looks at how an ancient style of Chinese porcelain is making a comeback due to the country’s increased heritage preservation efforts.


Zheng Changlai (center) introduces donated Dehua porcelain pieces at a ceremony in the museum in Beijing. (Photo: China Daily)   

The only remaining ancient kiln in Dehua is the Yueji Kiln, which has been burning for more than 400 years.

It still churns out four batches of pottery a year, and the production attracts ceramic makers and visitors from all over the world.

Lin Zeyang, a 27-year-old local in Dehua, rents two small houses near the kiln as her ceramics workshop. She explained that, while people nowadays use electric kilns to make ceramics that are convenient and easy to operate, in the ancient wood-burning kilns, each ceramic piece takes on a unique shape because of the uneven heat.

"This imperfection creates an individuality that cannot be replicated by today's modern machinery, a quality which, in recent years, has been gaining in popularity among consumers both at home and abroad," she said.

Artists can rent space in the Yueji Kiln to create their work. Last year, demand for her porcelain from the kiln far outweighed production, and she was unable to keep up with incoming orders.

Dehua has always been China's largest production and export base of ceramic handicrafts.

By the end of 2018, there were more than 3,000 ceramic enterprises in Dehua, employing more than 100,000 people, with an annual turnover of $4.65 billion, and the products were sold and exported to 190 countries and regions.


(Photo: China Daily)

However, while once upon a time, the most popular exports were porcelain figures and utensils, today Western craft porcelain fills the cargo holds of China’s outbound ships.

"Then, during the Qing Dynasty, because of the huge overseas demand for Chinese porcelain utensils, the fine art of blanc de Chine porcelain production gradually waned, as craftsmen turned to the mass production of blue-and-white porcelain utensils for export," explained Chen.

The Tek Sing ceramics are evidence of those mass exports, he said.

In the 1960s, ceramic craftsmen at Dehua researched and resumed the traditional sintering method of blanc de Chine porcelain.

Chen has stuck to blanc de Chine art porcelain making in Dehua, noting that it is necessary to combine traditional techniques to create works suitable for contemporary aesthetics that the porcelain craft can be revived to its former glory.

Whether it's the porcelain souvenirs sold at Universal Studios and the world's Disneyland theme parks, the best-selling ceramic cups in Starbucks, or small porcelain models found in European and American gardens-even seasonal porcelain for Christmas and Easter-most of them come from this one small county in southern China.

Zheng Pengfei, manager of Shunmei Ceramic Cultural Enterprise, one of the largest ceramic exporters in Dehua, said the company has earned global bargaining power through its exports. 

Its household porcelain products can now be found on the shelves of Walmart and other major international retailers.

He added that Dehua porcelain needs to continue to impress the world, not only with its considerable production output but also through its innovation and technique.

(Produced by Nancy Yan Xu, Lance Crayon, Brian Lowe, and Paris Yelu Xu. Music by: bensound.com. Text from China Daily and Global Times.)