The Production and Development of Yixing Teapot
The production and development of Yixing tea pot which form the major type of Yixing purple clay tea pot are closely related to the Chinese custom of tea drinking that has persisted for more than one thousand years.
China is the homeland of tea and in the early periods, the Chinese had started the planting and usage of tea. Tongyue (Contract for a Boy Servant) by Wang Bao of the Western Han dynasty, Shilun (Discussion on Food) by Hua Tuo of the late Eastern Han dynasty, Feng Shi Wenjianji (A Record of Things Heard and Seen by Feng) by Feng Yan, Chajing (Classic of Tea) by Lu Yu, Pipaxing (Ode of Pipa) by Bai Juyi of the Tang dynasty, Hingzhou Ketan (Discourse on the Floating lslands) by Zhu Yu, and Dongling Menghualu (Dream of Prosperity at the Eastern Capiyal) by Meng Yuanlao of the Song dynasty, etc. contain information of tea trade and tea drinking. People began to realize that tea not only stops thirst, but also stimulates one's consciousness. Merchants travelled several hundred miles to engage in tea trade and on the market, there were tea houses where customers could just put down a coin and take the drink. Preparation methods for tea drinking include 'cooking tea','brewing tea' and 'infusing tea', and it became very popular in the society. The wares related to tea drinking include tea-cups, tea-bowls, tea whisker, tea-grinder, hot water vase, tea vase, water-container, flower vases and so on4. In the realm of teapot, it was said that Su Dongpo had once designed the 'Dongpo teapot',which was a kind of large teapot with overhead handle. Coming to the Ming dynasty, at the area where the Han people resided, natural dry form of loose tea leaves and tea buds replaced the production of tea cake or tea plaster; the process of tea preparation changed to brewing method and teapot became the principal tea ware. In the early Ming dynasty, the size of teapot was still quite large but it gradually became smaller in later times. In particular, the teapots used in preparing the 'Gongfu tea' in the Fujian and Guangdong regions is characterized by its small size. In Volume 2 of Yangxian Mingtaolu (Record of Famous Pottery Wares from Yangxian), a record of tea drinking is extracted from Taiyang Baiyongzhu (Taiyang's Explanation on a Hundred Poems) by Zhou Shu, which reads "In tasting tea, people of the province (Taiwan) prepare tea by themselves, and before drinking, they smell the fragrance first, while the small teapot by Gongchun ismost esteemed."
The popularity of tea drinking among the upper classes had created significant impact. Records in Chapter 65 of Sanguozhi (History of the Three Hingdoms), Guangya by Zhang Yi of the Wei dynasty, Shanfu fingshoulu (Recorde by a Cooker) by Yang Hua of the Tang dynasty, Yunxian Zaji (Miscellaneous Records of Yunxian) by Feng Zhi, and Chapter 867 of Taiping Yulan ([A Book Prepared at the] Taipingtianguo Period of the Song Dynasty for Emperor's Reading) by Zhang Fang of the Song dynasty show that the Emperor of the Wu Kingdom, Sun Hao; Emperor Huizong of the Song dynasty, Zhao Ji, men of letters of the Song dynasty like Su Shi and Lu You were all fond of drinking tea. As early as the Tang dynasty, treatises on tea tasting had already appeared and tea ware was also discussed. The Song people were fend of "tea-contesting" and they paid special attention to the production and colours of tea wares5. The Ming people opined that "The small teapots are much esteemed. Each guest should bring his own teapot and prepare tea by himself in order to get the pleasure. Why? The reason is that small teapot would keep the fragrance and the taste of tea would not loseo". Besides. there were other theories which read "If one tastes tea by himself, he would attain the true spirit, if two people taste tea together, they would get the pleasure, if three people taste tea together, they would just appreciate the taste of tea, however, if seven or eight people share tea, it would be known as wasting tea"; and "tea drinking is most suitable for those engaged in self cultivation7". Such theories were regarded as treatises that reveal the true essence of tea drinking. The development of theories on tea tasting had no doubt influenced and promoted the production of tea wares. And purple clay wares form the prominent major part of tea wares.
Purple clay tea wares were sent as tributary objects to the imperial cuurt in the Qing dynasty. The National Palace Museum of Taipei has collected some round and square purple clay teapots decorated with flowers of the four seasons in colour enamels, which bear the Kangxi mark. Archives of the lmperial Workshopshow that on the twentieth day of October of the fourth year of Yongzheng reign (1726), "six large and small Yixing teapots were taken out". Documents dated to the fifth day of October of the twenty-third year of Qianlong reign (1758) record that the Suzhou Textile Workshop had sent in "four pieces of Yixing teapots" . The Palace Museum, Beijing has collected a purple clay teapot which has a Qianlong mark at the base and a set of tea wares with a container, which was designated for the use of Emperor Qianlong when he was on tour. The teapot and tea caddy inscribed with imperial poems by Emperor Qianlong are now illustrated in this catalogues.
The production of Yixing tea wares is also associated with the demand from overseas markets.
In the late Ming period, when the Portugal Eastern india Company was engaged in trading Chinese tea to Western Europe, purple clay wares were also exported to Holland, which aroused the interest of the Europeans, and they called such wares 'red porcelain wares', 'red mud wares' or 'red clay wares'. About 1680, the Dutch potter Ary de Milde started to imitate such wares. In 1690, the English potter Elers also began to imitate purple clay wares by using red clay in order to satisfy the demand for tea wares from the English upper classes who were fond of drinking tea. Mottahedeh of New York, USA has collected a square teapot decorated with openwork design of tree branches and plum flowers and a teapot with twin-spouts made by Zheng Ninghou. The latter is a teapot with overhead handle and the interior of it is divided into two compartments for oontaining two different kinds of tea. The twin-spouts have silver fittings, and the sides of which are respectively carved with English words 'green' (for green tea) and 'Bohea' (i.e. Wuyi, a place at Fujian, famous for tea production). In Japan, purple clay tea wares were imported in the late Edo period and teapots with the marks 'Hui Mengchen' and 'Chen Mingyuan' were most treasured. In the mid 19th century, under the direction of Dr. Hirano Tadashi, potters attempted to produce purple clay wares at Tokoname. In the Meiji era, the potter at Tokoname, koie Takasu invited Jin Shiheng, a native of Suzhou, who excelled in producing purple clay tea wares to teach his techniques in Japan. Among Yixing purple clay wares, there were items designated for export. For instance, the extant tea wares with the mark 'gongju' (Tributary Bureau) were manufactured for export to Thailand and they bear marks like 'Tianqi gongju', 'Shunzhi gongju', etc. These export wares were still produced in the 19th century and in the Guangxu reign, Qing dynasty, a large number of purple clay wares were exported to Japan, Mexico and other countries in South America.
Owing to the special qualities of purple clay ware, they were mostly made into tea wares in history. The development histroy of purple clay tea wares is in fact the major part of that of purple clay wares.
Men of letters of the Song dynasty like Ouyang Xiu and Mei Yaochen had composed poetic verses praising the 'purple vases', which suggest that purple clay wares might have first appeared in the Northern Song dynasty and won appreciation of the upper classes. In July 1976, accumulated layers of wasted sherds from ancient kiln sites were discovered at Yangjiaoshan, Dingshu County, Yixing, which include some coarse purple clay sherds of the early periods in purplish-red colour. These sherds show that the production techniques at that time were of low standard and eminent firing defects were found. Most of these products were teapots after restoration of the sherds. Studies reveal that the upper dating limit of the Yangjiaoshan kiln would not be eariier than the mid Northern Song dynasty. It prospered in the Southern Song dynasty and gradually declined in the mid Ming dynastyo. Such a discovery might testify that the manufacturing of purple clay wares startedin the Northern Song dynasty.
The history of purple clay wares as shown in historical records dated back to the Zhengde period of the Ming dynasty, when Gongchun learned to produce teapot from the monks at the Jinsha Monastery. According to the book Yangxian Minghuxi (Chronology of Teapois fiom Yangxian) compiled by Zhou Gaoqi in the Tianqi period, which is the first publication on purple clay wares, Gongchun's teapots were already very rare at that time. There are two extant recorded teapots by Gongchun: one is said to have been collected by Wu Dazheng and later acquired by Chu Nanqiang. The lower part of the handle of this teapot is inscribed 'Gongchun'. The lid was added by potter Pei Shimin and Huang Binhong termed this teapot as 'teapot with knur texture'. This teapot is now in the collection of the Museum of History, China. Another is originally in the collection of Dr. Luo Guixiang, who later donated it to the Hong Kong Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware. The base of this domed teapot with six lobes bears the mark 'Daming Zhengde Banian Gongchun' (the eighth year of Zhengde period, great Ming dynasty, [made by Gongchun]). Contemporary master Gu Jingzhou said that he had seen as many as twelve teapots with knur texture, however, their features do not agree with that of the Gongchun teapot as recorded in historical documents. Thus it is very difficult to authenticate them as genuine10. However, we should not ignore the historical value of the extant Gongchun teapots which are attributed as a landmark in the production of purple clay wares in the mid and late Ming Dynasty.
The most important dated purple clay ware obtained from archaeological excavations is a teapot with overhead handle now in the collection of the Nanjing Municipal Museum. This teapot, measuring 17.7 rm in height, was unearthed from the tomb of Wu Jing, an eunuch of the Ming dynasty, at Majiashan, Zhonghua Gate, Nanjing in 1965. From the same tomb an epitaph with inscription dated to the twelfth year of Jiajing reign was also unearthed (see illustration following). The paste and production method of this teapot could be similar to that of jars unearthed from Yangjiaoshan,but is a bit finer. On the surface of the teapot are 'glaze drops' which reveal that when firing the purple clay wares were not put inside saggars; and they were fired at the same time with large jars. This unearthed teapot provides an important information for the study of the purple clay wares produced in Gongchun's time11.
Shi Peng, Dong Han, Zhao Liang and Yuan Chang were famous potters of the Jiajing and Wanli periods, and were collectively known as "Four Masters". In Yangxian Mingtaolu (Record of Famous Poiiery Wares from Yangxian), Wu Qian of the Qianlong period, Qing dynasty said that Dong Han first produced lobed teapots while Zhao Liang excelled in producing teapots with overhead handies. Some of their works are still existing, though quite rare, and attract much attention from collectors and connoisseurs.
Shi Dabin, the son of Shi Peng, was the most renowned potter after Gongchun and lived in the Wanli period. The clay he potted contains sal ammoniac and his products are noted for simple and archaic forms instead of pleasing appearance. At the begikning, he imitated the teapots made by Gongchun and produced large teapots. Later he acquainted with literati like Chen Jiru and learned the art of tea appreciation from them. He then made an unusual practice by producing small teapots. Such a change was of great historical signiTicance. A book on tea says, "If the teapot has to serve tea with true taste, the major clues are that fresh waster and fire had to be used, and tea should be drunk instantly, so that the colour, sound and fragrance could be kept. For this reason, it is appropriatefor the teapots to be small and shallow and not large and deep, and the lid to be globular and not flat, so that the freshness of water and the fragrance of tea could be condensediz". Potters active in the same period or later with Shi Dabin like Li Maolin, Li Zhongfang and Hui Mengchen also excelled in producing small teapots.
The marks on the teapots made by Shi Dabin are charactenzed by his carving strokes with a sense of fluency. In Yangxian Mingtaolu (Record of Famous Pottery Wares from Yangxian), a record of another feature of his products extracted from Zhang Yanchang's Yangxian Taoshuo (Discussion ofpottery Waresfrom Yangxian) says that the lid fits the teapot so perfectly that the whole teapot could be lifted up by just holding the lid. In the Shi Dabin's period, the clay used for producing purple clay wares contains sal ammoniac - a natural mineral of ammonium chloride - and as a result, gold sprinkles would appear after firing.Wu Qian's Yangxian Mingtaolu (Record of Famous Pottery Wares ]rom Yangxian) also points out such a feature. "From the early period of Gongchun to Shi Dabin, the colour of the finely grained clay is in light black, and on the clay are silver sprinkles. This might have been produced by the sal ammoniac in the clay, and they are like charming pearls." As shown in the book Chibei Outan (Miscellaneous Noies of the Chibei Book Room) compiled by Wang Shizhen, who lived at the same time with Shi Dabin. the works of Shi Dabin had already been 'esteemed throughout the country (China)' when they first appeared. Zhou Gaoqi also said "(his) teapots share half of the market throughout the country13". Even the novels contain records on his works. Chapter two of the book Chuke Pai'an fingqi (Excidng Stories, First Edition), the Shangyoutang edition of the first year of Chongzhen, has a story which describes the interior decoration of a room of Wang Xi and says, "On the wall, there is a painting on paper by Zhou Zhimian, and on the table, there is a teapot by Shi Dabin." It is unfortunate that such treasured teapots are very rare and there are only sixteen pieces recorded in the book Yangxian Shahu Tukao (Illusirated Study of Pottery Teapois from Yangxian) by Li Jingkang and Zhang Hong. Although we could see some tangible pieces or illustrated pieces in books attributed to him, very few in number could be identified as genuine. However, it is fortunate that archaeological finds in recent years have provided valuable information for the study of his works. which will be discussed in detail later.
The most renowned potter to come after Shi Dabin was Chen Yuan of the Kangxi and Yongzheng periods, Qing dynasty. His literary names include Mingyuan or Huyin. Wu Qian said that "his specialised talent is very outstanding in the world", and even Gongchun and Shi Dabin "can not surpass him". Chen acquainted with men of letters like Yang Zhongne, Cao Lianrang and Ma Sizan, etc. His products of tea wares and scholar's table objects amounted to several ten types and the calligraphic style of his marks reveal the legacy of that of the Jin and Tang dynasties. Objects in the shape of fruits and melons made by him, such as teapot in the shape of bundles of pine, bamboo and plum blossom, dish in the shape of leaf with a cicada, brush stand in the shape of a plum trunk, wrist-rest in the shape of bamboo trunk and six types of fruits (water-chestnut, arrowhead water-caltrop, chestnut, walnut and peanut) are all noted for delicate craftsmanship and lifelike essence, which are highly treasured. Before him there is another potter Chen Ziqi of the Chongzhen period, who excelled in modelling naturalistic objects like pomegranate and crabe. It is said that Chen Ziqi was the father of Chen Yuan, however, judging from their ages, such a relationship could not be established. Though there are only ten piecesof Chen Yuan's works recorded in Li Jingkang and Zhang Hong's book, his achievements had in fact opened a new realm in the art of purple clay wares.
Chen Hongshou (1768 - 1822), pseudonym Mansheng, of the Qianlong and Jiajing periods was a native of Qiantang, Zhejiang province. He was known coilectively as "Eight Masters of Xiling School" with Huang Yi, Xi Gang and Zhao Zhichen etc. and excelled in literature, painting, calligraphy and seal-carving. He had servedasthe magistrateof Yixing for three years and developed a keen interest in purple clay wares. Moreover, he had designed eighteen types of teapots and employed Yang Pengnian, Yang's brother Baonian and sister Fengnian to produce them. The teapots made by them often bear the mark "Amantuoshi" at the base and the mark "Pengnian" beneath the handie and are collectively known as "Mansheng teapot" . The surface of these teapots is usually flat and smooth, on which paintings and calligraphiesare carved. Besides Chen Mansheng himself, other people who engaged in composing the inscriptions included his close friends like Jiang Tingxiang, Guopinjia, Gao Shuangquan, and Zha Meishi, etc. The participation of literati, officials and collectors in designing and producing teapots had actually started in the late Ming period and those men like Xiang Yuanbian, Zhao Yiguang, Dong Qichang, Chen Jiru, and Song Luo were all enthusiastic in taking up such a practice. Virtually, the combination of the Yixing purple clay wares with other arts such as painting, calligraphy and seal-carving was promoted by Chen Mansheng. Such a style became popular thereafter and Chen Mansheng had indeed contributed a lot to the promotion of the Yixing pottery industry.
It is said that over several thousand pieces of 'Mansheng teapot' have been produced. In the collection of Dr. Luo Guixiang, there is a teapot with the inscription 'Teapot No. 1379, inscribed by Pinjia', which is now in tlie collection of the Hong Kong Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Warei'. Another example illustrated in the book Yangxian Shahu Tukao (lllusirated Stady of Poiiery Teapois from Yangxian) bears the inscription 'Teapot No. 4614, production supervised by Master Man, for the appreciation of (Pinyin translation for the first character not available) Quan', which is now in the collection of the Shanghai Museumis. As a matter of fact, if there were so many `Mansheng teapots' produced, they could hardly be made by a few potters like Yang Pengnian, Yang Baonian and Yang Fengnian. It was disoovered recenfly that some of the `Mansheng teapots' bear marks inscribed by other potters.
Shao Daheng of the Daoguang and Xianfeng periods was another master excelled in producing teapots. There are few records on him, however, his extant works are noted for excellent craftsmanship and distinctive design, which show that he was more talented than other common potters. Three teapots with his mark 'Daheng' are illustrated in the present catalogue. Among them, the teapot in the shape of a fish transforming into a dragon was first produced by Shao Daheng and the one in the shape of a bundle of bamboo with design of eight trigrams is another superb work by him. The third onewith a round bladder and copper overhead handle bear a dated inscription 'suici jiachen mengqiu zhiyue' (dated the autumn month of the year jiachen), which provides valuable information on the active period of Shao Dalieng. Teapots made by him had indeed produced significant impact in later dynasties.