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History of Yixing Teapot

Posted by Jessica Jacobson on
History of Yixing Teapot

History of Yixing Teapot - Learn the Secrets of How Yixing Teapots Became Famous

For centuries, Chinese tea drinkers have viewed the Yixing teapot to have a reputation as a superior vessel for tea. This unique teapot has quite a history under its lid that dates back to about 1500. The Yixing teapot was the very first pot explicitly designed to brew tea. The Yixing teapot originated in the Jiangsu province, which sits about 100 miles west of Shanghai.

Yixing teapots have been made since the 16th century with a steady influx of potters since the Wanli period of 1573-1619. The purple sand teapot first developed during the Song dynasty 960-1279 but didn’t reach its height of fame until the early Ming Dynasty and on through the Qing Dynasty. The clay-made earthenware became increasingly popular among tea makers since it can withstand scorching temperatures.


Where does it get its name, Yixing?

Yixing teapots are sometimes called zisha hu. Translated, this means “purple sand pot.” Yixing teapots refer to those made of pottery that has been produced in Yixing. Yixing is situated to the west of Taihu, the Great Lake in Jiangsu Province. The hills to the southeast of the county are filled with rich clay deposits. In small towns like Dingshan and Shushan, known collectively as the town of Dingshu, have become the center of pottery-making. The region has become known as the Pottery Capitol.


How Intellectuals Brought Yixing Teapot to Life

Initially, the Chinese Imperial Court seemed to prefer the glazed teapots. It was the intellectuals who would come to embrace the Yixing teapot. This group of thinkers would learn to enjoy the simplicity and naturalism in both the material used and the form created. It would be these intellectuals who would also enjoy poetry engraved on the sides of the pots.


Yixing Teapots Made Its Way Around The World

The clay may come from China, but the influence of the Yixing teapots has spanned the globe. European artisans began to imitate the earthenware on the Yixing pots to inspire such well-known works as Wedgwood eventually. Yixing teapots were introduced to Europe in the late 17th century, along with shipments of tea. Ultimately, these pots would provide a model for the earliest Dutch, German, and English teapots. However, they could never fully capture the craft’s full essence and continued purchasing their Yixing from China.


The Pottery Capital Of China

The Yixing region in China is located near Shanghai. It has a long history as the Pottery Capital of China. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the world’s finest teapots were crafted there. The clay is known for its distinctive reddish appearance due to the “purple sand” clay used to make the pot.


What Makes Yixing So Special

What makes the Yixing teapot unique is the clay’s porosity that allows a tiny amount of tea to be absorbed and infused into its interior. The teapot begins to take on the flavor of the tea brewed inside, so they are only used to brew one type of tea. The pots are never washed, just rinsed in water. After weeks, months, years of continued use, the layers of tea sediment form to the point that the users begin brewing tea within past teas. The process enhances the flavor, color, and aroma of the teas brewed inside.


It Takes Skilled Artists To Make A Lasting Work

Because the Zisha clay is so fine, it allows the artist to form a lid that fits perfectly on top. This tight-fitting lid conserves heat within the pot to further enhance the brewing process. The clay of Yixing is known collectively as zisha, which means purple sand. There are three basic types of this clay: zisha, a purplish-brown clay; banshanlu, a buff-colored clay; and zhusha, a cinnabar or deep orange-red clay. Potters often mix the mineral colors or blend them to create a wide range of earth tones from beige to light brown, cinnabar red to dark brown with a hint of purple, and dark green to black. The darker shades are a result of the addition of cobalt oxide and manganese dioxide.


Break The Mold And Throw It Away

Yixing teapots are hand shaped rather than put inside a mold. They are all handmade rather than being thrown on the pottery wheel. The clay is pounded with a heavy wooden mallet into a slab. The bodies of the teapots are made in three basic techniques. They are either segmented and press-molded, paddled as is the case with round teapots, or made on the slab as is the case with square teapots. Special tools of wood, bamboo, metal, and horn have been used and modified throughout the years to be used in the process of Yixing teapot making.

In addition to the pot’s practical brewing capabilities, these teapots are typically formed with such artistic care and rustic elegance. Many of the Yixing teapot forms represent nature, geometric design, or just plain whimsical works of art. To the Yixing teapot user, a cherished pot will often take on a patina representing a great deal of tea brewing use.

Yixing Teapot’s Rich History To The Present Day

During the Qing Dynasty, 1644-1911, Yixing enjoyed years of prosperity. During the early Republic years of 1911-1938, Yixing teapots were exported to Japan, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the United States. In the 1930s and 1940s, war and revolution in China would bring the teapots’ manufacturing to a standstill. It took until 1954 before the Chinese government would establish communes to gather together the old master potters to train a new generation to preserve ancient traditions. This new generation of pottery crafters would continue until the Yixing Purple Sand Factory Number One was opened. It employed 600 workers, but only a handful of skilled artists were able to work with the pottery well.

By 1988, the Innovations in Contemporary Yixing Pottery exhibition was presented by the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware in Hong Kong. It showcased more than 200 of the finest works of the best Yixing potters. Since then, the thrill and desire to own a Yixing teapot has continued to grow even in the United States.

Yixing teapots are known for their quaint charm and unique tea brewing qualities. In recent years, they have seen a large come back among new tea lovers and history buffs.

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