By Xinhua writer Liang Saiyu
JINGDEZHEN, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- With a history of producing quality porcelain going back 1,700 years, Jingdezhen, a small city nestled in central China's Jiangxi Province, has been eclipsed by a shadow of mass pottery production.
In the 18th century, voyagers from the city sold porcelain goods to the world, with buyers astonished by the exquisite and delicate work.
But Jingdezhen has been surpassed by cities like Foshan and Chaozhou in southern China's Guangdong Province, with their mass production of pottery goods.
Statistics for 2012 showed that the value of ceramic sales reached 22 billion yuan (3.59 billion U.S. dollars) in Jingdezhen compared to 40 billion yuan in Chaozhou.
However, things are looking up for Jingdezhen.
A ceramics auction in the city on Sunday saw a record high value of transactions worth 62 million yuan, six times the amount of last year's event.
Jingdezhen, known as the ceramic capital of China, is trying to recreate its past glories and revive the city's tradition of high quality craftsmanship.
Xiang Yuanhua, 50, who has inherited imperial kiln techniques and methods, said, "Imperial kilns, used exclusively for ancient emperors, are first-class royal porcelain-producing kilns with products representing the highest level as well as the most representative token of Chinese traditional culture and spirit."
Xiang's company, Jingdezhen Imperial Kiln Culture Development Co. Ltd., restores ancient styles, some of which are displayed in the palace museums of Beijing and Taipei.
"More than 100 workers have been working on research and restoration of porcelains from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) to the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911) over the past thirty years," Xiang said.
He regards the perfection of ceramic craftsmanship as the pillar of Jingdezhen. The future development of the industry in the city lies in preserving the art and injecting it with modern ideas, according to Xiang, who has invited well-known calligraphers and painters to paint his ceramics.
Xiang's views are shared by artist Teng Ting, who said Jingdezhen represents "the top level of porcelain art."
But industrialization has also not helped, according to Teng. Developments in the city have meant many of the old buildings craftsmen used to live and work in have been torn down.
To help support the industry, Teng asked the local government for more workshops for craftsmen and craftswomen to carry out their work.
Construction of an industrial park covering more than 1,000 mu began earlier this year, according to Jingdezhen municipal government. The project aims at providing workshops exclusively for hand-made porcelain producers.
"Dubbed 'Mingfangyuan', the park for famous ceramic workshops will accommodate the once-dispersed workshops to allow for more communication and cooperation between them, thus better preserving the traditional art and inspiring innovation," said Gao Huanhu, director of the administration committee of Jingdezhen ceramic industrial park.
Apart from preserving the old, innovation from industry newcomers will look to inject new blood into the ancient city.
Teng Ting, who is from east China's Zhejiang Province, has spent the past five years in Jingdezhen creating new paints to be used on porcelain. Teng named his new paints Nizhongcai, meaning "color in the mud".
Creating ceramics with perfect color requires sophisticated skills since ceramic color can change after being glazed and burned in a kiln, said Teng.
Jingdezhen has studios for newcomers, providing in-house craftsmanship training, accommodation and interpretation services.
"In Jingdezhen, I can get technical help and historical influence," said Adriaan Rees, a Dutch ceramic artist who has spent seven years in the city.
"I set up my studio here because what you can do here cannot be done elsewhere," he said. "It is more important and better, there are more possibilities because the craftsmanship here is so high. It is so alive and full of experts, which makes it very special."
Xiang Yuanhua said, "Jingdezhen has long been a diversified city and has always been open to artists. Ninety-thousand craftsmen worked here in the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). Jingdezhen can not be what it is today without the advanced techniques brought by craftsmen far and near."
Xiang's son, Xiang Qing, is in charge of his father's branding. The 28-year-old is promoting centuries-old imperial porcelain as a top luxury brand.
Xiang Qing has organized joint exhibitions with luxury brands like Hermes and Rolls-Royce. Ancient pieces can be seen in Qianmen, Beijing, next to the Hermes store.
"My son said he may not grasp techniques as advanced as me, but he has to do his part," said Xiang Yuanhua.