Time-honored Rongchang pottery in China full of new vitality

By Wang Binlai, Chang Biluo, People’s Daily


Rongchang pottery, a famous traditional craft originated in Anfu subdistrict, Rongchang district, southwest China’s Chongqing municipality and dates back to the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD), is brimming with fresh vigor.


With a history of over 2,000 years, Rongchang pottery has been acknowledged as one of the four most noted ceramic crafts in China, and has been listed among China’s national-level representative intangible cultural heritage (ICH) programs.


Today, visitors can see a shop making or selling Rongchang pottery every few steps they take in Antao tourist town, a characteristic town in Anfu subdistrict.


As the cultural heritage is known by more people, the studio of Lv Jicheng, an inheritor of Rongchang pottery at the district level, is often crowded with tourists. They have shown increasing interest in both Lv’s works and the techniques and steps in making Rongchang pottery.


Liang Xiancai, a national-level inheritor of Rongchang pottery, has spent his entire life working on the cultural heritage, which involves 24 production procedures, including selecting clay, making greenware, polishing, carving and glazing.


In the 1970s and 1980s, when Rongchang pottery witnessed booming business and was a pillar industry of Rongchang district, almost every household in Chongqing and its neighboring cities used pots and jars made through the craft of Rongchang pottery to store rice and vegetables or preserve pickles.


Meanwhile, ceramics produced in Rongchang district were also exported to Southeast Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and other regions, with the average annual export volume exceeding 100,000 pieces.


However, at the end of the 20th century, the once popular pickle jars fell flat on the market, as producers of Rongchang pottery failed to transform and upgrade their products timely when competitors rised and consumers’ tastes had also changed.


To break the stereotype of Rongchang pottery as pickle jars, craftsmen started to make innovations, and enrich the varieties of their products by shifting to artware, such as tea sets and vases.


At the same time, many young people have been attracted to the intangible cultural heritage, injecting fresh vitality into Rongchang pottery and bringing the traditional craft to more and more people. Guan Yongshuang, who runs a studio in a quiet yard in Rongchang district, is one of them.


After graduating from Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing, Guan and his wife rented the yard to dedicate themselves to inheriting Rongchang pottery.


Over the past five years, they have innovated various ceramics that are different from traditional pottery products, such as small trays with orange skin-like patterns for washing brushes, life-like seedpods of lotus flowers, and plates made of both red and white clay.


Lv has hosted live-streaming shows to introduce pottery-related knowledge to netizens. “Rongchang pottery can be baked both in wood-fired kilns and electrical kilns, but the luster of the finished products made with the two kinds of kilns are different,” Lv said to his audience.


During the baking process, the heat and wood ashes would leave unique marks on unpainted clay pots, something that couldn’t be created through handwork, Lv added.


To help more people get to know Rongchang pottery, Rongchang district has shown via live-streaming the exact moment when freshly baked ceramic products are taken out of kilns, allowing netizens to appreciate carefully baked and elaborately designed ceramics, such as teapots, tea cups and vases.


While demonstrating the making of Rongchang pottery via live-streaming, craftsmen have refreshed the memory of people for the glorious history of the pottery and won likes and complimentary remarks from netizens.


On a site near the Antao tourist town, a cultural and creative pottery industrial park is gradually taking shape. It will serve as a practice base for students of colleges and universities, an extracurricular practice base for primary and middle school students, and a center where ceramic artists can make innovations.


With more than 70 high-tech enterprises settling in the ceramics industrial park in the high-tech industrial development zone of Rongchang district, the time-honored traditional craft have been brought closer to emerging technologies.


Pottery enterprises in Rongchang now see an annual output value of nearly 8 billion yuan (about $1.2 billion). Last year, the district was acknowledged as “the ceramic capital of western China” by the China National Light Industry Council.