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Something Old and Something New -- Ceramic Culture in Zibo
Zibo, in Shandong Province, is an important ceramics industrial base in northern China, and has been ranked along with Jingdezhen in Jiangxi and Tangshan in Hebei as one of China’s “three capitals of ceramics.”

Today, the ceramics industry has developed into Zibo’s pillar industry with over 300 ceramics enterprises and nearly 100,000 employees. Unlike Jingdezhen, a major producer of artistic chinaware since antiquity, Zibo is known to the world for its production of building and industrial ceramics, and household porcelain wares that have become chief among exports for the city.

Zibo also takes the lead in the application of new materials within ceramics. From August 31 to September 2, the city hosted an International New Material Technology Forum, which drew 17 academics from the Chinese Academy of Engineering as well as 52 ceramic experts and entrepreneurs from 18 countries and regions including Japan, the Republic of Korea, Britain, Germany, Russia, and Uzbekistan to name but a few.

To expand cultural and economic exchange with foreign countries and raise Zibo’s status as a capital of ceramics, Zhang Jianguo, former mayor of Zibo, put forward a suggestion in 1999 to hold an international ceramics exposition and set up a professional ceramics museum within the city.

With the original Zibo Industrial Exhibition Hall as its predecessor, designed and arranged by the Tsinghua Academy of Arts and Design, the China Ceramics Hall was opened to coincide with the inauguration of 2002 China (Zibo) International Ceramics Exposition held from August 31 to September 4.

The space is divided into an Ancient Hall, a Modern Hall, a Ceramics Carving Hall and a Potter’s Workshop, covering a total area of 4,000 square meters, according to Zhang Yunming, a staff member at the museum.

Emphasizing the important contributions building ceramics have occupied in Zibo’s ceramics industry, a permanent exhibition area, dedicated specifically to high-tech and building ceramics, has been established in the museum.

“In terms of both space and the number of exhibits, the China Ceramics Hall is the largest ceramics museum anywhere in China,” Zhang said.

Based on the collection of Zibo’s Ceramics Museum, completed last year, representative works from all major producers from different historical periods throughout the country have been added to the Ancient Hall. In addition, 21 first-class porcelain wares made in the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties have been borrowed from the Palace Museum of Beijing. This form of cooperation has been taken to serve the long-term interests of the industry.

The Modern Hall is showcasing the works of nearly 20 national masters and over 30 provincial masters of ceramic industrial art as well as 70-odd celebrities from home and abroad. Donations from private collections also compromise part of the museum’s display. At the same time, the museum has become a window for enterprises to display their ceramic products.

According to Zhang, a similar ceramics museum is going to be built in Kangju, the Republic of Korea, which is about to set up sister-city relations with Zibo. The Kangju municipal government sent a delegation to attend this year’s ceramics exposition.

Referring to the future of the museum, Zhang is full of confidence. “First, we are planning to collect works from all national masters of the ceramics industrial arts in China. Second, as part of the city’s expansion program, scheduled for completion in 2008, the museum will be moved to the new city-proper, which lies west of the city’s present location and will boast over one million inhabitants. By this time a much larger ceramics museum with a complete collection will be erected to display a definitive exhibition of Zibo’s ceramic culture and history,” Zhang said.

The veil enveloping Zibo’s age-old ceramic history was lifted by the amazing archaeological findings of the Neolithic Houli Culture. “The unearthing of exquisite earthenware and kiln sites from the Houli Culture -- the earliest Neolithic culture in north China -- provides testament to Zibo’s 8,500-year history of pottery, while the presence of the Zhaili kiln site in Zichuan, the only celadon kiln site discovered in north China, has demonstrated that porcelain production in this area started nearly 2,000 years ago,” said Zhang Guangming, deputy director of Zibo Cultural Relics Bureau.

Technically speaking, porcelain making in other contemporary kilns finds the finest expression of chinaware made in Zibo with an unbroken history of china creation beginning with the Northern Dynasty (386-589), according to Zhang Guangming. “The unearthed Louts Pottery Wine Vessel with Green Glaze, fired during the Northern Dynasty, represents the highest technological level of celadon making in north China. And the following Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties respectively saw the creation of the famous tea dust glaze and raindrop glaze.”

In addition, fundamentally different from the Central Plains agricultural culture, the Qi Culture -- a pre-Qin regional culture originated and cultivated in Zibo and the nearby area -- was characterized by well-developed industry and commerce, Zhang Guangming added. As a result, ceramics making in this region from the Western Zhou Dynasty (1100-771 BC) to the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) was marked by three distinctive features.

First, corresponding to the ever-growing strength of Qi State, earthenware produced around this region tends to be both solid and extremely large with exquisite decoration. For instance, an unearthed terracotta tripod is the biggest pottery sacrificial vessel ever found in China.

Second, reflecting the liberal social environment of the time, the eaves tiles characteristic of the local folk art are beautifully shaped in a diverse range of styles devoid of restraint.

Finally, court kilns and private workshops for the production of ceramics co-existed. “Even today, besides the large and medium-sized enterprises, household workshops can be found everywhere in Boshan and Zichuan -- two districts of Zibo city -- serving as inspiration for the further development of the local ceramics industry,” Zhang Guangming said.

(china.org.cn by staff reporter Shao Da, September 21, 2002)

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