When people talk about Yixing county in the city of Wuxi, probably the first thing that pops into their minds are the exquisite, purplish-brown pottery teapots.
Enjoying a reputation as "the capital of Chinese pottery", Yixing outstrips all other cities known for pottery production in China, and its teapot is the most famous of all the pottery ware produced here. It's considered not only a perfect brewing vessel, but also an excellent work of art. Now the Yixing pottery products are sold in large quantities to some 100 countries.
The history of the pottery art in Yixing can be traced back to 2,400 years ago to the Spring and Autumn Period. For centuries, a huge number of master craftsmen have emerged from the region. Xu Xiutang is one of the best known contemporary artists.
Born in 1937 in a traditional family of pottery making, Xu Xiutang is especially skilled in pottery carving. He began to study pottery sculpture formally at the age of 17, and so far he has created a great number of works. His creations feature both traditional and modern themes, and are acclaimed for their innovative designs and superb craftsmanship.
His works have been collected by museums not only in China, but also in some other countries, such as Britain and the United States.
One of the things that make Yixing pottery so renowned is that they are made of a unique clay rich in mineral elements called “zisha”, which can only be found in Yixing. The purplish-red color of Yixing pottery always makes people assume that the clay is of the same color as that of the pottery itself. But Xu Xiutang explains that zisha clay is actually composed of several different colors, including red, purple, yellow, green and black, which usually turn purplish red or brown only after firing. Xu says in Yixing there is a household story about the discovery of the zisha clay.
"In ancient times, a monk one day came to Yixing and told the local people he had something valuable to sell. People were curious and followed him to a cave, where the monk suddenly disappeared. In the cave the local people finally found the unique clay. The loose texture of the clay makes the pottery made from it porous in nature, so it's especially suitable for making teapots."
As one of the best-known pottery artists in China, Xu Xiutang has been invited to many countries to conduct artistic exchanges with local counterparts.
To help promote the development of the pottery art, Xu Xiutang established a pottery workshop in 1996. It provides a venue not only for creating pottery art works, but also for the collection and exhibition of ancient pottery artifacts.
In the workshop visitors can trace the long history of pottery production in Yixing and have a clear view of how a pottery work is made. Now the pottery workshop has become a famous tourist attraction. It attracts many artists, collectors, connoisseurs and pottery art lovers from home and abroad.
While busily involved in artistic creation, Xu Xiutang is also engaged in writing books in an effort to help the public know more about the pottery art. One of his publications, entitled Chinese Zisha Pottery, is very popular with readers and has been reprinted several times.
“I'm so attached to the fascinating art of pottery. Nothing can make me more intoxicated than touching the colorful clay. It's my best friend in life. Having worked with the clay for dozens of years，though, I still feel excited every time I see the zisha clay，and always have an impulse to create something new."
In his sixties, Xu Xiutang is still busy with work every day. He says being able to do something for the development of the pottery art is the greatest gratification to him.
(cri.com.cn July 16, 2002)