Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots


Discussion on virtually any teaware related item.

Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby bagua7 » Jul 23rd, '11, 01:07

MarshalN suggested a sort of official guide to Yixing teapots, so let me introduce it and then anyone who is knowledgeable about the subject is more than free to chime in and do their bit. :)

1. Yixing clay types

2. Yixing teapot classification

2.1 Shape
2.2 Size
2.2 Manufacture
2.3 Firing

3. Chinese teas and matching Yixing clays

3.1 Green and white

3.2 Red

3.3 Pu-erh

3.4 Oolong

4. How to season a new Yixing clay teapot

5. Yixing teapot care instructions

6. Trusted vendors

7. Yixing clay reserves

Please feel free to add any additional subheadings, if you deem it appropriate.
Last edited by bagua7 on Jan 2nd, '13, 17:32, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby auhckw » Jul 23rd, '11, 01:11

I posted this some time ago when I was learning about Yixing
viewtopic.php?f=36&t=14473
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Re: Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby Tead Off » Jul 23rd, '11, 02:04

The problem with all of this is that reading about Yixing only gives information on a surface level. That's fine, but, if you try to apply it to buying teapots without a lot of experience of handling actual examples, both new and older, you will invariably make mistakes that can be costly. This subject is a minefield for those without real guides into it. How are you going to tell the difference between Hong ni, Zhuni, and, other red clays when people are making and selling teapots that look similar but are not the real deal? Can you really tell one made in Taiwan from Yixing town? Can you really tell a pot is from the 80's by looking at it? 99% cannot if you don't have experience in the field, so to speak. And, most people don't have this experience. The market is flooded with copies and lesser quality clays. A living guide who can show you the hands-on difference is valuable. And, then, it still takes a long time to get it. I don't think there is any other way to learn.
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Re: Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby bagua7 » Jul 23rd, '11, 02:49

Yes, I know; the Yixing world is far from being organised. :lol:

Well, for example I found out just recently on this very forum (sorry but can't remember the thread right now) that Yixing pots can also be wheel thrown, which is was a lost skill...until recently. I had several of these pots thinking they were Chaozhou and got rid of them. :roll: Anyway my point is why not have at least a beginner's guide in this forum to shed some light on this complex and messy field.
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Re: Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby David R. » Jul 23rd, '11, 03:44

I think the main purpose here is to prevent the same questions to come over again and again, and to find a resource of genuine good info on yixing.

People will always be responsible for what they buy and will make mistakes. No guide can prevent that. I am sure people writing this guide will emphasize the fact that the yixing market is a cruel one. :wink:
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Re: Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby ChinesePottery » Jul 23rd, '11, 04:44

bagua7 wrote:Well, for example I found out just recently on this very forum (sorry but can't remember the thread right now) that Yixing pots can also be wheel thrown, which is was a lost skill...until recently.


I have not seen anyone around here making any wheel-thrown pots. Even the very cheaply made items, like some simple cups, are pressed in a mold using a mechanical arm. (I'll try and produce some picture of that sometime soon)

I'd be surprised to find any wheel-throwing potters round here and even more to learn that this is a rediscovered "lost skill". Yixing pots are traditionally constructed.

have a look at my blog here:
http://teaandpottery.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/how-zisha-clay-teapots-are-made-part-1/
here:
http://teaandpottery.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/how-zisha-clay-teapots-are-made-part-2/
and here:
http://teaandpottery.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/how-zisha-clay-teapots-are-made-part-3/

Those are of course just the basics and there is quite a bit more to it, but about the whole wheel-throwing story, I'd like the person claiming that those techniques are used in Yixing to point me towards an address/artist who uses them as well as some source about loosing and rediscovering those skills. Whilst it probably isn't that hard to find someone who does some form of wheel-throwing in or around Yixing I doubt it has any traditional context.
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Re: Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby Chip » Jul 23rd, '11, 08:03

Moderator Post.

A few of our Yixing in house experts are actually working on an organized guideline topic.

So, unknowingly, the OP jumped the gun a bit.

I would like to give the organized effort priority, but will point them to this topic as well.
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Re: Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby Tead Off » Jul 23rd, '11, 10:02

Just to clarify; I am not against academic study and gathering information on Yixing. But, I know from experience, that you just cannot take this info into the field and not get into trouble. It takes years to learn and that learning is limited to the students who can gain hands-on experience with a teacher who is qualified in this area. Too many think they are experts.
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Re: Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby gingkoseto » Jul 23rd, '11, 17:21

Tead Off wrote:The problem with all of this is that reading about Yixing only gives information on a surface level. That's fine, but, if you try to apply it to buying teapots without a lot of experience of handling actual examples, both new and older, you will invariably make mistakes that can be costly. This subject is a minefield for those without real guides into it. How are you going to tell the difference between Hong ni, Zhuni, and, other red clays when people are making and selling teapots that look similar but are not the real deal? Can you really tell one made in Taiwan from Yixing town? Can you really tell a pot is from the 80's by looking at it? 99% cannot if you don't have experience in the field, so to speak. And, most people don't have this experience. The market is flooded with copies and lesser quality clays. A living guide who can show you the hands-on difference is valuable. And, then, it still takes a long time to get it. I don't think there is any other way to learn.


Good points. These can probably go to a category of "be aware of the unknowns" in the guide, and probably a collection of true-or-false pictures. :D
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Re: Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby TIM » Jul 23rd, '11, 20:44

Tead Off wrote:Just to clarify; I am not against academic study and gathering information on Yixing. But, I know from experience, that you just cannot take this info into the field and not get into trouble. It takes years to learn and that learning is limited to the students who can gain hands-on experience with a teacher who is qualified in this area. Too many think they are experts.

We always have very different views. But this time, a Plus One to you TO :wink:
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Re: Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby tingjunkie » Aug 4th, '11, 00:33

TIM wrote:
Tead Off wrote:Just to clarify; I am not against academic study and gathering information on Yixing. But, I know from experience, that you just cannot take this info into the field and not get into trouble. It takes years to learn and that learning is limited to the students who can gain hands-on experience with a teacher who is qualified in this area. Too many think they are experts.

We always have very different views. But this time, a Plus One to you TO :wink:


I also agree, in the world of Yixing, no one escapes paying their dues with a few mistakes. At the same time, having some compendium of Yixing basics in one place can't hurt... or can it? Maybe a little knowledge is more dangerous than none at all? Either way, a well organized sticky would hopefully cut down on the repetitive newb posts.
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Re: Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby bagua7 » Aug 21st, '11, 07:51

Updating this thread with a great introductory article to the topic of discussion I found online:

"While the Chinese ceramic artisans stumbled on the discoveries of the well-known kaolin clay and glazing about 2000 years ago, the discovery of Zisha clay about 500 years ago is the third most important factor in Chinese ceramic history and is virtually unknown to the world today.

The drinking of tea became very popular in the Tang and Song dynasties, people started to drink tea on a daily basis. However, it is very important to note that the idea of “teapot” did not come in existence until the mid–16th century. It may even be said that the earliest actual teapot was made of the special and unglazed clay called Zisha in the mid–16th century. The specialist in Zisha teapots Dr. K. S. Lo correctly pointed out in his epic work the Stone Wares of Yixing, from the Ming Period to the Present Day:

We know that, as far as the Tang dynasty, tea leaves were made either into bricks or into round slabs known as ‘dragon rounds.’ The tea-maker first ground the leaves into small particles and then boiled them in a cauldron; the liquid was then scooped up and served in a bowl. Later, during the Song dynasty, the leaves were first ground into a very fine powder. To prepare tea for the table, the maker first boiled water in a kettle, then scooped out a small amount of powder and placed it in a bowl; after adding boiling water, he stirred the powder vigorously with a bamboo brush and finally served the tea. Hence, during the Tang and Song dynasties the making of tea required no teapots, and only tea bowls were used. (Lo, 18)

The ceramic ewers, or jars that have spouts and handles were “ewers” for wine, cooking oil, and water, not “teapots” before the Ming dynasty. It was the early Ming imperial regulation to change the tea production that brought about the idea of “teapots” we are familiar with today. The Sinologist Victor H. Mair writes in his recent book the True History of Tea:

The new trend of infusing loose-leaf tea also gave rise to the utensil that has come to embody the human cult of the Camillia sinensis plant—the teapot. Ever since the Ming, the most famous Chinese teapots have been made with a porous clay known as zisha, purple sand, found in Yixing just west of Lake Tai. Yixing teapots are prized for their ability to retain heat, store the aroma from every infusion, and maintain the freshness of the tealeaves during lengthy tea parties. Lovingly nursed by connoisseurs, they grow lustrous and beautiful with age. (Mair, 111)

According to the recent archaeological findings, the Zisha clay was not discovered until the Ming Jiajing Period (1522-1566 CE). Unlike the development of porcelain, from proto-porcelain to high-fired porcelain taking nearly 1000 years, there was not an evolution in Zisha clay creation. It seemed to happen all of a sudden—from its birth to its maturity—the early evidence of Zisha teapots already achieved the highest technical and artistic levels. Unlike the ceramic creation, which was based on mass production with a great variety and many locations of kilns, the Zisha clay production was an individualistic and artistic execution from the beginning with a limited variety and only one location of kilns. There is diminutive evidence to indicate a clear link from the early artisans such as Gong Chun or Shi Dabin (active in the mid-late 16th century) to a previous groundwork, or the technical and artistic progressions of the Zisha production since its early appearance. What it has left for us to study is only the climactic periods of Zisha production in the 1600s, 1800s, 1930s, 1980s, and the present day.

Zisha clay is not Yixing clay indeed. Yixing clay only indicates the clay that is made into ceramic wares and is from Yixing. Zisha clay is one kind of rare clay among the Yixing clay mines. The term Zisha, also known as Yixing Zisha, is used as an umbrella term to describe the Zisha clay or the “purple sand,” which consists of iron oxide, silt, mica, kaolinite, varied quantities of quartz and iron ore as its main mineral constituents. The inimitable dual-porous structure and mineral composition of Zisha clay gives superior ability to retain heat, reduce oxidization, and enhance and store the aroma from tea infusion. In comparison with the ability of heat conducting of common ceramic, Zisha clay's ability of retaining heat can mitigate water temperature fluctuations so that Zisha teapot can dissuade tea aroma and flavor from diminishing. Zisha is such distinctive clay also in the sense of having been only found one place on earth—the Dingshu town of Yixing City 120 miles northwest of Shanghai, and it hardly has ever been exported out of China.

Zisha generally includes three distinctive types of clays. Zini, or “purple clay,” is dark and fine brownish-purple clay, zhuni, or “cinnabar clay,” is orange-reddish high iron content clay. Duanni, or “fortified clay,” is formulated in various quartz and minerals in addition to zini or zhuni, and it appears in various textures and colors, including beige, blue, green and black. Due to the increasing demand for Zisha teapots over time, zhuni is now nearly non-existent in quantities. Zhuni is not to be confused with Hongni, or the “red clay,” another reddish clay. The appearance of Zisha clay, such as color and texture, can also be enriched and altered by adding metal oxides, and by manipulating firing temperatures and regulating the kiln atmosphere.

Besides the exceptional structure and mineral composition of Zisha clay, the most unique characteristic about the Zisha teapot is the traditional coiling technique of “forging the body” that is used to make a Zisha teapot. Unlike the common “earth clay” which comes in the form of “mud,” the raw Zisha clay comes in the form of rock, and it only appears to be like “mud” after many steps of preparing and refining. For this very reason the true Zisha clay cannot be turned on a pottery wheel. The true Zisha clay can only be manipulated in the following two ways: casting and molding, half-hand building and hand building.

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Casting and molding methods are the contribution of modern technology. It is easy to tell a Zisha teapot was cast or molded with mechanical equipment; the difference is the cast Zisha teapot is finer in its texture and has a thinner wall than the molded pots. One teapot maker can produce 300-500 pots a day. These Zisha teapots are in perfect shapes, bright colors, and precise measurements but dull and lifeless, which sometime may require an acquired artistic sensibility to recognize. Cast and molded Zisha teapots often lose their dual-porous structure, and thus their ability to retain heat and to mitigate water temperature fluctuations is also lost, so that these Zisha teapots cannot encourage tea aroma and flavor from diminishing.

Half-hand-build teapots are assembled with pre-molded parts with traditional tools. Typically the two halves of the teapot, lid, spout, and handle are pre-molded, and the artist attaches all the parts together, and adjusts and finishes the pot by hand individually. In fact, many very good Zisha teapots are made in this way.

Hand-build teapots are made by the traditional coiling technique of “forging the body,” which was invented by Shi Dabin from the Ming dynasty according to the Zisha history. After raw Zisha clay was being prepared into curbed “mud,” the artist begins to beat and forge the “Zisha mud” with a wooden bat. After the forging process, the “Zisha mud” is rolled into a thin and long strip, and cut into the sizes needed and then pinched together to form the basic shape of the body of a vessel. Subsequently the artist continues to beat and forge the “body” with the wooded paddle until the “body” is precisely formed into the desired shape. The next step is to build the various parts of the teapots individually, then the finished “body” and the parts are assembled together, and carefully adjusted and polished before firing. Learning how to build a simple Zisha teapot is equivalent to becoming a sculptor of realism in the art college.

Today, the hand-built Zisha teapot technique is still taught in the traditional way. Master and disciple sit side by side, everything is taught by something called “oral and physical transmission.” It takes 4-8 hours a day and minimum three years to master the basic coiling technique of “forging the body” in order to make a decent teapot, and it takes about ten years to make a masterpiece Zisha teapot. The disciple not only learns how to make a good teapot but also learns how to be a good human being and live a good life from his master. Like a course of metamorphosis, ideally, the master wishes to transform his art and his life, in sum, his soul into his disciple.

The practice of Zisha Art has remained as one of the last traditional cultural and habitual activities that require deep and lasting connection within the artists and the others as the essential part of the art and practice. A great Zisha artist has to be able to experience everything genuinely with authenticity and creativity that springs out from the deep consciousness of the cultural tradition and communities. The spiritual and cultural traditions along the consanguineous ties that hold the communities together bringing about peace, contentment, and subtle meaning of life are weakening with modernization. This social and cultural condition has become a severe concern in the practice and development of the Zisha Art today.

Because of the unique nature of Zisha Art, even in the 1600s, a fine Zisha teapot was already worthy it weight in gold. In the present economic dynamics, the consumerist monoculture upon the industry of Zisha Art has made a great impact on the Zisha artists. A large amount of Zisha teapots are created without genuine spirit and true cultural meaning, but produced for the sake of information, consumerism, and tourism every year. There are over 20,000 Zisha Art participates in Yixing today. According to the Chairman of Yixing Ceramic Trade Association, Shi Juntang, the official and professional representative of the Zisha industry, the State Council of China has certified 11 State Grandmasters of Chinese Arts & Crafts, 14 Provincial Grandmaster of Arts & Crafts, 105 Advanced Masters of Arts & Crafts, 223 Masters of Arts & Crafts, 760 Assistant Masters of Arts & Crafts, and 1081 Associates of Arts & Crafts by the end of 2009.

The Zisha Art market has dramatically changed since the 1980s, and the price of a Zisha teapot can range from several US dollars to several million US dollars today. The State Council of China has regulated the Zisha industry and Zisha artists publicly since the early 1990s. The regulations on the Zisha clay mining and the quality control of Zisha clay, the certifying and ranking systems of Zisha artists have become more restricted and firm each year. The frequent national art museum acquisitions, and the increasing numbers of public auctions with high value of the modern Zisha teapots have stimulated and at the same time standardized the Zisha industry and the market.

Special Information and Tips for People Who Are
Interested in Buying Authentic Utilitarian Zisha Teapots
or Collecting Modern Zisha Masterpiece Teapots


From Neolithic time to our “high-tech” time, from Africa, Europe, Middle East, Egypt, India, China and the Pacific Rim to the great American Continents, there has been a large variety of “earth clay” discovered and utilized in making ceramic and porcelain wares, but none bears any similar quality to Zisha clay. Readers should not be confused with Yixing clay or artificially manipulated and chemically enhanced imitations of “Yixing clay” with Zisha clay. Simply keep the following things in mind:

1. Always remember that making forgeries has been a part of Chinese art history, the ability to tell the forgery from the original is a part of the game for the forger and the collector to play.
2. The Zisha resource has been reduced rapidly due to increasing Zisha ware demands at the Chinese market. Today, one Chinese pound (0.5 kilogram) of high quality raw Zisha clay is priced at 20,000 Yuan (about US $ 3,000).
3. The average Chinese's income has increased dramatically in recent years. Chinese are known as fanatic collectors, between a car and a fine Zisha teapot, the local collector may choose the later. Thus, it is highly unlikely that the Yixing teapots made of authentic Zisha will export to the US market at a low price (let's say $50 per pot at retailer price), even less likely the Western Zisha teapot dealer may sell high-end Zisha teapots (let's say several thousand dollars per pot) at this economic moment.

Conclusion: you should not expect to buy a utilitarian teapot made of true Zisha clay for less than a few hundred dollars regardless of how the pot looks or what the dealer tells you, less should you expect to buy a basic Zisha teapot made by Grandmaster for less than $10,000 from the local dealers today. It is notoriously condescending as it is factual, for instance, Grandmaster Gu Jinzhou (1915-1996) was the first certified Grandmaster in 1988, his “Spoon Stone” Zisha teapot sold for nearly $2 million at the China Guardian auction in Beijing, topping the list of the most expensive Yixing teapots in the world in June 2010. On the other hand, Gu Shaopei, one of the rising stars among the 11 Grandmasters, was born in 1945 and certified as Grandmaster in 2007. His “Pine and Cloud,” Zisha teapot sold for $85,000 at the Beijing Rongbao auction in November 2010.

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Not only do you have to choose your reliable and certified dealers, but also you should realize the financial stance of Zisha teapots. Again, the worst thing that could happen to you is that you fantasize yourself as being special and lucky so that you could get a Grandmaster's Zisha teapot for very little money.

The names of the 11 State Grandmasters of Chinese Arts & Crafts certified by the State Council of China are listed below:

* Gu Jinzhou 顧景洲 (deceased)
* Jiang Rong 蔣蓉 (deceased)
* Xu Xiutang 徐秀棠
* Wang Yinxian 汪寅仙
* Lu Yaochen 呂堯臣
* Xu Hantang 徐漢棠
* Tan Quanhai 譚泉海
* Bao Zhiqiang 鮑志強
* Li Changhong 李昌鴻
* Gu Shaopei 顧紹培
* Zhou Guizhen 周桂珍

If you can access the Chinese language, or get help from someone knows Chinese, all other levels, rankings, and qualifications of the Zisha teapot artists (a little over 2000) can be checked out on the official website of the People's Government of Yixing City:

http://www.yxrc.com.cn/search/search_gymszc.htm

References

1. K. S. Lo, 1986. The Stone Wares of Yixing, from the Ming Period to the Present Day.
2. Victor H. Mair, 2009. The True History of Tea.
"

Source: http://www.yeyoungtea.com/zisha-teapot.php
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Re: Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby tingjunkie » Aug 21st, '11, 09:42

Thanks for posting bagua7. Good read.

Here's a good Yixing 101 for beginners type of article. As with all Yixing articles, there is some information presented as fact that really should be relegated to opinion. Still a very good starting place though: http://www.thechineseteashop.com/how-to ... eapot.html
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Re: Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby bagua7 » Aug 26th, '11, 09:33

You are welcome. The article you mentioned has been online for some time now and is also a good reading.

Let's keep adding up info in here to build up a decent database on Yixing clay.

More:

3. Chinese teas and matching Yixing clays

3.4 Oolong Tea

Light oolongs. From what I have read in various sources, and bearing in mind my short experience, Gaoshan Oolongs (Taiwan High Mountain) are best brewed in zhuni pots due to their low porosity (it's a hard and dense clay with a rock-like quality) as opposed to more porous clays like di cao qing or duan ni, which would tone down the complexity and broad range of flavours these teas are renowned for.

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On the other hand, Tie Guan Yin oolong is a bit more permissive tea from this standpoint. The general advice given is that low-profile pots bring the best out of it.

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What kind of clay should I use? That is entirely up to you, try to rely on your own senses and a bit of experimentation, although you can't go wrong with zhu ni. Personally, for this particular oolong, I am using a dedicated low-profile high-fired duan ni which does a great job:

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Last edited by bagua7 on Oct 4th, '11, 21:09, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Guide to Yixing Clay Teapots

Postby In search of tr... » Aug 26th, '11, 12:29

The link to the Yixing Potters list failed to open for me.
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