A World of China
央视国际 2003年06月23日 16:03
Why do people call their ceramic wares ‘china’？ And how has our ancient country come to be dubbed in English by the same word as porcelain, instead of ‘Central National’, ‘Middle Kingdom’, or something like this based on a literal translation of Chinese characters？
Several centuries ago, when European people marveled at the fine pottery shipped from a mysterious nation in the Orient, they decided to give the works a name. The trader explained that the exquisite products were made in a town called ‘Chang’an’, which people began to pronounce as ‘ China’. Possibly out of the conventional practice of referring to a country by that for which it is best known, ‘china’ came into use to refer to the whole nation.
Chinese ceramics were created more than 2,000 years ago when Chang’an was more like a village. The township was not established until the early ninth century AD, when the Song Emperor Jingde named Chang’an with his own royal name as a reward for the local people’s creativity and inspiration. From then on, Chang’an gradually fell into oblivion, but Jingde Town being in the very same place, is still the capital of ceramics.
In the following dynasties, Jingde Town porcelain production, as both an art and an industry, continued to thrive and reached its all time high in the early Qing Dynasty. Surrounded by mountains, the town remained secluded from frequent disturbances of the feudal wars. Its regional stability and ceramics tradition attracted large numbers of talented artists.
Although the whole firing process was undertaken in shabby, brick－built kilns through the centuries, the local masters’ tasteful control of temperature, time and pottery array before baking always made sure that their products were the best in China or even the world. The earth used for clay, and pine trees used for firing found near Jingde Town give the Chang’an china its uniqueness.
Traditional Jingde Town china art can be categorized into four schools, with the most famous one being the ‘blues and whites’ porcelain. A poetic depiction of it goes, ‘white like jade, sounds like a chime, and thin like paper.’ It is really no exaggeration. Chinese families take pride in possessing Jingde-Town-made porcelain pieces and they know how to distinguish good china from plain ones by referring to the unique features attributed to Jingde ceramics only.
In face of challenges from Europe and the rest of Asia in the production of daily chinaware today, local heraldic minds advocate to give priority to artistic porcelain. Several new generations of masters have added many new contents to their traditional china legacy by diversifying it into a large variety including pots, plates, sculptures, decorations, screens, etc.
What is more, the first ceramic art institute in the world was established in Jingde Town in 1995—a Sino－American joint project. More china artists are to be fostered from there.