NANCHANG - Jingdezhen, a small city in East China's Jiangxi province, has long been associated with the creation of quality ceramics. Often called the "porcelain capital" for its important role in the domestic and international ceramic industry, it has been dedicated to the craft for more than 1,800 years. Due to its role as a royal kiln, it developed porcelain-making techniques that placed it in a league of its own.
Even today, a wide variety of porcelain products are still being exported to the world from Jingdezhen. Thousands of artists and lovers of ceramics visit the city each year for a glimpse of the world's best china.
It currently boasts more than 8,300 ceramic enterprises and more than 9,800 self-employed ceramic practitioners, while about 10 percent of its population is engaged in related businesses.
Here generations of ceramic artisans have enacted a profound interpretation of the spirit of craftsmanship: diligence, perfection and innovation, the secret to the production of the fine quality ceramics made in the city. A handful of clay undergoes a process requiring dozens of steps before it can be called Jingdezhen porcelain.
Experience and skill are essential. Hu Jiawang has a unique trick of "spitting". He judges the temperature in the kiln by the speed at which his spit evaporates from it, a method that is often more accurate than the thermometer. And this is just the start. There are many more mysteries to be unpacked before one can fully understand the craft of the kiln.
"A piece of real art is created through an attitude of excellence, inner peace, full-heartedness and precise skill," says Xiang Yuanhua, an inheritor of the imperial kiln techniques and methods, whose company restores ancient porcelain items, some of which are displayed in the palace museums of Beijing and Taipei.
Jingdezhen's collection of porcelain, preserved both above ground and underground, is second to none in the world. "Its name didn't come from anyone but it is recognized by the world," says Xiang. "Its porcelain has a strict standard and embodies the values of the Chinese people and Chinese aesthetics, and that has been passed down well."
Potters in Jingdezhen never cease to innovate, while at the same time preserving long-held traditions.
According to Yu Jihua, head of the Jingdezhen ceramic artists' association, ceramic artists in the city have been open-minded. "They're willing to share their own experience and skills, which have been passed down over thousands of years, and accept new ideas."
There are some 30,000 nonlocal artists in the city, of whom about 5,000 are foreign artists. They are constantly injecting new blood and inspiration into the creation of Jingdezhen porcelain.
Su Hui, a master of arts and crafts in Shaanxi province, came to the city two years ago for some inspiration. "I've met many artists and friends over the past two years, and I feel that my creative ability has been improved," he says. "It is a city that hails artistic creation, where porcelain making is mature in all respects. For young artists, they can start chasing their dreams at a low cost."
Among the foreign visitors is French artist Camille Kami. On her first trip to Jingdezhen, she marveled at the city "where an industry had been going on wholeheartedly for over a thousand years".
With such an illustrious history, such a wealth of talent and skill, and so much interest from new generations, the future of the city seems secure. After thousands of years, the fire in the famous kiln is still burning brightly.