If you ask Chinese people what the most prominent tea vessel is in China, most of them will give you the answer “Zisha teapot”.
Zisha teapot, made of purple clay unique to Yixing, is also known as Yixing teapot. The special properties of Zisha (purple clay) make it an excellent material for teapots. For example, the porous nature of Zisha teapots not only preserves the full aroma and flavour of the tea, but also enhances them! No wonder Yixing ware is still popular since it first made its name in China, which was nearly 5 centuries ago.
The first recorded Zisha production appeared in the 16th Century, by an artist called Gong Chun (供春). As the first known Zisha artist, he popularized Zisha teapots with distinct style.
It was during the Zhengde period of the Ming Dynasty, brewing rolled tea leaves became the mainstream instead of cooking powdered tea. The dominant material for teapots then was porcelain.
Gong Chun stayed in Jinsha Temple in Yixing as a servant of a scholar who wanted to study in peace. While living there, he spotted the monks making teapots using the local purple clay. He took the opportunity and learned the skills of Zisha teapots crafting. Inspired by the big ginko tree next to the temple, Gong Chun made a small sized teapot that looked like a tree burl, and engraved the pattern of it on the teapot.
This kind of teapots that were modeled after the natural forms quickly became popular among the literati who were avid tea lovers at that time. They were call “Gong Chun teapots”.
A long list of talented Zisha artists emerged since Gong Chun and brought Yixing ware to a greater height of development. On the list, we can find familiar names such as Shi Dabin and Chen Mansheng.
Yixing Zisha ware production technique is recognized as national intangible cultural heritage. To this day, there is still a significant number of Zisha artists active in China, while a majority of them reside in Yixing. The factories and workshops in Yixing provide Zisha ware crafting courses, many artists also teach apprentices.
There are mainly 5 different levels of Zisha artists according to their degrees of craftsmanship and experience. What are these levels? And what are the qualifications of each level? Let’s check them out below: