Penyao Vil­lage, an Eden of Ce­ram­ics

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Wang Hui­hui, pol­ished by Mark Zuiderveld, pho­tos by Li Xiaoyin

As a vil­lage fa­mous for its pot­tery art, Penyao Vil­lage’s his­tory of pot­tery mak­ing dates from the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644).

If the name of a place con­tains the “窑( yao)” char­ac­ter, it means that the place has or once had some­thing to do with kilns, such as Dabeiyao and Li­u­ji­ayao. There are also spe­cial basin kilns in Beijing, and our destination Penyao (“basin kiln”) Vil­lage in Yan­qing District is a place re­lated to mak­ing pot­tery basins.

A huge painted pot­tery basin is placed at the en­trance of the vil­lage. This art­work was made from mould­ing, paint­ing, dry­ing, re­pair­ing, glaz­ing and fir­ing. Guo Jie, the vil­lage leader, told us that Penyao Vil­lage has a pot­tery mak­ing his­tory of over 500 years, with many skilled crafts­men such as brick­lay­ers and pain­ters adept at re­pair­ing an­cient build­ings.

Point­ing to an an­tique pav­il­ion by the road­side, he said proudly, “Look at this pav­il­ion was built by our vil­lagers. Ev­ery brick and tile was made by us.”

As a vil­lage fa­mous for its pot­tery art, Penyao Vil­lage's his­tory of pot­tery mak­ing dates from the Ming Dy­nasty ( 1368– 1644). Leg­end had it that a cou­ple sur­named Guo came here from Shanxi to make a liv­ing. They found the clay here suit­able for mak­ing pot­tery, so they set­tled down and be­gan to live there. Af­ter gen­er­a­tions of de­vel­op­ment, the place they lived in soon be­came a vil­lage. Dur­ing the past sev­eral hun­dred years, vil­lagers made a liv­ing by mak­ing pot­tery. The clay basins, ar­ti­cles of daily use and tiles for an­tique build­ings have been sold to other places. Nowa­days, over 80 an­cient kiln sites re­main in the vil­lage. Ac­cord­ing to ar­chae­ol­o­gists, most of these kilns were built dur­ing the Ming and Qing ( 1611– 1911) dy­nas­ties.

The clay used for mak­ing pot­tery comes from Dushan Hill east of the vil­lage. Black pot­tery is burned from red clay, while red pot­tery from yel­low clay. Dushan Hill be­came a scenic spot early in the Ming and Qing Dy­nas­ties, and one leg­end tells that the Ming em­peror Zhu Di (1360–1424)

once stayed at Penyao Vil­lage dur­ing his north­ward jour­ney in 1414. He climbed the moun­tain to ap­pre­ci­ate the moon at night, and was im­pressed by the beau­ti­ful scenery. The scene was later named “Ap­pre­ci­at­ing the Moon on Dushan.”

The en­tire vil­lage was built against the moun­tains, and its an­cient pot­tery pro­duc­tion process was fin­ished in the caves, with the cave's tem­per­a­ture de­ter­min­ing the pot­tery's qual­ity.

With rapid ur­ban de­vel­op­ment, the an­cient craft of Penyao Vil­lage also ac­quired pros­per­ity. Aside from flow­er­pots, tiles and other daily ne­ces­si­ties, the vil­lage also pro­duces craft ce­ram­ics, with a pot­tery gar­den open to vis­i­tors.

“Pot­tery is a process with which you can use your imag­i­na­tion and cre­ativ­ity. You can cre­ate your pot­tery as you want.” A pot­tery teacher taught the process to kids, say­ing, “Put your clay on the pot­ter's wheel. When the ma­chine turns, hold the clay and change its form now and then. Mould the clay with pres­sure from your thumbs and in­dex fin­gers and keep turn­ing it in your palms. In this way you can shape the clay how­ever you want. The clay shapes vary with the use of the fin­gers and the pres­sure you give.”

With these in­struc­tions, some kids soon made their own pot­tery bot­tles, pots, bowls and pen con­tain­ers. Some cre­ative pot­tery ar­ti­cles sat on the pot­ter's wheels. With mud- stained cloth­ing, the kids grew sat­is­fied with their own cre­ative mas­ter­pieces.

One par­ent praised the process of mak­ing pot­tery, say­ing, “Pot­tery can strengthen chil­dren's imag­i­na­tion, cre­ativ­ity and abil­ity, en­abling them to gain both a sense of ac­com­plish­ment and fun in cre­at­ing some­thing. I look for­ward to tak­ing my kids back here to make more pot­tery ar­ti­cles dur­ing win­ter va­ca­tion.”

Vis­i­tors were at­tracted by a piece of black pot­tery with Yan­qing's lo­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics in the pot­tery ex­hi­bi­tion room. Var­i­ous prod­ucts with dif­fer­ent shapes are placed on ex­hi­bi­tion shelves, such as char­ac­ters with ex­ag­ger­ated fa­cial ex­pres­sions, life­like an­i­mals, beau­ti­ful pot­tery bot­tles, and pen con­tain­ers. Six­tyyear-old Lai Dong­shan from Shan­dong Prov­ince has been work­ing in ce­ram­ics for over 20 years, with works based on scenes of ru­ral life.

Guo added that Penyao Vil­lage has es­tab­lished a pot­tery art school, pot­tery gar­den and com­pany in re­cent years to pass down pot­tery mak­ing and to bet­ter man­age the pot­tery mak­ing in­dus­try. The vil­lage has also in­vited pot­tery mas­ters from Shan­dong Prov­ince to de­velop and pro­duce craft ce­ram­ics, com­bin­ing tra­di­tional skills with mod­ern tech­nolo­gies. Pot­tery work­shops not only pro­vide prac­tice for nearby schools, but also be­come a good place for city dwellers to learn pot­tery crafts and re­lax.

“Penyao Vil­lage was iden­ti­fied as the Na­tional Leisure Agri­cul­ture and Tourism Three-star Park in 2015. The vil­lage now spares no ef­fort in build­ing a pot­tery vil­lage in­te­grat­ing pro­duc­tion and tourism, as well as tra­di­tional skills and mod­ern tech­nolo­gies, in hopes of car­ry­ing for­ward and fur­ther de­vel­op­ing the pot­tery craft from an­ces­tors,” said Guo.

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