Old cus­toms need in­jec­tion of new blood

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By CUI JIA and MAO WEIHUA Xin­hua con­trib­uted to this story.

Ani­war Ali’s house sits on the edge of a 40-meter-high loess plat­form over­look­ing the Tu­man River in Kash­gar city, Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

The tra­di­tional Uygur res­i­den­tial area, known as the High Plat­form Neigh­bor­hood, has a his­tory of more than 1,000 years, and is a land­mark in Kash­gar’s old town.

The loess — loosely com­pacted yel­low­ish-gray sed­i­ment — that pro­duced the plat­form is also the raw ma­te­rial Ani­war, 50, and his brother Wu­mar, 45, use to make tra­di­tional Uygur bowls and jugs. The broth­ers are the sixth gen­er­a­tion of a fam­ily of renowned pot­ters.

At one time, tra­di­tional Uygur pot­tery items were dai- ly es­sen­tials, but in re­cent decades cheaper porce­lain has be­gun to dom­i­nate the mar­ket. “Nowa­days, only old men use pot­tery table­ware,” Ani­war said.

Grad­u­ally, the tra­di­tional craft lost its ap­peal, and most of the pot­ters in High Plat­form re­lin­quished their ca­reers. Now, only two fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing Ani­war’s, still make a liv­ing by pro­duc­ing pot­tery.

“Our main cus­tomers are tourists, so we have be­gun mak­ing smaller prod­ucts that are eas­ier to pack in their lug­gage,” said Ani­war, sit­ting in the court­yard of his house sur­rounded by a dis­play of his wares. “Some tourists said they will use our oil lamps as ash­trays and the small spice jars to store cof­fee beans.”

Dur­ing the peak tourist sea­son in the sum­mer, the broth- ers make about 4,000 yuan ($590) a month.

Uygur pot­tery is known for its unique hand-painted pat­terns and the sig­na­ture color com­bi­na­tion of brown, black, green and cream. The loess ma­te­rial helps keep the con­tents warm while the ex­te­rior re­mains cool to the touch.

The broth­ers still use wood to fire their kiln be­cause they be­lieve coal-fir­ing will af­fect the glaze of the pot­tery.

“I don’t know how long my fam­ily can keep the tra­di­tion go­ing — nei­ther my sons nor my brother’s boys want to learn the craft be­cause it is hard, dirty work. They want to go to uni­ver­sity and be­come doc­tors. We are very wor­ried,” Ani­war said.

As a re­sult, he de­cided to take ap­pren­tices from out­side the fam­ily, in­clud­ing four Han Chi­nese stu­dents. “I will teach any­one who wants to learn to keep Uygur tra­di­tions alive,” he said.

Tur­sunkhari Zu­nun is Ani­war’s neigh­bor. As a pot­tery maker, he has the same con­cerns. “My three daugh­ters are all mar­ried now and my son is a po­lice­man, so it is im­pos­si­ble for them to carry on the fam­ily tra­di­tion,” he said.

The 62-year-old crafts­man has ad­ver­tised for ap­pren­tices in lo­cal news­pa­pers, and al­though he pro­vides a mod­est salary, none of his trainees have stayed for long.

He also teaches stu­dents at vo­ca­tional schools, but they pre­fer to learn how to make nan bread, a pop­u­lar lo­cal del­i­cacy.

“My pot­tery is prim­i­tive. It is made with­out the use of any mod­ern tech­nol­ogy,” he said, step­ping on a pedal that pow­ers a belt-driven wooden wheel in his cen­turies-old work­shop.

While he fears mod­ern tech­nol­ogy will make tra­di­tional pot­tery lose its earthy beauty, he un­der­stands that the craft des­per­ately needs new blood and fresh ideas. “I can use the old meth­ods to pro­duce pot­tery with mod­ern de­signs and make this an­cient craft pop­u­lar again,” he said.

Al­though Tur­sunkhari’s chil­dren will not in­herit his skills, he has two young ap­pren­tices from South Korea. They have had stud­ied in his work­shop for two years. “I have given them Uygur names and they are my dis­ci­ples,” he said.

Tur­sunkhari Zu­nun makes a piece of tra­di­tional Uygur pot­tery.

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