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Jingdezhen rekindles ancient kilns

( chinadaily.com.cn )

Updated: 2011-10-31

On October 23, Jingdezhen, China's Porcelain Capital, held a ceremony at the ancient kiln folk customs exhibition quarters, rekindling a kiln with a 800-year history. The kiln, dating back to the Yuan Dynasty, is shaped like a steamed bun. At the same time, a Ming Dynasty kiln resembling a gourd and a wood-fired kiln of the Qing Dynasty were re-ignited. Geng Baochang, honorary president of China Ancient Ceramics Society, witnessed the historic moment, along with other ancient ceramics experts and Chinese industrial art masters.

Huang Maijiu, a famous Chinese industrial art master, said the Yuan styled blue-and-white porcelains fired in the steamed bun-shaped kiln displayed a stately glazing color, matching Yuan dynasty wares in color and luster. It proves the Yuan dynasty steamed bun-shaped kiln has succeeded in its re-operation.

The steamed bun-shaped kiln was typical in Jingdezhen during the Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties. It gets its name from the steamed bun. Some steamed bun-shaped kilns have U-shaped kiln beds. So, they are also referred to as horseshoe kilns. Steamed bun-shaped kiln is a semi-down draft kiln. Flames gush from the combustion chamber towards the roof of the kiln, and then move backwards to the kiln bed. The smokes are ejected from the smoke outlet, vertical smoke flue, and chimney. The steamed bun-shaped kiln can handle heat of upto 1,300 Celsius degrees.

Since the Ming Dynasty, the domestic and overseas markets raised increasingly higher demands on porcelains. Steamed bun-shaped kilns, with its small capacity, failed to meet market demands and was gradually phased out. They were replaced by gourd-shaped kilns as the main kilns in Jingdezhen in the Ming Dynasty.

Zhou Ronglin, researcher at the National Museum and chief adviser of the re-operation of the steamed bun-shaped kiln in Jingdezhen said, “Steamed bun-shaped kiln holds an important position in the porcelain production history of Jingdezhen. Many blue-and-white porcelains of Yuan Dynasty, being handed down to this day, were fired in steamed bun-shaped kilns. But people now only know of steamed bun-shaped kilns. They rarely see real steamed bun-shaped kilns. And this is a great pity.”

In March this year, Jingdezhen set up an advisory board for re-operating the steamed bun-shaped kilns. The members comprised of Chinese industrial art masters, Jingdezhen porcelain school professors, porcelain research institute senior engineers, and inheritors of intangible cultural heritages.

On October 20, Jingdezhen held a ceremony to re-kindle the Yuan dynasty steamed bun-shaped kiln at the Jingdezhen ancient kiln folk custom exhibition quarters. Hu Jiawang, 68, an intangible cultural heritage inheritor, was the helmsman of the re-operation. He was responsible for the kiln’s heat control.

Hu said the Yuan styled steamed bun-shaped kiln fired about 200 porcelains. They included replicas of Yuan dynasty blue-and-white jars, with under-glaze red design and high temperature colored glaze, and Ming styled blue-and-white porcelains. The kiln was fueled with traditional pinewood. In the 20-hour firing process, Hu did not use any apparatuses. He observed flame colors with the naked eye to judge the kiln’s temperature.

Zhou said the successful re-operation of the steamed bun-shaped kiln presents live actions unique to Yuan kilns in Jingdezhen. The kiln becomes a living museum enabling people to understand how porcelains were processed in the Yuan dynasty. By rekindling the steamed bun-shaped kiln, Jingdezhen has dynamically passed down techniques of constructing steamed bun-shaped kilns and firing porcelains. In this process, it has effectively protected and promoted handicrafts in the firing of ancient kilns.

Industry experts say steamed bun-shaped kilns, built under the Luan kiln craftsmanship of the Yuan Dynasty, are fit for firing blue-and-white porcelains, and were modeled after styles of Yuan Dynasty. In the course of promoting intangible cultural heritages, they are of high commercial values, because ancient porcelain replicas are becoming increasingly sort after.

Jingdezhen has a 1,700 years porcelain-making history. The most representative kilns include dragon kilns of the Song Dynasty, steamed bun-shaped kilns of the Yuan Dynasty, gourd kilns of the Ming Dynasty, and wood-fired kilns of the Qing Dynasty.

Following the successful re-firing of wood-fired kiln of the Qing Dynasty in 2009 and gourd kiln of the Ming Dynasty in 2010, Jingdezhen made headlines with the steamed bun-shaped kiln of Yuan Dynasty. Chen Wuping, director of the Jingdezhen ancient kiln folk customs exhibition quarters administration, said “Next year happens to be the year of the dragon in China’s lunar calendar. We will re-fire the dragon kiln of the Song Dynasty during the 9th China Jingdezhen International Ceramics Expo, to create a spectacular view of firing typical kilns from various dynasties for everyone to experience.”

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