Why you should visit Jingdezhen, China

Prior to our Big Adventure, we have a few little trips planned – in fact, I started drafting this post from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Other little getaways on the cards is a day trip to Malacca, Malaysia, and a 3-night stay in Batam, Indonesia.

For now, the subject of this post is our trip to Jingedezhen, China. We were there in late-June, and it was Michael’s first time to go to China so that was a bit of fun. China is often an eye-opening experience, and this was no different.

Why Jingdezhen?
As some of you know, my mum is an artist, in particular, a ceramic artist/ painter. She has a gallery in Jingdezhen and has been asking us to come visit for a while, so we finally made the trip! I’m also fascinated by Jingdezhen as it is dubbed the Porcelain Capital of China, and a long history spanning over 1,000 years, and a number of the dynasties. More on that later.

Getting to Jingdezhen

From Singapore, we flew with SilkAir to Shenzhen, then transferred to Shenzhen Airlines for a flight to Jingdezhen. It was a long wait in Shenzhen Bao’An International Airport, however, it is a lovely new airport with a yummy yum cha place upstairs, which is where we had lunch while waiting for our evening flight. We were very fortunate that my mum flew in from Jingdezhen to meet us in Shenzhen, especially with Michael and my vast lack of Mandarin-speaking knowledge. Obviously, you hope for zero hiccups, but we didn’t expect this many hiccups. As a friend in Singapore often reminded me, when travelling to China, you need to be ready for the delays, the waiting, the long transfers etc.

This was no different. Our flight to Jingdezhen left Shenzhen on time, and actually the plane stops in Jingdezhen, drops off passengers, then makes its way onto Shanghai. About 5 minutes before our estimated time of arrival, we still had not descended. I kept reading my book patiently, but about 15-20 minutes later, we were wondering what was going on in what was supposed to be a 1 1/2 hour flight. The flight staff made an announcement, and with everyone’s loud “Oh no!” (my translation) and “shit!” (also my translation), Michael and I sat there clueless, as the flight staff did not make an English announcement. Mum to the rescue, as she translated that due to bad weather, the plane had kept flying and was going on to another city in the province – Nanchang. We were exhausted by this point as we’d started our journey with a 7am flight from Singapore, and it was now past 8pm.
**Bonus amusement** at least there was a lady who amused us (unwittingly). First, when the delay announcement was made, she turned to my mum and said, “where are you going?” My mum responds, “Jingdezhen.” She then looks at us and proudly says, “I’m going to Shanghai!” My mum looks at her, waiting, and finally says, “so?” (all translated by my mum).
So that was amusing part 1, then this lady who was so proud to go to Shanghai, proceeds to dig for gold (i.e. picks her nose very, very deeply), while chatting with her friends.
Well then.

After sitting at Nanchang airport (whilst still on the plane), for a couple of hours, we finally got the green light to fly on to Jingdezhen. And off we went – what a relief! Within 45 minutes, we were there. My mum has arranged for a driver to take us around for the next few days so that definitely made things a lot easier.

About Jingdezhen
As mentioned above, Jingdezhen is known as the Porcelain Capital of China. And rightly so! Not only is there a long history (around 1,700 to 2,000 years) of porcelain in the city, it is also where the Imperial Kilns are located. I believe these imperial kilns were established under the Ming Dynasty, and continued on through to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is said that Jingdezhen porcelain has four special qualities: “white like jade, bright as a mirror, thin as paper, and sounds like a bell.” What was truly fascinating is how much skill there is in Jingdezhen – even today. Do you remember what we were told about common surnames such as Smith, and even Baker? That these families were long ago, the Blacksmiths, Bakers etc in their villages haha. Well, in Jingdezhen, it feels like everyone should be called the various Ceramics/ Porcelain-related skills that they excel in – “Thrower” (the art of throwing i.e. pulling clay into pots, vases, bowls, etc), “Painter,” “Sculpter,” and so on. Those involved in the art of creative ceramics today are all Masters at these skills and it is truly impressive. For example, there is a group of master throwers, headed up by 3 brothers. They throw HUGE, and I mean, HUUUUGE ceramic pieces – giant vases twice my height, huge bowls bigger than a standard bath, a plate taller than Michael (for reference, he is 6’1), tables and chairs, anything else huge and porcelain that you could think of – they probably could do. I spied a giant teapot amongst their workshop area, and couldn’t resist asking Michael to take this photo…

I’m a little teapot, short and stout…


We were really hoping to see them throw some huge pieces, however, there was bad flooding in Jingdezhen the week before so the workshop that they ordinarily work in was still flooded. From what I’ve heard, it is truly impressive – they will have 4-5 men throwing one huge piece, all holding on to the sides to evenly pull the clay up/out, and even have 1 person suspended from the ceiling to help “push” down (assumingly, this is when they are throwing a giant vase). We did have an opportunity to see 2 of the guys throwing a relatively big piece (video of that to come later from Michael!).

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Cheese!

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Me: “Look at the giant kiln and giant vase! So big!

Must-see spots
We went to many galleries, visited artists, etc, so I’m going to just put into points the must-see spots in Jingdezhen. Along the few days there, we even got our hair dyed! Much fun – Michael’s hair is now blue, and mine is blue with purple underneath.

1. Sculpture Factory – this area is full of shops, kilns, galleries, and even has a hostel in the area. Definitely try and get there on a Saturday morning – The Pottery Workshop holds a morning market of really interesting and original ceramic pieces (including jewellery) created by students.

You could easily spend an entire day or two exploring this area – I absolutely loved the many shops on the street, the various kilns (especially the one dubbed the “Mao” kiln, named thus for the many Mao sculptures they produce), but there is also an area that felt so quintessentially old town China, with paved lanes, and little shops. This is where there are a number of galleries, shops, and cafes. My mum’s gallery is here (click, click for her Facebook page), and here is a cool gif that Michael made of her gallery:
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Within the Sculpture Factory, there is a lovely hostel that you can stay at, called the Jingdezhen International Youth Hostel (link). It is right at the doorstep to the wonderfully artistic ceramics area, so you will have lots to explore.

For information on the Pottery Workshop Creative Market, click here.

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The aptly nicknamed “Mao kiln”

2. The “National Park of Royal Kiln Site” GOPR0814-0001.jpg

This was really a highlight. It is the site of a Ming Dynasty imperial kiln (dating back 500 years). There isn’t much information about this place online, but I found a really useful CCTV report dated March, 2016 (click here). It’s fascinating as during the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor/ his household would request for a certain porcelain piece to be made. The royal kilns would make several to endeavour to provide the most perfect pieces to the Emperor’s household. Of course, no one can own the so-called imperfect pieces, so they were smashed up and buried around the site. What I loved seeing were the areas where archaeologists are still excavating layers, and layers of dirt and amongst it all, you can see porcelain pieces scattered throughout and peeking out of the dirt. There is a museum on the grounds that displays many porcelain pieces that were found on the site and patched together. Of course, often they couldn’t find every single, little piece, so they restored what they could and would mould the missing pieces from plaster.

 

3. Sanbao – if you have half a day or so, do make the trip out to Sanbao, a ceramics gallery, artist residency workshop complex. It really feels like its own “village,” and I highly recommend the restaurant located within its complex. I believe it’s called Sanbao ShiGuang JiBua, and it was one of the best meals from our trip!

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Sanbao entrance

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Cute, fatty pots lining a lane in Sanbao

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As usual, pulling faces at the dinner table in Sanbao

So why visit?
Honestly, if you have zero interest in ceramics, this is probably not the most exciting place to be. However, if you have interest in porcelain, this is heaven. It is so fascinating to see where – what it feels like – the world’s ceramics come from – such as the giant vases you see decorating the lobby of upscale hotels in Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, etc, the tea sets found in porcelain shops in Sydney, the religious figurines in a famous temple alley in Singapore — you see all of these in Jingdezhen, in various stages, lining the workshops. You see them after being created ready for the kiln, waiting to be painted, waiting to be glazed, etc.

Another point of interest for me is to see what people are doing with ceramics – the creativity beyond making the usual porcelain blue and white bowls we see. We saw some fascinating jewellery, sculptures, truly original artworks (there was one that even brought me to tears!), and the thriving creative community of people (young and old) embracing this amazing art form and method.

This is truly a city that has embraced its porcelain heritage – you will see lamp posts throughout the city that are encased in beautiful porcelain, random places with porcelain sculptures popping up – such as a bridge we drove across, along the bridge were little porcelain sculptures of people in various stages of creating the famed ceramics. And to my delight, when we got our tickets at the airport when we left…

(And yes, before you ask, our flight from Jingdezhen was delayed…by 3 hours. So one of many tips – if you are making a transfer or two around China, try and give yourself ample time for any delays!!)


This was a long post, so tzai jien (bye) for now. Please leave any questions in the comments section and keep a look out for Michael’s Jingdezhen video (currently being edited!).

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