Friday, January 9, 2009

My Trip to Yixing

Last week I went to Yixing for 7 days. I think this time of year was probably the best time to go to Yixing, as no one else was there! The busiest time of the year is in March and April. In case anyone else is planning to go, the place to shop for pots is not in the center of the city of Yixing, but in the town of Ding Shan which is part of the county of Yixing, but lies 14 kilometers from the city center. Entering Dingshan by bus, one is impressed by how devoted they whole place is to earthenware clay. The most striking part of the landscape is the profusion of abandoned gas stations. Remarkably tall domed pavilions were erected over the pumps. Many over 20 meters tall. The large paved areas of these old filling stations have all been commandeered as storage facilities for oxidizing the rock that will be crushed for Yixing clay.

Ding Shan would be a miserable place to spend a week if you didn't like teapots, or at least some sort of earthenware or ceramics. For example: flowerpots and large jars. The main attractions of Ding Shan besides the shopping are the Yixing factories number one and two, the Yixing museum and the place where famous Song dynasty poet Su Dongpo went to school.

Stone Marker with Dongpo written on it

Previously, the Yixing ware shops were spread around all parts of the town of Yixing. There was a large market across from the museum, which is almost abandoned now, however many artists keep studios on the grounds adjacent to the museum. There is also a market next to the bus station and many shops on Jiefang Rd. Probably the most expensive place to buy a pot are the shops inside the grounds of Factory number one. I expect prices are so high there because rent is too. There are lots of decent shops near factory number one as well.

In the past few years people have been moving slowly buy surely to the new ceramic market. This is a very large area full of shops which specialize in Yixing and nothing else. The new market has at least 8 sections. Each section has roughly 20 buildings, and each building has around 10-20 shops depending on the size of the individual building and of the shops.

The New Market

The new market has shops which deal only in Yixing teapots, with a few selling tea and other tea supplies. There are barely enough restaurants, convenient stores and hotels to keep one alive though ones pot shopping experience. I stayed in a hotel within district H. There was a computer in the room, and the place was new so I was very pleased at 120 RMB per night.

Yixing was a great place to explore, I felt a week was not quite enough, but I did waste a lot of time helping a friend purchase supplies for his retail outlet. We saw the sights within Yixing, but did not explore any of the beautiful countryside beyond.


Salsero said...

Great trip. Hope you go back soon and take more pix! Thanks for sharing.

LaoChaGui said...

I unfortunately lost my camera just before I went to the Yixing museum. I am an idiot, and the camera was actually in my inside pocket, so I missed some good opportunities. I did get a couple shots with my cell phone, though.

Most of the things I really wanted to take pictures of were inside people's stores with really bad lighting, and I was emabrrased to ask to take pictures of all the pots I wasn't going to buy. Excuses aside, you are right; I should have taken more pictures.

Bret said...

A tea lovers dream come true. Was there anything made of premium quality clays and handmade? Or maybe mostly mass produced but good quality Yixing. I could easily spend way to much money in a place like that.

LaoChaGui said...

Bret, There is a lot of range in Yixing. And competition is pretty harsh. It really came across to me when wandering the huge new shopping complex and seeing less than 10 other customers (literally) the whole time I was there. I was there at the least busy time of year, but there is a lot of demand for nice stuff, and there is plenty of it. You can find a lot of nice hand made stuff, some is even affordable (especially younger artists who aren't famous yet but are very skilled). There is also a lot of decent clay sitting around, and sometimes people make up a pot with it. The one thing they don't have in Yixing is antique pots.

ladygray said...

I know this is a little off topic, but could you tell me where it was that you stayed? There appear to be a few hotels around, but it's difficult to figure out how far they are from Dingshan, etc.

LaoChaGui said...

There are tonnes of hotels there. I don't think it is really necessary to make reservations when you go there. I also always travel with a Chinese person while I am in China so I can stay at the $10 a night hotels that non-Chinese aren't supposed to stay at.