White-Porcelain Protectors

ByZhang Jiamin January 13, 2021
Yang Songyan (C)'s family has contributed a lot to inheriting and protecting the traditional porcelain-making techniques.

 

The Yangs, a three-generation family in Neiqiu, a county administered by Xingtai, in the southwestern region of North China's Hebei Province, are protectors of white porcelain. In ancient China, the region around what is now Neiqiu was well known for the production of top-quality white porcelain. The Yangs (Yang Songyan, a native of Neiqiu; his wife, Zhang Xuan; his daughter, Yang Shuo; and his father-in-law, Zhang Moxian) have dedicated considerable time and effort to inheriting and protecting the traditional porcelain-making techniques that originated in Neiqiu.

Yang Songyan in 2016 established a museum in Neiqiu County, to inherit and protect traditional white-porcelain-making techniques. Zhang Xuan, a fine arts teacher, works in a middle school. She has designed courses to teach students the history and techniques of porcelain making in Neiqiu. She encourages her students to visit white-porcelain workshops, so the students can learn the processing methods. Yang Shuo also works in Neiqiu. She explores innovative methods to promote white porcelain, both at home and abroad. Zhang Moxian writes calligraphies on white porcelain items; in this way, he combines two of China's traditional art forms.

Yang Songyan and his wife Zhang Xuan check a white porcelain bowl.

 

Promoting White Porcelain

Neiqiu is the birthplace of white porcelain, as that is where the production of white porcelain began around 1,500 years ago. During the Sui Dynasty (581-618), the appearance of white porcelain symbolized a revolution that resulted from new techniques in China's porcelain-making history. However, it was not until the 1980s that cultural relics of white porcelain production sites became noticed by the public after the relics were unearthed in Neiqiu County. Yang Songyan says white porcelain produced in Neiqiu represents "a heritage from history or from the past." Meanwhile, he believes this traditional art form needs new and innovative methods to be better protected and passed down to future generations.

"White porcelain belongs to the art of us, Chinese people. We should let this ancient art form be known and appreciated by people from around the world," Yang Songyan says. In 2016, Yang Songyan quit his job, as an art director in Beijing, and he returned to Neiqiu to establish a museum dedicated to white porcelain. He has since devoted himself to the inheritance, protection and development of white porcelain.

Yang Songyan made a 20-year plan to ensure the consistent, long-term development of white porcelain. In 2016, he organized a white porcelain technique-inheritance and -creation training workshop, which was supported by the China National Arts Fund. In 2018, he participated in an exhibition on white porcelain, also supported by the China National Arts Fund. During the past few years, Yang Songyan has often asked his wife and daughter to help him conduct field research in ancient villages around Neiqiu. He hopes to rebuild the villages into a white porcelain  production base.

Zhang Xuan teaches students the techniques of white porcelain making.

 

One Family's Efforts

Zhang Xuan is a fine arts teacher at Neiqiu No. 2 Middle School. She has worked as a teacher for nearly three decades. Influenced by her husband, Zhang Xuan is also interested in white porcelain produced in Neiqiu. She has designed white-porcelain-related courses, which are suitable for students in different grades. She encourages students to visit museums and/or porcelain-production workshops, so the students can have a better understanding about how white porcelain items are processed. Zhang Xuan hopes her students will learn — through white porcelain — the charm of traditional art and culture that originated in Neiqiu, and, thus, will have a deeper emotional bond with this place.

Yang Shuo graduated in 2017 from Northwest University, with a master's degree in art methodology. Instead of going abroad, or going to a first-tier city, she chose to return to Neiqiu to help her father advance the development of white porcelain. In 2016, she was responsible for planning and hosting a white porcelain technique-inheritance and -creation training workshop. She helped organize several white porcelain art exhibitions. Yang Shuo, an emerging artist who specializes in white porcelain production, in 2018 participated in an exhibition of porcelain items created by renowned artists in Hebei Province.

Last year, Yang Shuo was in charge of holding a white porcelain exhibition in Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province. During the event, she completed the organizing — including writing and designing relevant documents, arranging the exhibition venue and making a reception plan for participants — of the exhibition in three days. She completed the work without help from her father.

Yang Songyan was proud when he saw his daughter was capable of doing so many things independently. Yang Shuo says it has been during the past few years, while she has been working with her father, that she has come to realize it is not easy to promote the inheritance and protection of white porcelain. "If I am able to do more things, my father will probably be less tired," she says.

Yang Songyan and his daughter Yang Shuo discuss about a white porcelain artwork.

 

Yang Shuo's grandfather, Zhang Moxian, is a member of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and he used to be a primary school principal. Zhang Moxian was named a National Model Worker in 1958. The elderly man is supportive of his daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter's efforts to protect and promote white porcelain. Zhang Moxian likes Chinese calligraphy very much. He sometimes writes calligraphies on white porcelain items, as his creative attempt to combine two of China's traditional art forms. "We are a family of CPC members. We should make our contributions to our country and society," Zhang Moxian says.

Every time the Yangs organize an exhibition or an event related to white porcelain, they are so devoted that they do not take time to enjoy leisure activities, or even to take a rest together. Each member of the family has the same goal: To protect the intangible cultural heritage, the white porcelain that originated in Neiqiu, and to attract more and more people to help protect and pass on white-porcelain-making techniques. The Yangs were named a National Most Beautiful Family in 2019.

 

Photos supplied by Yang Songyan

(Women of China English Monthly October 2020 issue)

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