Elderly Pottery Experts Dedicated to Preserving Traditional Craft

July 5, 2017
Editor: Joyce Dong
Elderly Pottery Experts Dedicated to Preserving Traditional Craft

Yue Ban [Yunnan Daily]


Ethnic Dai people have had a special preference for pottery since ancient times. The various earthenware items made by them have been widely used in their daily production and life.

Yue Ban and Yue Mengtuan, two 66-year-old ethnic Dai women from Mangxiang Village, in Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China's Yunnan Province, are sticking to the traditional craft of making articles with clay despite their age.

At Yue Ban's home, green pottery and finished works fill her yard.

"Most of them were made by trainees during a recent study visit organized by the municipal culture center," said Yue.

In the past, earthenware items such as bowls and pots were mainly used as tools for boiling water, cooking and decocting medicinal herbs.

But now, Dai households mostly use them to contain cooled boiled water, decorate their houses or plant flowers.

In addition to its strong ethnic characteristics, Dai pottery has many unique functions.

Water stored in it is sweet, cool and refreshing; food cooked with it is fresh and tasty; and, tea leaves stored in it are dry and maintain a long lasting scent.

Producing a piece of pottery involves a series of procedures including collecting clay, drying it in the sun, screening it, mixing it with sand and water, making green pottery, drying it in the sun again and burning it.

"Making pottery doesn't make much money," Yue added.

"In general, they sell for 10 yuan (U.S.$ 1.47) each. Those which are larger and have more complicated patterns sell for 20-30 yuan (U.S.$ 2.94-4.41) each.

"Now, we just make it when there are orders."

Yue said the quantity of earth suitable for making pottery is on the decline in the village, and each bag of earth collected in other villagers' land costs 40 yuan (U.S.$ 5.88).

Due to the complicated production procedures, the number of each batch of her work is quite limited.

"We began to learn the technique just four years ago," she said.

"Now one pottery expert in our village has passed away while the other one is already 94 years old.

"Young villagers need to do farm work so they don't have time to learn the craft."

Fortunately, Dai people's unique pottery skills have recently been listed as an intangible cultural heritage, receiving great attention from local cultural departments at all levels.

These departments plan to build the Dai Traditional Pottery Technique Training and Inheriting Institute in Mangxiang Village, motivating young Dai women to learn the craft and help pass it down.

(Source: Yunnan Daily/Translated and edited by Women of China)

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