Mr. Deng (Yixing Teapot Making)
Mr. Deng is an Yixing local and grew up in the teapot-making culture of the region. He, his wife, and his brother run a porcelain factory which makes parts for industrial use. He’s left the day-to-day management of the factory to them so he can focus fully on his true passion, making Yixing clay teapots.
He studied for years, under a master, to learn the fundamentals of the craft. More recently he’s been focused on the subtleties of the craft. He, like many Chinese, is very humble. Whenever he receives praise for his amazingly skillful and carefully crafted pots, he politely declines the compliment and changes the subject. He has been at it for more than a decade, yet, as is the custom, he will not reach the Official Level of Master until he’s put in decades of work and been judged by his elders.
A single pot can take him a week or more to finish. He can now make a round pot in half a day or so, but he likes to push himself to new heights. His newest challenge is learning to master the square pot, which takes a thousand strokes on a single side to smooth out, and that’s after perfectly forming the base shape. After he can masterfully produce fine square designs with ease, he then plans to master the most difficult design: The long-handled teapot.
Mr. Deng’s meticulous work is something to behold. He sits in his little studio in downtown Yixing all day, with just a simple tool set and a desk lamp. Hundreds of his pots are on display in glass cases along the sides of his studio. He spends the day focused intently on his work, unfazed by the busy traffic just outside his door. He’s at it all day, too, only looking up to smile and say hello if someone pops their head into his workshop.
We were introduced through a friend, and Mr. Deng sent his son to pick us up from the train station, though we’d only spoken on the phone at that point. He and his family were warm and welcoming to us strangers from the beginning.
As famous as Yixing is for its teapots, they don’t seem to get a lot of tourist stopping in to the actual heart of the city. As is often the case in China, the local government has set up a tourist town outside the actual city, where busloads of tour groups pile out to marvel at the local culture and pay through the nose for “authentic purple clay” Yixing teapots. Mr. Deng informed us that the original purple clay is all used up or in the hands of individual teapot-making masters. He warned that any “authentic” Yixing purple clay teapots selling for less than thousands is not genuine. Today they use dyes and chemicals to mimic the original purple look, so be warned when it comes to picking an Yixing teapot.
He and his family were very happy to have us visit with them and learn about their homeland. They even offered to let us stay in their home, but we settled on having lunch at their house instead. His wife is a wonderful cook and full of stories about life in the Yixing region. It’s pretty funny to see the contrast between Mr. Deng and his wife, as he is very soft-spoken, and she easily dominates any conversation. Their son, though he says he’s not much interested in the old culture and teapot making, was also surprisingly knowledgeable about Yixing and made a wonderful guide.
The Deng’s told us to consider them family, which was very touching, and we will certainly be back to visit our new family soon.