Feature: New light through old porcelain


JINGDEZHEN, Nanchang, Oct. 29 — Australian Diana Williams’ property has doubled in value in the five years since she bought her place.
Jingdezhen was the porcelain capital of China 1,700 years ago, and Williams, 55, is the first foreigner to own a house there. “The city is growing so much, so quickly. Five years ago, I don’t think anyone had sold a house to a westerner before.”
Williams visited Jingdezhen in 2004, and stayed as artist in residence, painting porcelain.
“I walked down the street, I thought people maybe saw me as coming from another planet,” Williams said, half joking. “Now, when I walk up this street, everyone knows who I am, and I know who they are.”
The small city in central China’s Jiangxi Province began accommodating westerners in 2000. More than 3,000 foreign tourists and artists visited Jingdezhen in 2011 alone, and the number is growing.
“It has become more and more integrated with the world,” said she.
Williams has been working on a series of works on the theme of war: a baby holding artillery with lotus and dragon decorations, for example. Her workshop is in the Letian ceramic club where several artists live.
“Because I live in China, I use some of the images that I see here,” she said. She chose the dragon because it is the guardian of the sea, and of the universe. She is saying that the world is protected by the dragon, and asking it “to protect the sea, because my son is on ship”.
Influenced by Chinese culture, foreigners like Williams are changing the ancient country. Diana’s Australian friend Paul Grimsley, 62, is on his third trip to China to visit her.
Grimsley was among the first batch of Australian students to visit China in the 1970s, sporting a beard and long hair.
“They wanted to touch my beard, and my nose, my big nose, but nobody was talking to me,” he said, recalling the time over thirty years ago when he traveled in Beijing, Shanghai and Wuxi. “Nobody was selling anything then, but now people come up and say hello, to sell.”
In the 1990s, many of Jingdezhen’s factories closed down and thousands of workers were laid off to linger on the poverty line. The end of the planned economy became a private sector boom, and workshops sprouted up in Jingdezhen, pushing the city towards commercialization.
“I’ve seen it grow in the past ten years,” said Williams, “in the next ten years, I think it will grow so much more quickly, Jingdezhen will grow to a much bigger city.”
Like everywhere else in China, Jingdezhen’s labor costs — once relatively affordable for foreign artists — are on the rise. Williams predicts that for people like her, this will not really affect Jingdezhen. There is nowhere else in the world with such skilled craftsmen, and an unusual environment.
She lives in a Ming-style quadrangle in a district where artists and students live and work. People are seen relaxing in a garden, chatting and having tea.
“It’s disappointing when you see such big highrise buildings in a beautiful place like this, because before it was all skies. Now, it is all big buildings, but this is progress,” she said.
Williams wants the ancient city to remain as it is, because this is the beauty of the place. “I didn’t come here because of the high buildings. I didn’t come here for western hotels or the western way of life. I came because I love the Chinese style.”
Paul and wife Kay went to Guilin, southwest China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in 1991, on their honeymoon. “It was beautiful; we went sailing on the Lijiang with nobody else there except the fishermen.”
They were equally astonished when they made the third visit, this time to Jingdezhen.
“Things were so different here: the ways people talk, stand, smile, are all quite different.” Paul told a Xinhua reporter.
“Just like the art of pottery. It’s important to keep your heritage. Once you lose it, you can’t get it back,” said he.
“China has a very long history, you should take the best from the west and from the future, but never lose the strength from the past,” said Kay. “The hardest part is to keep a balance between old and new. It’s your generation that keeps it going.”[db:内容2]