VOLUME 1, No.3 JOURNAL April 2000
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Date: 13 April 2000
Time: 2:30-6:30PM
Place: Shida's apartment
Attending: Stephen Dydo, Matthew Flannery, Shida Kuo, Bo Lawergren, Gopal Sukhu, Yuan Jung-Ping
Guests: Willow Hai, Devan Moss, Diana Chen, Mona Kao
Events: NYQS trip to Washington, D. C., to visit the musical finds from a Warring States tomb, Sackler Gallery, 23-25 June (Friday-Sunday).

The Meeting:
Members and guests gather for the third meeting of the NYQS. Left to right: Mona, Stephen, Jung-Ping, Mathew, and Willow.
In business session, the members discussed two issues, criteria for society membership and a proposed June trip to Washington, D. C., to view musical materials from a Warring States tomb.  There was consideration of various processes for admitting new members.  It was decided to adopt Stephen's suggestion that we have prospective members attend several meetings as guests and then decide among ourselves as to whether we felt that an individual had a serious interest in the qin and its culture and brought something valuable to the group in terms of personality, knowledge, and a willingness to share these with other society members.  An additional requirement is that each new member be recommended in that capacity by a present member of the society.

It was further agreed that Willow Hai is invited to become a member.

There was discussion of the logistics of a trip to Washington to visit an exhibition at the Sackler Gallery of the musical finds from a Warring States tomb, including a number of instruments.  It was proposed that the last weekend of the month (28 June-2 July) might best fit members' schedules, traveling on Thursday to make Friday available for a possible talk from Jenny So, curator of the exhibit, which Bo will try to arrange.  Shida said that inexpensive rentals of nine-passengers vans are available near him; he will look into this.  The van will not accommodate everyone; some people may drive or train down.  Matthew (his wife, really) will look into lodging; a group rate may be available.

Shida demonstrates the technique of making tea in miniature teapots.
Shida outlined the history of tea drinking prefatory to discussing Yixing teapots.  He explained that, during the Han (206 BC-220 AD) through Tang (618-906) periods, loose tea leaves were steeped in water and mixed with a variety of herbs and such spices as ginger, leek, date, orange peel, and mint into a pungent brew that was quite unlike the plain tea of the present day.  In the Song (960-1279), tea leaves were cast into hard bricks that were ground into a powder by the user.  A quantity of powder was placed inside a tea bowl; hot water was added. The mixture was then whipped with a bamboo whisk until a froth appeared on the surface.  Dark tea bowls reflected a contemporaneous preference for tea leaves that whipped up to an opaque green that showed well against dark cups.  Today, the Japanese tea ceremony continues the practice of whisking tea.  Shida noted that the tea ceremony is a Japanese innovation.  The Chinese, however, prefer a more pragmatic approach to consuming tea:  they drink it.

During the Yuan (1279-1368) dynasty, the ruling Mongols returned to the use of loose tea leaves but added cream before serving.  Further, tea producers developed methods of scenting tea with flower fragrances.  In the Yuan, it became the custom to consume tea in company with nuts and seeds, including walnuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds, almonds, and chestnuts.

The Ming (1368-1644) initiated the practice of brewing loose tea in water without added ingredients.  Shida believes that the smaller teapots popular in recent centuries came into vogue during the Ming.  They arose from the realization that long steeping brings out tea's bitter qualities.  Smaller pots meant more frequent changes of leaves and a higher quality of brewed tea.

Sealstines and teapots.
The twentieth century saw a new development in Yixing teapots and a change in tea preparation and product.  Shida demonstrated the new brewing technique, in which tiny teapots about two inches in diameter are stuffed with tea leaves.  Hot water is added, the leaves are steeped for ten seconds or less, and the tea is quickly poured into a small cup.  Since it is easier to appreciate the aroma of tea from the residuum in an empty cup, the tea may be poured into a second cup for drinking while the first is used to judge aroma.  The same leaves can be used perhaps seven or eight times without significant diminution of brewing strength.  The process produces concentrated tea of intense taste and aroma.

Yixing, a town shortly west of Shanghai near T'ai-hu, China's largest lake, has large deposits of fine, unusually dense clay found in a variety of colors. Shading principally from brown to red, its colors include tones of black, yellow, buff, bronze green.  Yixing was long a center for producing ordinary ceramic wares, but a change came in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  For a thousand years or more, many literati had made a cult of tea, carefully studying types of leaf and the clarity and sources of water to determine which made the best tea.  These adherents of tea then began to take an interest in the pots in which tea was brewed.  In a rare joint effort of social elite and working class, the literati worked in conjunction with pottery masters to developed a distinctive tradition of teapot design.  Typically, a literatus would design the pot, sometimes adding an inscription in his calligraphy, and the potter would realize the design in clay.

Today, "everyone" in Yixing designs and builds teapots.  Shida, arriving there for a conference on Yixing wares, was asked by his taxi driver why he was in town.  Duly apprized, the driver quickly pulled out his own Yixing catalog.  Potters use a wooden mold to rough-cast a pot's basic form, extensively work it by hand for two or three days, then fire it.  Because Yixing clay is dense, viscous, and fine, it easily holds detailed shapes.

Early pots of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries were of simple, often monumental designs with both rounded and squared shapes.  The more elaborate antique teapots imitated vegetables or fruit, ancient bronzewares, plum branches, or appeared as if made of bundles of bamboo or wood.  Since the twentieth century, more elaborate and decadent versions of the old styles include complex shapes, sentimental detailing, and engravings of side scenes and calligraphy touched with colored pigments.  However, the development of superior new styles and the continued manufacture of fine old designs have meant that there is a wide range of quality in both style and production, making taste and careful selection increasingly important in purchasing good pieces.

Thus, finish and detail are subject to a wide range of quality.  A refined, carefully finished surface that brings out the natural solidity of the clay is a prized attribute of good Yixing.  The material of a pot should look as heavy as bronze, but its shape should be airy and full.  Closely-fitted lids, a fine delineation of decorative detail, and a pristine quality of line at corners and edges are important.  Occasionally, the clay has inclusions, sometimes of a different tint than the body clay, that contribute to a pebbled or freckled surface.  Some pieces are skillfully finished to imitate such materials as pear skin or bronze.  The seal of the maker is impressed into the bottom of the pot and sometimes into the underside of its lid.

Most Yixing wares are teapots, but there is the occasional teacup or desktop articles like sealpaste boxes and brush holders.  Some of these are lined with a white crackle glaze for easy maintenance.  Extremely rare are imitations of nuts, caltrop fruit, and their like.  For example, Yixing peanuts, apparently of the seventeenth century, provide a terminus ante quem for the introduction of the peanut into China from Africa.

The clay is fired in its natural state, unglazed.  Its great density and high firing temperatures create tough, watertight teapots.  A slight porosity encourages tea residua to adhere to inner surfaces.  These are left in place with the idea that, supplemented by theoretical affinities between clay and tea, they improve tea flavor.  However, Shida says that he cleans antique pots carefully before use, since their environments of provenance might have left deposits of anything from grave dust to industrial pollutants.

Shida passed around more than a dozen examples of Yixing teapots, which, driven by his potter's interest in the technical and historical aspects of Yixing ceramics rather than by a collector's desire to acquire in a more systematic fashion, he accumulates rather than collects. Forms ranged from an unusually tall, dark brown rectangular volume to a small, antique green pot of exquisite workmanship that was made as if from lengths of bamboo culms. He also passed around a fake antique whose dirt and patina had disappeared with washing, an imitation Yixing pot from Guangdong made of a clay not as dense as that from Yixing and with faint circular striations that showed it had been thrown on a wheel rather than cast in a mold, and a piece from Thailand, where metal bands are typically added to the lips and other edges of imported Chinese ceramics. In the latter piece, except for the base, where the original red-brown biscuit remained, the ceramic surfaces of the latter piece had been highly polished to a shiny, dark, tarnished-bronze color nearly indistinguishable from its metal additions.

to page 2. Matthew outlines the history of script types and talks about the art of Hu Lunguang
to page 3. Matthew outlines the history of script types and talks about the art of Hu Lunguang (cont.)

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