From the Jaded Economy to the Jade Empire

I’m safely returned from my most recent sojourn in China. I was there to experience the amazing porcelain stone that they have there. This is an amazing rock! When milled up into a fine paste and wetted down. It releases its clay and mica content into solution in a water suspended state. This ‘slip’ can then be processed into clay body as we know it. These days, this slip is stiffened up to plastic form in a filter press and then pugged and bagged. But it was only 12 years ago when I was here that I saw it being pounded and crushed by water driven wooden hammers, then blunged by hand and stiffened on drying beds. Things have changed a lot in a decade. Everything is mechanised now.

The finest grade of white translucent porcelain is now the best that it has ever been. I was able to spend a few weeks throwing and turning this remarkable ultra fine, extra white, clay body called Gao Bai Neantu. This clay is now so good, it’s a real eye opener. Twelve years ago, this mica-based, clay-like, material was good, but difficult to work with. Now the plasticity is so much better, while the degree of fine cracks is much lower. I’ve been lucky enough to see and experience it go through all of these amazing changes and improvements on my various visits over that time.
However, the same can’t be said for the air quality. The pollution is still just as bad as it has ever been, with some days when the visibility was down it just a couple of kilometres, the sun came up all orange and we are not in a big city, but out in the country side. I found it difficult to breath on a couple of days and was constantly coughing.
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We get to watch a bloke who throws 700 pots a day. And he does it without getting any clay on himself. He wears plastic shopping bags tired around his shoes, ad the design of the potters wheel means that his feet are in the slops tray. Otherwise he is immaculate. We time him at 45 seconds per pot. It’s not really believable unless you see it happen in front of you. We saw him at 5.00 pm. at the end of his day, when he was tired and at this slowest and wearing whatever splashes of clay had landed on him throughout his busy day! Which was none!
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I stamp my work made here with the ‘Made in Jingdezhen’ workshop stamp. I’m renting studio space in the ‘Fragrant Garden Studio’. Everyone is so very helpful and accomodating. Its an amazing experience. I’m a lucky man.
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Among other things that I accomplish while I’m here, collecting samples of porcelain stone and visiting clay makers and processing sites. I get to make 45 or so porcelain bowls. 12 of which make it to a first class finish from the stoneware kiln. I stash them into my back pack, wrapped in bubble wrap and carry them as carry-on luggage.
I’m here representing the old ‘running dogs’ of capitalism. but I find that the young puppies of Communist inspired capitalism are no longer penned in and are now set free. Everyone is busy and hoping to get rich. There is so much energy here and so much enthusiasm. I can’t see anything stopping them. The puppies are out. They are inquisitive and they are starting to wander. Meet the new running dogs.
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Amazingly, on the return trip. I get allocated a seat on the plane in the middle row of 4. where I am the only passenger. I get to sleep laying down across all 4 seats all night!
I said that I was lucky!
It helps that I was the very last person to book onto the flight, really late, just before they closed the gate. I get there with just 9 minutes to spare. I’m left with 3 spare seats beside me.
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Best wishes from the tired old bitch of capitalism, fat, bloated and complacent, snuggled up by the fire and giving the occasional half-hearted bark at the passing new running dogs.