Yixing zisha ceramic handicraft skills are traditional folk ceramic making skills applied in Dingshu Town, Yixing City, Jiangsu Province. The skills dated back to Song and Yuan dynasties and were full-fledged in Ming Dynasty, boasting a history of over 600 years. Zisha ceramic making skills are unique in the world. Zisha clay, indigenous to Yixing, mainly includes purple clay, red sandy clay and beige sandy clay. It has special granular structure and double pore structure, and is used as the raw material for making Zisha ceramic. The finished ceramic ware is obtained by undergoing slapping of clay slices, slapping of cylinder body (round ware), splicing of cylinder body (square ware) or combination of splicing and sculpture (ware with applied decoration), dressing, ceramic sculpture and decoration, with the use of hundreds of self-made tools.
Finished products based on Yixing zisha ceramic making skills are represented by teapots, including plain teapots (round teapots and square teapots), segmented teapots, teapots with applied decoration, etc. Zisha clay products are so beautiful due to their unglazed surface of the inner and outer sides and purely natural texture. As top-grade teaware, the teapot has good air permeability, which allows the tea sippers to enjoy more the color, fragrance and flavor of the tea. Zisha teaware is therefore closely related to traditional Chinese tea culture, and becomes an important part of tea culture.
After the late Ming Dynasty, along with the development of tea culture in China, zisha ceramic maker created a series of decoration skills such as ceramic sculpture and inlay (inlay of gold, silver, jade, colored clay, mother-of-pearl, rosewood and ceramic flower, etc.), tinning, enameling, slip decoration, famille rose, colour ceramic glazing, colour enameling, tracing, embossment, piercing, clay twisting, molding, ornament attaching, etc. through exploration for a long period of time. The most representative skill therein is ceramic sculpture, which combines perfectly poems and essays, inscriptions, calligraphy and painting, seal cutting with zisha ceramic making skills. It deeply matches the Chinese traditional aesthetical standard, especially aesthetic taste of literati. Therefore, zisha ceramic making skill always has double characteristics, i.e. practicality and art appreciation. As the skills are handed down through hundreds of years, the development, craftsmanship characteristics, derivation pedigree and traditional cultural connotation of zisha ceramic ware have presented a good momentum or state so far.
However, the raw material for zisha ceramic making, which is a rare mineral resource, has been overexploited and misused at present. In addition, industrialization influences the output of superb zisha ceramic products and has great impact on the outstanding zisha ceramic making skills. How to hand down these extraordinary folk handicraft skills becomes an issue to be solved urgently.