There are different versions concerning the first time people making purple tea pots. Some believe that they were made as early as in the Song Dynasty, yet scholars prefer the Ming Dynasty. In the Ming Dynasty, making bulk tea promoted the development of purple clay pottery, At least, purple clay teawares from mid-Ming Dynasty were found in the area of Yixing.
The first known master of purple clay pottery was Gong Chun during the region of Emperor Zhengde(1506-1521), the Ming Dynasty. Gong Chun, whose original surename was Gong ( different tone), was a boy servant of scholars in his early years. It is said that when he was accompanying his master in JinSha Monastery, Yixing, he secretly learned how to make purple clay pot from an old monk. He made a tea pot, and the finished piece looked simple and lovely. Thus the pot became famous in a short time and people called it “ the pot of Gong Chun”. Therefore we can conclude that the development of purple clay pots from coarse handicraft to arts and crafts creation should be attributed to Gong Chun.
During the region of Emperor WanLi (1573-1620), the Ming Dynasty witnessed many master craftsmen of purple clay pottery, who had their own unique skills, especially Shi Dabin who represented the maturity of purple clay pottery making craft. At this time, there were 3 purple clay pottery models and each mode had its masterpieces. The pots followed the artistic and humanistic features of the models of copper, tin utensils and Ming style furnitures. This period was the first peak in the history of purple clay pot making. After the initial stage of prosperity in the Ming Dynasty, purple clay teaware saws its new peak. The Qing Dynasty witnessed a great increase in the skill of purple clay pottery making, which featured delicate pot base, orderly products and many master craftsmen.
There were more types of purple clay pots then, with different shapes and colors. Red and purple clay were mainly used with other colors like white, black, yellow, pear-skin and preserved egg. New skills in pot making and decoration emerged, so the royal palace also showed interest in purple clay utensils. They were made as tributes, and special pots with more delicate decoration appeared.
Craftsmen engraved flowers, birds, mountains, rivers, calligraphies and paintings on the potteries. They chose geometric shapes, so that they could have larger smooth part to display what scholars prefer, such as calligraphy, painting and seal cuttings. Purple clay pots carried more humane appreciation of beauty, which integrated literature, calligraphy, painting and seal cutting. They became both practical utensils and craftwork of appreciation.
The Construction of Purple Clay Pot
The Lid: After finishing the pot, craftsmen should meet 4 requirement to make the lid and the mouth: straight, close, orderly and suitable. “Straigt” means that the lid should be made in a very straight shape so that when serving tea, the lid will not fall off. “close” refers to the tightness between lid and mouth, where even “a piece of paper or hair can not fit in”. “Orderly” means the shape of the lid and mouth must be orderly and easy to turn. “Suitable” implies the tendon patterned square (or hexagon/octagon) lid should be able to open and close smoothly. In other words, they fit each other closely without change of the pattern.
The Spout: It requires great skills to make a good spout. The length, thickness and position of the spout should be appropriate. Its inner wall must be smooth and clear to let water out fluently. When the user stops pouring water, a good spout will not drop and drip. The root of the spout, where water comes out, is easy to be stuck by tea leaves. Since the mid Qing Dynasty, craftsmen have made it into a net shape.
The Handle: Made for the people to carry the pot. The 3 main shapes are the level handle, the handlebar and the hoop handle.
The Body: The shaping of the purple clay pot, the main part of the pot.
The Feet: The feet are closely related to the stability of tea pots and its design affects the look of the pot. Therefore, craftsmen pay great attention to the design of this part.