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Zisha “Ru Ding” teapot, Yixing ware

A conversation between Dr. Kristen Brennan and Dr. Steven Zucker in front of a Zisha "Ru Ding" teapot made by Yang Pengnian, with Chen Mansheng mark, Yixing ware, c. late 18th–early 19th century (Shanghai Museum of Art) Note: the work was created with slabs of clay and then worked on a wheel. The term "thrown" may be misleading. Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

(cheerful music) - [Narrator] We're in the Shanghai Museum, in the galleries devoted to ceramics. And we're looking at a teeny, tiny teapot. This would have been made in an area that's not very far from Shanghai, around the city of Suzhou. - [Narrator] So this teapot, you can see that it's a brown, earthy color. It's actually called purple clay, zisha, this particular type of clay. And it's associated with a small town on Lake Tai, a place called Yixing. So we call them Yixing teapots. - [Narrator] It would be used to infuse tea, but it would only hold just a little bit of water. - [Narrator] In fact, it's so small that it'll fit on the palm of your hand. And if you would reinfuse this, you would put your leaves on the inside, and infuse the tea, and then drink it all day long, keeping your tea hot. - [Narrator] The design is a little unusual. It's straight-sided and rather sharp in its forms. And the fact that it was thrown on a wheel is quite clear, especially when you look at the lid and the circular qualities. - [Narrator] Very geometric, and in fact, this type of teapot, it's called the Ru Ding, which refers to that shape, this round, very geometric, circular shape with the little handle behind. - [Narrator] And this teapot rests on tiny little dimples. And so there's reference to the ancient Chinese creation of the tripod. - With the flat sides and the impression around the lid also leaves a space for writing, which is so important for these teapots. - [Narrator] This teapot was part of a post-literati culture. This is quite late. It was made some time between the late 18th and early 19th century, a time when people were thinking to the long history of literati culture. That is of highly-educated artists and poets who would exchange gifts. - [Narrator] They would do painting, poetry, and calligraphy as they had in the past. However, now, you're seeing a lot of writing on vessels, references to the past, this idea of antiquarianism, which was so popular in the 18th and 19th century. - [Narrator] So, very self-conscious, very self-referential. And, of course, this is a teapot that would have been drunk in company. - In company, and that speaks to this network among these like-minded friends. They may have beneficials at times, but this speaks to their leisure time. - [Narrator] Now, in addition to the inscription at the top of the pot, if you look very closely, you can just see a seal underneath. - [Narrator] And that is from the seal carver, Chen Mansheng, who is well-known for the Yixing teapots. He had worked in that town of Yixing. He would design these teapots and then have them made by a local potter. He would then inscribe his own inscriptions or have other writers inscribe, write on top of the vessels themselves. - [Narrator] It's such a personalized object. It's so small, it's such a lovely introduction back to this literati culture. (cheerful music)