Have you heard of purple pottery from Jianshui, Yunnan?

Updated: Apr 22, 2021

Jianshui has a fairly long pottery-producing history which dates from 3500 years ago. What really distinguishes Jianshui purple pottery is the wide scope of processing techniques and traditional culture involved in its making.

Purple Pottery Teapot
purple pottery teapot

If there is one thing that can represent the history and culture of the Chinese nation, it must be ceramics. Celebrated as art, all ceramics are in essence a representation of hard work, functionality, novelty, and the time in which it was produced. Throughout Chinese history they have developed four famous types of pottery, purple pottery from Jianshui, Yunnan, is one of them.


Purple Pottery Jar
purple pottery jar


Where is Jianshui?

Jianshui County is located in the middle of Yunnan Province and has a profound historical and cultural heritage. As one of the regions most deeply influenced by Confucian culture in Yunnan, it was once the education centre of the province. The excavation results show that the history of Jianshui pottery industry can be traced back to 3,500 years. During the Song (420-479 AD) and Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) periods, Jianshui was the centre of Yunnan's pottery industry. Jianshui celadon was built in the middle and late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and began to enjoy a glorious position and became one of the four most famous potteries in China. Interestingly, the first purple pottery found was a pipe of untreated opium, which was imported into China after 1840.


Double Dragon Bridge, Jianshui, one of the most famous 10 bridges in China
Double Dragon Bridge, Jianshui, one of the most famous 10 bridges in China

What is purple pottery?

Purple pottery is a cultural and artistic treasure with the characteristics of Yunnan ethnic folk crafts. Jianshui purple pottery is not glazed on the inside or outside but is given a unique gleam with the use of fine polishing. It’s said its structure is like iron, colour like copper, it’s bright like water, and sounds like a chime, which is different from other famous pottery.


Purple Pottery Tea Set
purple pottery tea set

Purple pottery is famous for its unique style and has become a favourite treasure. The reason is that in addition to the exquisite production and novel modelling, is the application of traditional paintings and calligraphy to the purple pottery body, using multiple hand-made methods such as inscribed and Yang filling, broken monuments, unglazed polishing, etc. It has not only practical value, but also aesthetic and collectable value, it has been recognised for its artistic qualities and as such has been listed in the elegant hall of art. In 2008, the State Council of China approved Jianshui purple pottery firing techniques as a national intangible cultural heritage and a protected geographical indication.

Purple Pottery Teapot
purple pottery teapot

It is said that Jianshui purple pottery is good for tea-brewing, especially when used to brew Yunnan Pu'er tea. Brewing tea is the process of adding water to the tea (leaves) to turn it into a tea infusion (broth). The taste of tea made with different vessels can vary in flavour. However, all good tea and good tea infusion share their commonalities.


Purple Pottery Teapot
purple pottery teapot