Inside an Yixing Teapot Studio

Chen Chunhong in the studio in Yixing.

Chen Chunhong in the studio in Yixing.

(Originally published August 24, 2019)

The first time we met Chen Chunhong and Lin Hanpeng was at the tea table of their shop in Guangzhou. Chen Chunhong chatted with us as she poured us each a cup of shu pu'er. Her husband Lin Hanpeng was discussing clay with some customers. At the time the two were very busy with a growing customer base - thanks largely to word of mouth among zisha (Yixing Clay) enthusiasts in the city. Their shop was known for the authenticity of its teapots - only using original ore zisha and focusing on functionality. They worked with a few reliable artists out of Yixing. They soon left their shop in Guangzhou to establish their own studio in Yixing.

Seeing how busy their little studio is today, it is clear that whatever challenges they faced initially, their move had been a success. We spoke with Lin Hanpeng to hear more about these challenges and how their studio fits into the modern zisha industry.

Lin Hanpeng and his teapots.

Lin Hanpeng and his teapots.

Mud&Leaves: How did you get into the zisha industry?

Mud&Leaves: I went to Nanjing for school in 2001. Nanjing was the capital of 6 dynasties. The culture is very deep, especially around Fuzimiao. I liked to walk around the area to experience the atmosphere I read about in the old poems. In Fuzimiao there were a lot of shops selling handmade crafts. The most impressive to me were the Yixing Teapots. I became a zisha hobbyist and began collecting around this time. In 2005 I graduated and returned to Guangdong to work. After a few years, I made the decision to quit my job to pursue my dream full time. I focused all of my thoughts and energy on the zisha industry. Getting into this industry was my dream, so I pursued it completely. 

Mud&Leaves: What are some of the challenges to succeeding as a zisha studio?

Lin Hanpeng: When I first entered the industry, I owned a store selling teapots as a retailer for zisha artists. During these years I built up my professional knowledge and artistic standard. I began networking with artists and those who collected and processed zisha ore into clay. And of course I wanted to be more involved in design, and to design the products meeting my aesthetic standards. The only way to reach this goal was to move to Yixing Dingshuzhen.

Looking back at the first few years, we faced two major challenges. The first was how to make sure we would have a supply of high-quality original ore zisha. The second was the design of the products. I design all of our teapots.

The styles used for zisha teapots have developed over 600 years. There are a large number of classic styles. They often appear simple, but if the silhouette is off even a little bit, if the balance of the elements is off, then the whole design fails. It’s like the old saying,  “失之毫厘 谬之千里” [a tiny lapse can lead to a huge mistake; a minor discrepancy can lead to enormous losses].

​My studio is pursuing a style that is low profile, soft, but feels stretched and tense. During my early period learning the craft, my prototype designs fell short of my expectations. To solve this problem, I consulted and learned from the masters in the industry, visited museums and collections, and read and researched. After this period, I have overcome this challenge and I can say that our studio has enough knowledge, skill and insight to make our own designs following the classic models.

zhuni teapots

Making an Yixing Teapot

Zini Teapots

Mud&Leaves: How do you source your clay? Is this a common way of sourcing clay for studios in Yixing?

Lin Hanpeng: As I said, this was one of our greatest challenges. High-quality original ore is the most basic foundation of a good zisha teapot. As Huanglongshan is “officially closed for mining,” any organized mining activity has been stopped. Basically, in the market there is no increase in the supply of the original ore from these mines.

However, there is still a very large supply of this ore in the hands of suppliers, studios, and private collections. I made a huge effort to connect with this network to source the original ore, to purchase ore and to trade ore in this network. For the most part I process the ore into clay myself. For example, I process our dicaoqing clay from original ore mined from Huanglongshan Number 4 Mine. 
Is this a common practice in Yixing? No, it is not. Most of the studios that make Yixing Teapots will purchase the clay slabs from clay processing studios. Clay processing is different from making Yixing Teapots. In the zisha industry, processing the clay and making teapots with the processed clay are two different segments of the industry.*
My studio name means “without worry.” Our intention is authenticity. What we say is what you get. No gimmicks, no lies. The basic principle is high-quality original ore. The customer can choose the style of teapot they like without worrying about anything else. It was crucial to overcome these difficulties to ensure our clay is from high-quality original ore and the design is accurate and practical.

​*Usually people in the zisha industry are specialized in one segment or the other, but rarely in both. Processing zisha requires an investment in time and space. The clay will often be aged for years in storage before it can used.

Lin Hanpeng and processed dicaoqing clay in storage on the right.

Lin Hanpeng and processed dicaoqing clay in storage on the right.

What are some common misconceptions about the zisha industry?
What are the most popular kinds of clay, shapes, and sizes for Yixing Teapots?
What does the future hold in store for the zisha industry?
​Find out what Lin Hanpeng has to say about these questions and more in
Part 2 of our interview.