Nixing Clay

(Originally published March 5, 2018)

​Nixing has a long history in China, however it has often been overlooked by the tea drinking community outside of the country. While much has been written online about Yixing Zisha and Chinese porcelain, very little has been said about this other ceramic art.

Nixing teapot

What is Nixing?

One of the four famous varieties of Chinese pottery (the other three varieties are: SiChuan RongChang clay; Yixing ZiSha Clay; and YunNan JianShui Clay). Nixing tea ware is produced in the town of Qinzhou, in Guangxi province China. Qinzhou ceramic artists have been producing Nixing ceramics, including storage vessels for food and tea, cook ware and tea ware, for centuries. The art form has an official history of 1300 years. Nixing tea ware had a major boom in popularity towards the end of the Qing Dynasty, during the Xianfeng period.

The four famous varieties of Chinese pottery and where they are produced.

The four famous varieties of Chinese pottery and where they are produced.

Nixing ceramics have a very special production process for the clay before it is wheeled by Nixing artists. Nixing clay is a mixture of clay from the East and West banks of the Qinjiang River in Qinzhou. The two clays are prepared differently and then mixed to create Nixing clay. Clay from the East bank of the river is stored wet in a sealed container before being mixed. Clay from the West bank of the river is left outside, exposed to the elements (under rain and sunshine) for 4 to 6 months. The exposed West bank clay becomes hard and weathered. The clay is then taken and crushed into powder and mixed with the wet East bank clay. The common ratio of mixture is 4 parts East-bank clay to 6 parts West-bank clay.

Qinjiang River in Qinzhou, Guangxi Province.

Qinjiang River in Qinzhou, Guangxi Province.

The clay is then shaped on a pottery wheel by hand. The artist may or may not add a carving to the outside of the piece. When the artist is finished shaping the piece it is fired at a high temperature of 1200 degrees Celsius.

Nixing clay vase

The Nixing Difference

Nixing is known for six important defining features.

  1. Nixing clay is a mixture of Qinzhou clay from both banks of the Qinjiang river prepared in the traditional way.
  2. The clay is pure and neutral. No glazes, other clays, chemicals or artificial colouring are added.
  3. After the clay is fired it will appear as different hues between copper brown and blue-grey. The result is unpredictable and uncontrollable. The artist will not know the final appearance of the piece until after it is fired. The examples below show some of the possible combinations of color, shade and patterns.
  4. Because of its very fine and smooth surface, Nixing Clay is very well suited for carving. Nixing Master Artists are well known in China for producing the most exquisitely fine and detailed carvings on Nixing tea ware.
  5. ​Nixing is quite pliable, can be manipulated into a wide variety of shapes. As a result Nixing has been used by artists to make sculptures and other works of art beside tea ware.
  6. Nixing Clay is porous, which allows the tea ware to breathe. Nixing pores are smaller than the pores of most Zisha, such as Zini and Duanni, but unlike these kinds of Zisha which tend to trap air and heat within the pores, Nixing allows circulation, and does not trap heat as much as zini and duanni teapots do. Nixing is therefore a better clay to use for more delicate teas. It is therefore closer in character to Zhuni and can be used for all varieties of tea.

Nixing xishi teapot

Nixing teapot with carving

Nixing teapot with carvings