Yingge Town Artisan
Pottery stores along Yingge Old Street (鶯歌老街) no longer sell teapots made by Tseng Tsai-wan (曾財萬) these days.
“They’re too expensive. A single teapot fetches up to NT$70,000 these days,” he says, gesticulating with his hands and sending one of the teapots crashing to the ground.
Photo: Paul Cooper, Taipei Times
Momentarily distracted, Tseng, also known as Master Wan (阿萬師), waves a hand, and his son comes forward to sweep up the pieces.
Tseng is still making teapots at 84. Born into poverty, and missing out on a proper education during the instability in the immediate aftermath of the war, he started working in ceramics in his early teens, but only found success when he started making fake Chinese antiques. It was only when collectors became wary of buying antique teapots due to the great number of fakes that he started developing his own.
Today, he is known for his zhuni (cinnabar clay) pear skin teapots (朱泥梨皮壺), using a special clay blend that produces the pear pip skin effect — white grain specks on the surface — during the firing process.
Photo: Paul Cooper, Taipei Times
These pear pip skin teapots are prized for the extra sweetness they give to the tea brewed in them. Over the years, the tea will gradually stain the white grains yellow. Collectors call these huangjinzi (golden grains).
Tseng had a hard upbringing. Born in Yingge during the Japanese colonial era, his family was so poor that he didn’t attend school from age eight to 10. He remembers the Japanese cops extorting money from his father, and beating him when he couldn’t pay. The family eventually fled to Taichung, living in pig pens or cow sheds.
His sister died aged two.
“She died because my father only looked after the boys,” Tseng said.
STORAGE JARS TO TEAPOTS
Tseng started studying how to make ceramics, to bring in some money. He made braziers, medicine storage jars and large water pots, and much later, he turned his hands to teapots after the plastics industry decimated demand for pottery storage jars.
“I was the first person to make teapots by hand. I was also the first person in Taiwan to make the pear skin teapots,” he says.
An unknown, he discovered he couldn’t cover his costs selling these under his own name. He decided the only way was to make fakes of antique Chinese Shantou pots (汕頭壺).
Tseng says making fakes during the 1980s was very lucrative, and he could get NT$5,000 or NT$6,000 for a single fake antique teapot, NT$8,000 for a larger one.
He became so good at making fakes indistinguishable from the authentic antiques that collectors became wary of buying antiques after he exhibited three of his teapots at an exhibition at the Yingge Ceramics Museum. After that, he had to sell his teapots to dealers in Kaohsiung and Pingtung.
Kujiang District (堀江區) near the Port of Kaohsiung was known for selling antiques — and smuggled goods.
“They would sell anything. So, I took my stuff there.”
After a dealer reneged on a big order for fake antique teapots, Tseng decided it was time to sell under his own name. He started getting a reputation for making high quality teapots.
In the 1990s, a descendant of Banciao’s wealthy Lin (林) family offered NT$5 million for all the teapots he could make. He turned him down.
“His idea was that I hadn’t been making teapots all that long, and after I passed away he would make a lot of money selling them to collectors,” Tseng said.
All his work now is commissioned. He has more orders than he can cope with, and is not taking any more this year.
He says that money isn’t all that important to him, and that now he can do what he pleases. “Had I been chained to making pots for that one guy, I wouldn’t have that freedom. And without that freedom, I wouldn’t be happy.”
Next month, Yingge Artisan looks at painter Chang Sung-shan (張松山).
Yingge Town Artisan is a monthly photographic and historical exploration of the artists and potters linked to New Taipei City’s Yingge Town.
Sept. 21 to Sept. 27 If word got out that you were planning a wedding during the Martial Law era, the “Committee for the improvement of Folk Customs” (改善民俗實踐會) might knock on your door. Each borough in Taipei had at least one “agent” who kept a pulse on community happenings. They would visit the family planning the wedding with a letter from the mayor, touting the benefits of being frugal and not wasting money on lavish ceremonies, even encouraging the families to donate money for scholarships. The authorities also discouraged them from hiring musicians and dancers, who were often loud and
Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is a way urban households can obtain healthy produce, while helping to build a more sustainable farming sector in Taiwan. King Hsin-i’s (金欣儀) transformation from advertising copywriter to social entrepreneur began in 2008, when she visited a rice farmer who practiced pesticide-free agriculture. “He explained that we have to leave space for other species. At the same time, I realized that while big companies have budgets to spread their messages, farmers have few chances to tell the public about their beautiful concepts,” she recalls. Inspired, she quit her job and traveled throughout rural Taiwan for a year. King went
Every day before she starts her shift at a government hospital in Singapore, Farah removes her hijab — the Islamic veil she has worn since a teenager. Although minority Muslim women can freely wear the hijab in most settings in Singapore, some professions bar the headscarf — and a recent case has triggered fresh debate on diversity and discrimination in the workplace. Now Farah has joined a growing number of Muslims — who account for about 15 percent of Singapore’s 4 million resident population — calling for the ban to end, with an online petition gathering more than 50,000 signatures. “They told me
If ever there was a reason to be inside on Mid-Autumn Festival, even for just an hour or so, while still celebrating the natural world, Cheng Tsung-lung (鄭宗龍) has provided one with his first full-length work for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) as artistic director, Sounding Light (定光). Judging by the excerpt performed for the press last week, Cheng shows he can be just as minimalistic as his mentor, troupe founder Lin Hwai-min (林懷民), while still forging his own unique path. Just as he did with last year’s Lunar Halo (毛月亮), his final work as director of Cloud Gate 2 (雲門2), Cheng