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Chinese Cloisonne

From West to East and back to West.


Beijing, December 28th 2012

Cloisonne? Ah, that must have come from the Chinese's awkward English translation.
I read. Oh okay. So what is cloisonne? I joint the guide into the factory and finally understood. I thought I did.

Much to my own embarrassment, through the internet I learned that 'cloisonne' is, a word. It's not a Chinese-made English word. The information board above said, cloisonne is a type of enamel ware whose name translated from Chinese means "blue of Jingtai". This suggests that cloisonne originated from China. 'Translated from Chinese', not 'translated into Chinese'. Let's look up in Wikipedia:

Cloisonné is an ancient technique for decorating metalwork objects, in recent centuries using vitreous enamel, and in older periods also inlays of cut gemstones, glass, and other materials. The resulting objects can also be called cloisonné. The decoration is formed by first adding compartments (cloisons in French) to the metal object by soldering or adhering silver or gold wires or thin strips placed on their edges. These remain visible in the finished piece, separating the different compartments of the enamel or inlays, which are often of several colors. Cloisonné enamel objects are worked on with enamel powder made into a paste, which then needs to be fired in a kiln.

... From Byzantium or the Islamic world the technique reached China in the 13-14th centuries; the first written reference is in a book of 1388, where it is called "Dashi ('Muslim') ware". ... The Chinese industry seems to have benefited from a number of skilled Byzantine refugees fleeing the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, although based on the name alone, it is far more likely China obtained knowledge of the technique from the middle east. The most elaborate and highly-valued Chinese pieces are from the early Ming Dynasty, especially the reigns of the Xuande Emperor and Jingtai Emperor (1450–57). In much Chinese cloisonné blue is usually the predominant colour, and the Chinese name for the technique, jingtailan ("Jingtai blue ware"), refers to this, and the Jingtai Emperor.

... the technique remains common in China to the present day, and cloisonné enamel objects using Chinese-derived styles were produced in the West from the 18th century.

There, you get it. From the West to China, back to the West, and cloisonne had forgotten where her home actually was.

The photo in the middle left shows the workshop where the vessels are produced. The wires are formed on the vessel based on a design which is first drawn on paper. The photo on upper left shows the wired vessels being dried under the sun. The oven in picture bottom left, I bet must be the kiln Wikipedia had mentioned above. Kiln. Hmmm, that's a good word for scrabble.

Here comes the coloring process, the enamel filling process. From Wikipedia again:
Vitreous enamels in the different colors are ground to fine powders in an agate or porcelain mortar and pestle, then washed to remove the impurities that would discolor the fired enamel. Each color of enamel is prepared this way before it is used and then mixed with a very dilute solution of gum tragacanth. The vitreous compound consists of silica nitre and lead oxide to which metallic oxide is added for coloring. Using fine spatulas, brushes or droppers, the enameler places the fine colored powder into each cloison. The piece is left to dry completely before firing, which is done by putting the article, with its enamel fillings, in a kiln. The enamel in the cloisons will sink down a lot after firing, due to melting and shrinkage of the granular nature of the glass powder, much as sugar melting in an oven. This process is repeated until all cloisons are filled to the top of the wire edge.

Besides decorations on vessels, jars, bowls, and such, cloisonne enamel is also designed for wall decorations like these. Take a close on the frame in upper left photo. Can you see a drawing of a lady in process?

This trip to the cloisonne factory was included in my tour package to Mutianyu Great Wall which I booked through Viator and was operated by Hantang International Travel Service. Although I felt cheated because the 9 hours tour turned out to be a 6 hours tour and I had limited time at Mutianyu, this part was a glad surprise. I didn't expect to learn about this when I planned for Beijing.

Very unlike my visit to the tea house 2 days ago, I wasn't pushed to buy anything here. Maybe Jason told the local guide already? I don't know. But this morning, on the way to Mutianyu, I did tell him about my experience at the tea house, and also about my tragedy on the Silk Street. Jason explained that economic life in China nowadays has been tough. Therefore, people would do anything to make ends meet.

Well, I'm sorry to hear about that. But still, feeling trapped and cheated doesn't feel good. On the other hand, even you say a thousand times that God doesn't exist, I believe that in the long run, good will be repaid by good, and vice versa, to anyone. Justice doesn't depend on one's belief.

The promised lunch was served at a restaurant in the same location. Although time was limited, menu was abundant. And yummy, too.

"Is there anything you cannot eat?" Jason asked.

"No pork, please," I answered.

"But you eat meat, don't you?"

"Sure, I do."

"Do you eat vegetables?"

"Errr... I do." I wasn't too sure with my own answer. Compared to most people, there are a lot of vegetables I don't like. I simply cannot swallow it. However, there are some vegetables I do like. How would I explain this to Jason? Then he would ask me, "What vegetable do you like?" Should I answer him, "I like leunca." ?

When the plate on picture top right was served, I shuddered. Here comes your hateful cabbage, I said to myself.

But Jason said, "This is chicken and peanuts. This is egg soup and carrots. This is potato ... "

Potatoes!? I had never knew potatoes served in such a way. And, it really tasted good! My verdict of the whole meal: excellent.

Posted by automidori 09:43 Archived in China Tagged china beijing viator cloisonne

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