Home> Heritage

Guoli clay pottery breathes new life

chinadaily.com.cn| Updated: January 16, 2023

In Zoucheng, a county-level city in Jining, the Guoli clay pottery-making technique, a traditional handicraft, has been preserved for generations and has become an important cultural source to help boost local development.

Li Zhenwen, a 73-year-old craftsman, is an inheritor of the Guoli clay pottery-making technique and has practiced the craft for more than 50 years. "Guoli was famous for its rich artisanal earthenware in ancient times," Li said. He learned the craft from his parents when he was a child.


Li Zhenwen, an inheritor of the Guoli clay pottery-making technique, sculpts clay into a pot. [Photo/Dazhong News]

Guoli town has a clay pottery-making history of more than 6,000 years. According to Li, pottery artwork is made through a set of complex procedures including material selection, stepping on mud, shaping, and firing. Each piece of Guoli clay pottery is individually hand-painted and made by combining traditional sculpting techniques with an ancient wood-baking technique.


A child learns how to make clay pottery. [Photo/Dazhong News]

Past generations of potters did their best to pass down the craft to younger generations. However, due to rapid industrial and technological development during the past several decades, pottery has been produced in a greater number of molds with more complicated designs, which has adversely affected the development of handmade items.


Guoli clay pottery artworks are displayed at the Futao Cultural Exhibition Hall in Jining's Guoli town in Shandong province. [Photo/WeChat account: zouchengfabu]

To vitalize the traditional craft, local government has been promoting creative transformation and development of fine traditional Chinese culture and utilize the ancient technique to enrich people's cultural lives.

In 2008, Guoli town's Shandong Futao Cultural Development Co was founded thanks to the efforts of the local government. The company collected exceptional inheritors to assist in upgrading the traditional pottery-making technique, which resulted in the reduction of the lengthy production time from one and a half days to just seven hours.


Guoli clay pottery sculptures. [Photo/WeChat account: zouchengfabu]

Relying on the unique clay resources in the area and the traditional hand-made pottery culture, the company developed a series of modern high-grade products with ornamental and practical value.

"Clay pottery-making is not only a handicraft, but also a kind of folk culture," said Zhang Yang, the founder of Shandong Futao Cultural Development Co. Promoting the handcraft culture is also important. Therefore, an education base for pottery culture was also built, where people can appreciate the pottery artwork exhibits and experience pottery-making.  

A series of free experience activities such as making clay sculptures, folk culture discussions and intangible cultural heritage promotional event have been carried out at the base for children in rural areas. Up to now, nearly 25,000 people have participated in these activities. More than 200 new jobs for villagers have been created as a result of the handicraft's flourishing expansion, which has also benefited the local economy.


Students make clay figurines at a workshop in Guoli town. [Photo/WeChat account: zouchengfabu]