China’s living relic where fire meets art: Explore Qianshu Ancient Dragon Kiln

By Théophile Niyitegeka
On 3 April 2024 at 08:26

Nestled in the serene landscape of Sandongqiao Village, Dingshu Town, Yixing City, Jiangsu Province, the Qianshu Ancient Dragon Kiln stands as a testament to China’s rich cultural heritage and unparalleled craftsmanship in ceramics. This remarkable kiln at Longyao Cultural Center, a nationally protected cultural heritage site, invites travelers and art aficionados alike to explore its historic confines and witness the timeless tradition of pottery-making that has thrived since the Ming Dynasty.

The allure of the Qianshu Ancient Dragon Kiln is not merely in its longevity but in the living legacy it upholds as the sole practitioner of traditional firing methods in the country, earning it the affectionate moniker, “the living dragon kiln.”

Constructed in the architectural likeness of a majestic Chinese dragon, the kiln’s design is both functional and symbolic, embodying the strength and resilience of a tradition that has withstood the test of time.

Spanning 43.4 meters in length and adorned with 42 pairs of wood-feeding "scale eye holes," this ancient kiln mimics the intricate scales of a dragon’s body. Its unique trunk-arched tunnel, which elegantly slopes at approximately 30 degrees, facilitates a natural heating process from the bottom up, showcasing an ingenious energy-efficient method perfected over centuries.

The Qianshu Dragon Kiln is divided into three parts: the head, the main body, and the tail, each serving a distinct purpose in the pottery-firing process. With five strategically placed loading openings (kiln doors) on its west side, artisans skillfully arrange ceramics for firing, utilizing coal, pine, and bamboo branches as fuel.

This traditional approach to pottery-making not only preserves ancient techniques but also imparts a distinct character and quality to the ceramics produced, distinguishing them from their contemporarily fired counterparts.

Today, the Qianshu Ancient Dragon Kiln continues to breathe life into daily-use coarse ceramics, including basins, jars, pots, and kettles, as well as a select assortment of purple clay teapots.

These creations are not mere objects but stories molded from the earth, each piece a bearer of the kiln’s rich history and the artisan’s skill. Particularly notable are the Yixing sand-fired teapots, revered for their unique clay texture, modeling, and the timeless beauty they encapsulate.

These teapots, synonymous with the Qianshu Kiln, have garnered acclaim both domestically and internationally, underscoring the kiln’s prestigious status in the realm of ceramic artistry.

The Qianshu Ancient Dragon Kiln’s location in an ordinary village in Yixing adds to its charm, standing in stark contrast to the bustling urban landscapes that characterize much of modern China.

This juxtaposition serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring nature of tradition amidst the relentless march of progress. The kiln, seen from afar, resembles a colossal dragon coiled upon a slope, a silent guardian of history and culture in the midst of everyday village life.

Embarking on a visit to the Qianshu Ancient Dragon Kiln is not just a journey through a physical space but a passage through time. It offers an intimate glimpse into the heart of Chinese ceramic tradition, where every fire-fueled breath of the kiln whispers tales of generations of artisans who have passed through its fiery maw.

This living relic is a place where the past and present converge, making it a must-visit destination for anyone yearning to connect with the essence of traditional Chinese culture and inviting us to ponder the enduring value of tradition in a rapidly changing world.

The kiln is located in Yixing, Jiangsu Province.
Constructed in the architectural likeness of a majestic Chinese dragon, the kiln's design is both functional and symbolic.
Statues have been erected at Longyao Cultural Center to showcase the rich ceramic legacy of Yixing.
Every fire-fueled breath of the kiln whispers tales of generations of artisans who have passed through its fiery maw.
One of Yixing sand-fired teapots exhibited at the Longyao Cultural Center.
Raw materials used to make ceramic pots are also exhibited at the center.

Théophile Niyitegeka/ Yixing , China