The Ninth China (Zibo) International Ceramics Exposition opens for business on September 6. The event is once again taking place in Zibo, a city in the eastern Shandong province long renowned as the "capital of ceramics" for its associations with the porcelain and ceramics industry. This year the four-day event is expected to attract delegates from across the world.
Liu Huiyan, Party secretary of the Zibo municipal committee, said: "The ceramics industry does not only embody traditional Chinese civilization, but also now embraces new materials and techniques. Porcelain has made Zibo famous at home and abroad."
In the 1970s, Zibo ceramics were frequently chosen as gifts to foreign governmental dignitaries and were frequently used at high profile central government functions.
Most memorably, the "Chinese Dragon", a dragon-motifed ceramic teaset, specially designed by craftsmen in the city to mark the 50th national day back in 1999, was universally feted when it made its commemorative debut at a state banquet in the Great Hall. Since then, the teaset - along with many other exquisite items of porcelain tableware from the city - has frequently been the centerpiece at state banquets.
President Hu Jintao and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, both sent Zibo-made porcelain as gifts to their US counterparts. A number of other overseas leaders have also had their state visits commemorated with a gift of Zibo pottery. To date, more than 60 ceramic sets, totaling some 30 million individual Zibo-made porcelain items, have been selected as state gifts or for use in the central government. More than 600,000 Chinese Dragon cups alone have been ordered by government ministries.
With the looming 60th anniversary of the establishment of New China, Zibo-sourced ceramics have once again been officially designated by the State Council as approved gifts for the National Day festival celebrations.
Their high artistic value has seen a number of items of Zibo-made chinaware installed in the collections of several leading museums and galleries. These include the Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Canberra Museum and Gallery.
Zibo`s ceramic connections date back more than 10,000 years, according to discoveries made at an archeological dig in the Bianbian Cave in Yiyuan, one of the counties adjacent to the city. By the time of the Three Kingdoms (AD 220-280), Zibo had already become the most important ceramics center in northern China.
Its prestige continued to grow, with the Song Dynasty (960-1279) proving to be the heyday of the city`s ceramics business. Despite some decline in its fortunes, by the time of the mid-Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), thousands of people were still involved in porcelain production in the city. Today, visitors to the city may still view 10 well-preserved ancient kiln sites.
Despite its historical renown and its long tradition of handing down time-honored skills from generation to generation, the city`s craftsmen have no inclination to wallow in the past. Instead, they continuously experiment with the use of new materials and innovative technologies in order to improve the quality of Zibo`s porcelain production.
Commenting on this commitment to embrace change, Liu said: "Design and innovation are essential for the sustained growth of the ceramics industry. Over countless years of continuing effort, Zibo chinaware workers have developed various new materials, ranging from soapstone (steatite) to high-purity quartz and synthetic bone. Only through this process of continuous renewal has the city maintained its leading position in the porcelain industry."
In terms of recognition, the city`s soapstone and high-purity quartz china won third prize in the National Creation and Invention Awards, whilst its synthetic bone china secured the second prize in the National Technological Innovation awards, the highest accolade the Chinese ceramics industry has received since 1949.
The city`s innovative steatite products were awarded the gold medal at an international ceramics expo held in Munich in southern Germany, the first gold medal that Chinese ceramic art has won abroad since the founding of New China.
Recent years have seen hi-tech porcelain products introduced in a number of sectors, including the aerospace, defense and electronic information industries. This has opened up a whole new raft of opportunities for the ceramics business.
At present, the city is home to some 300 ceramic companies with more than 70,000 employees. With at least 10,000 different kinds of porcelain products being produced every year, the city generates an annual porcelain output of 858 million items, with a turnover of more than 8 billion yuan.
The city`s ceramics and construction materials market has annual sales of more than 20 billion yuan and is one of the nation`s most renowned center for ceramic transactions.
Internationally, the city`s ceramic output is now exported to more than 10 countries and regions, notably South Korea, Japan, Middle East and Africa, as well as Hong Kong and the Taiwan province. During 2008, the city`s ceramic export earnings were $200 million, a year-on-year increase of some 17.34 percent.