Artists, Craftsmen in YiXing, we in the know, we all know these facts. We piece up in as brief as possible, but also comprehensively explain the TRUE landscape in the ZiSha world.
Today, together we will get to understand and learn of the actual, full landscape of the ZiSha industry, explaining why 99.999% of people outside of China, who buy from any online portal/website/selling platforms, have NOT been acquiring the authentic Fully-Handmade ZiSha pots. Well, EVEN 99.99% of local Chinese are being hoaxed into buying fake "Fully-Handmade ZiSha" pots from even reputable retailers, whether brick-and-mortar, or online.
NO JIGGER-MACHINED NON-ZISHA POT is ever sold by such retailers as "JIGGER-MACHINED NON-ZISHA POT"
ALL JIGGER-MACHINED NON-ZISHA POTS are SOLD, MASQUERADED and LISTED as "FULLY-HANDMADE ZISHA POTS"
Facts, situations and reasons will all be intertwined, but will be from point to point. There are 7 major points.
1…. POINT ONE:
COSTING, AND COMPETITION FROM FAKES.
First, the most commonly asked question:
What is the cost of a Fully-Handmade ZiSha pot of good standard quality workmanship and Zi Ni material?
Yes, the costings first.
Friends, follow me closely take a pen and paper if you need to. I will break them all down for you.
A Fully-Handmade (FHM) ZiSha pot takes 2-3 days for a craftsman to make.
Four costs a Craftsman will incur right upfront:
1…..Cost of Clay 泥料成本 : the craftsman needs to buy clay from their YiXing ZiSha clay stockists:
2…..Cost of Firing the Pot 烧窑费, the craftsman needs to cough out money to pay the kiln operator to fire the pot.
3……Cost of Refining The Lid Interface 整口费: the craftsman have to pay for the onsite crafter to refine the edges of the lid so that the lid fits in to the pot opening and is smooth upon twirling and usage.
4…..Cost of packaging 包装盒子费用, the boxes to pack the finished pots in.
(~ Photo of our collaborative friendly Artist Tu Xia Ying 屠暇英 working on a Fang Gu:
First, the clay material cost:
......One brick of GOOD STANDARD Zi Ni clay (一捆标准好泥料) of 15kg costs between 2500-3000rmb ($360-$400). There are cheaper inferior ZiSha clay mined outside of YiXing from other provinces and they cost only $30 per brick, these are used in half-handmade pots made-to-cost in factories/workshops by workers, or mixed in with other cheap common ceramic materials in the manufacture of Jigger-machined pots.
If you are a self-respecting Artisan who wants to make a GOOD standard pot which is to be respected, recognised and serve tea for Grand Masters who come by and chat with you, you utilise those at the $360-$420 range. (Costs about 2500rmb~3000rmb).
One brick of clay of 15kg, can be made into 16 standard austere shape pots. There will be the initial "wastage" as the Artisan will cut out some pieces for the first few circular test pieces to be fired at different temperatures. Generally one can squeeze making 16 pots out of this one brick of clay.
Assuming that 12 out of these 16 pots make it out successfully from the kiln (we have seen whole batches coming out of the kiln deformed or cracked or with imperfections), each pot’s clay cost would be $380 ÷ 12 = $32.
To book and park one pot at the kiln for firing, the Artisan needs to pay the kiln operator $6 per "parking space". Each pot would need to be fired 3 times at least. The kiln operator needs to be paid. Depending on the types of clay, or the desired effect to be achieved, the Artisan may need command 4 times of firing.
There is an onsite specialised refining-crafter 整口老师 who would help you take out the pots after the first firing, and do 整口 "Zheng Kou": refining work of the lid interface versus the pot opening. To engage his service, you would remunerate his work at $4 per pot.
Add another $3 for the costs for the sturdy boxes to house and pack the finished pots.
Yes, the cost per pot to each craftsman is already, $32 + $6 + $4 + $3
Now, let us look at THE TIME FACTOR:
It takes a craftsman 3 days to make 1 FHMZS pot.
A craftsman takes ONE day to form up the body-base, the lid, the spout, the handle and join them up. He SUBSEQUENTLY takes TWO days to do surface-refining work 明针 "Ming Zhen". Yes you've got it: he actually spends more time to do the surface refining work, than to form up the pot. Good "Ming Zhen" work is time-consuming. So, 1 + 2 = total of 3 days to finish up a pot ready for firing.
Assuming he works very fast, he may at best craft and finish 1 pot in 2.5 days. And assuming he works every day, non-stop, he works fast and still being careful with MingZhen 明针 refining work, he would be able to come up with 30÷2.5= 12 standard classic austere pots per month.
This is our collaborative Craftslady carefully performing Ming Zhen:
Very optimistically and on average, out of these 12 pots he makes, 3 pots will fail, and 9 pots would come out of the kiln successfully without deformation nor cracks, nor any excessive Bao Zi 爆子 nor Tiao Sha 跳砂 nor Hua Ni 花泥 etc other imperfections.
(~Photos of pots being inspected after firing, some showing cracks. Artisans take it on their chin: it is inevitable and normal. For us consumers, next time we hold a Fully-Handmade ZiSha pot, cherish it: it didn't come easy. A lot of efforts went on behind each successful Fully-Handmade ZiSha pot. Do not take it for granted:
However NOT ALL 9 pots will be successfully picked up and bought by the retailers who purview and scrutinise their works. Optimistically and on average, 7 out of these 9 pots made successfully, will be sold.
Assuming he wants to earn $130 per pot for his skill, time and labour, the selling price to the retailer would be $45+130=$175 per pot.
7 sold pots, multiplied by $130, is $910.
You have arrived at his income per month: $900 is the income of an honest, skilled, hardworking craftsman.
YES FRIENDS: A GOOD STANDARD, FULLY-HANDMADE ZISHA POT, IS SOLD TO RETAILERS (not the end user yet) AT 1200RMB (USD175).
This price of $175 is NOT to the customers, it is to the retailers.
FYI the craftsmen do not, and they never sell direct to customers. Even if you DO manage to barge into a craftsman's work studio, he will sell you one basic Zi Ni Fully-Handmade Fang Gu 仿古, 紫泥 at 1200rmb with receipt. (And yes, the best ones have already been chosen by their regular retailers. You pick the leftovers. As they always say: " Do not think that by going to YiXing, you would get to pick the best/authentic ones/at lower prices. You don't. ")
Explaining ZiSha to customers, helping customers choose, giving customer service, are extremely time-consuming, and no craftsman sell direct to customers. Craftsmen NEED to concentrate on making the pots. The job of marketing and explaining to customers, are both the responsibilities and duties, of the retailer. It is a collaboration and a necessary eco-system.
To drive home the point, the craftsman cannot possibly spend 3 to 4 hours a day talking and explaining to prospects and customers, otherwise THEY CANNOT GET TO MAKING POTS! Anyway, 3 to 4 hours is not enough to teach a customer, you need a series of dedicated ZiSha classes to fully educate a person about Fully-Handmade ZiSha pots.
Another Fact if you still do head down to YiXing:
ALMOST ALL, 9 out of 10 shops in YiXing are NOT selling FHM ZiSha pots. 9 out of 10 shops at YiXing are selling fakes, selling commercialised, production-line-made Jigger-Machined pots. And, these machined pots are in fact, made mostly OUTSIDE of YiXing where cheap ceramic materials and even cheaper labour are abundant. They are not even made in the Jiang Su province: These machined pots are made elsewhere, and THEN brought into YiXing to be sold. Amazing? Sad, but TRUE.
Thereby the notion to go to YiXing one hoping to get the best prices/authenticity, is not true. The best ones have been offered to the craftsmen's regular retailers/RESERVED and picked by the regular retailers. Going to YiXing does not mean one 1)gets the authentic ones, 2)and even if you pay top dollar, it does not mean you even get the best pots.
So, the craftsmen do NOT do the marketing, they do not do the B-to-C sales. They do not do the marketing, they do not sell direct to customers, and they can’t speak English too.
It is the retailers who would purview, scrutinise, choose and procure the pots from the craftsmen. It is the job of the retailer to educate, share, explain, serve the customers.
The retailer would buy these pots from the craftsmen at 1200rmb ($175) each. The craftsmen issue receipts of 1,200rmb per pot to the retailers.
And subsequently for the retailer: after bearing in mind stocking costs, inventory costs, storage costs, delivery costs(this sometimes shared between craffsman~and~retailer) overheads, marketing efforts and time, time and time, the retailer would need to sell a Fully-Handmade ZiSha pot made of basic yet standard good quality Zi Ni, to a consumer at $250. For a retailer to sell one authentic FHM ZiSha pot for less than $170 is impossible. The cost to the retailer is already $175 for a Fully-Handmade ZiSha pot made of good standard Zi Ni.
And if you spot a "Fully-Handmade ZHU NI" pot on the market/any online portal selling "below $200", try asking proper YiXing ZhuNi artisans what is the possibility of what you spotted above : being made of authentic ZHUNI ZiSha (and not cheap ceramics with red dyes mixed in)? or it being Fully-Handmade? Their eyes will roll.
Hence, if we spot any pots selling below $170 in the market: antennae up, for they cannot be FHM ZiSha pots. These pots selling below $170, are half-handmade, slip-casted or machined pots (all of them not ZiSha).
A basic FHM ZiNi ZiSha pot (e.g. a FHM basic Fang Gu made of Zi Ni) would thus retail, AT THE VERY LEAST: US$215 (if the retailer only marks up by $40). Local Chinese usually buy >=$250. (ZhuNi pots will be at least 30% more expensive because of the really high failure rates of ZhuNi pots out of the kiln).
2…. POINT TWO:
HIGH LOCAL CHINA CHINESE CONSUMPTION
The consumption of ZiSha teapots from China’s own local customers, is enough to wipe off all the FHMZS pots from the shelves every day. There is therefore absolutely NO NEED for them to sell to overseas customers. Demand for FHMZS pots in China far, far, outstrips supply (and because it is so lucrative, many businessmen jump onto the bandwagon, and are so doing now as we speak, to make Jigger-machined pots masquerading as FHMZS pots to sell everywhere).
It is also, a million times easier (1)language wise, and 2)distance wise, to teach, and educate their own locals about FHMZSpots and the virtues of supporting the FHM Art Form. It is tedious to attend to and to educate the prospects and customers outside of China about the real authentic Fully-Handmade ZiSha pots. So they say "Save the trouble, sell the machined fakes: overseas customers can't tell (well even our experienced local Chinese can't tell authentic from fakes.)"
3…. POINT THREE:
IMMATURE OVERSEAS TEA CULTURE
The tea culture is not widely established in overseas countries, ZiSha Art appreciation is likewise not at a mature stage at all. And because of this, consumers are generally not in-tune with/not prepared/not used to, paying $250 and upwards for a teapot. The local Chinese are totally different, they are absolutely in tune with the pricing of FHMZS pots (adding to the fact now is that local Chinese are affluent). Paying $250 for a Fully-Handmade Basic ZiNi + Austere + 200ml shape ZiSha pot to them is easily acceptable and common, "$250 for this Fully-Handmade ZiSha pot? Well, of course!" It is a case of "Elementary, Mr Watson" to them.
Thus, if one is amongst the craftsman~retailer FHMZS network in China, it makes business sense, to just simply concentrate on selling your FHMZS teapots to your local Chinese tea lovers. Anyway, demand outstrips supply, and there are NOT ENOUGH Fully-Handmade ZiSha teapots being made. ONE, you earn more per transaction (local Chinese easily pay more), TWO, transactions go easy, fast and convenient. Monetary-wise, you easily make much more selling so fast and easily to the local Chinese, than try marketing overseas when you will be easily beaten by countless other retailers of machined pots. These retailers of machined pots earn hundreds and thousands of dollars (they have shown their accounts), and because they earn so much more flipping machined pots 4-6× they can run superb advertising campaigns for their "Fully-Handmade ZiSha pots" at $70-$130, and you know you are dead: because you simply can't fight them by you being honest and selling your authentic and painstakingly made FHMZS pots at even $230. You must only continue doing your honest work by sheer passion and razor thin profit margins.
4…. POINT FOUR:
It is so easy to cheat and hoax an overseas customer. Thousands of retailers on various sites, platforms know that, overseas customers, having not handled an authentic FHMZS pot, will NOT, and will NEVER know, how an authentic FHMZS pot looks like and feels like, inside-out. They thus continue to, unabashedly, unashamedly and confidently sell machined pots made of non-Zisha ceramic material, to overseas customers. Overseas customers, are just there, for the taking. These unscrupulous retailers find many ways to hoax. They don't find it unscrupulous because "everybody is doing it, this is a BU$INE$$!!!! come on! This is normal, and, the overseas customers are happy! Look at their responses! It is okay, everybody is doing it!"
Friends and us often encounter this situation again and again, overseas:
Even if a group of "ZiSha teapot" collectors gather up now, gather their teapots and admire their “ZiSha” teapots together, well, sadly, all of these pots are actually not ZiSha teapots at all. These overseas friends continue their conversations and discussions, exchanging wrong information amongst themselves, because, their pots are wrong in the first place.
The question is, should you tell them the truth? Or let them continue? They may be too distraught after knowing the truth about their entire collection. Some of them spent not just hundreds or thousands of dollars. Many of them spent 5 figure sums. Lately we even came across two acquaintances who bought $2 and $3 million dollars worth of pots ranging from $350 each to $60,000 each, all either machined/halfhandmade/high forgeries or Dai Gong pots 代工壶 made for "renowned" Artists.
It is thus very sad, for this Zen-like tea culture, to involve the huge thriving industry of hoaxes. 99.999% of all "ZiSha teapots" sold, are not ZiSha teapots. We have seen countless REPUTABLE tea shops, retailers, selling hoaxes. It is scary, rampant, and ubiquitous.
Educating customers on how to recognise FHMZS pots, the identifiers, explaining all the insights of the industry, entail and require many classes and hours, and such classes need to have on hand many, many examples of pots real and fakes, to successfully enlighten newcomers, to enable them to identify the real ones from the fake ones.
5…. POINT FIVE:
We all heard this before: of Half-Handmade pots being touted by sellers as "Fully-Handmade" pots. This commercial practice has been blatant and common for many years...until recently:
The current and latest situation, ever since a few years ago, is that Jigger-machined pots now rule the roost, and they are rampantly and ubiquitously sold on online channels as so-called “Fully-Handmade ZiSha" pots.
The machining technology and "workmanship", had “advanced” so much since 2010 that, now, machined pots look so close to HHM ones, creating a very awkward situation for the HHM workshops now. Such HHM workshops pretty much have been squeezed out of the landscape, and if you go to YiXing now:
You will find it tough to find any workshops making HHM pots anymore.
A workshop or factory can churn out hundreds and thousands of Jigger-machined pots a day, compared to 3 HHM pots per worker per day. And, it is not that expensive to start a Jigger-machining “ZiSha” teapot factory. $40,000 will start you up. Many, many, many businessmen are rushing to make fake ZiSha teapots nowadays. There is too much money to be made.
THE MAJORITY of pots in the market now, are thus Jigger-machined pots, utilising non-ZiSha ceramics. Half-Handmade and Slip-Casted pots have lost their position, they are not "viable" anymore and given way to Jigger-machining. It makes no business sense to make Half-Handmade and Slip-Casted pots for they are too slow and too inefficient. Workshops and factories go Jigger-machining, then making some "handmade" touchups or touches to the pots. All too easy to cheat.
Machined pots utilise other common pasty ceramic cheap clay, or at best they mix in a small amount of non-YiXing and poor quality ZiSha to control cost yet bear some semblance in feel to ZiSha pots.
Whatever clay mixes used as above, the resultant fired pots all lack the double-sized pores inherent in 100% ZiSha pots, and thus defeat the purpose of buying a ZiSha pot for steeping tea.
100% authentic ZiSha clay, cannot be:
- subjected to machining nor,
- slipcasted nor,
- wheel thrown.
ZiSha clay can only be slab-built.
ZiSha clay possesses its inimitable, exquisite double-sized pores nature.
(~Electron Microscopy snap of the unique double-sized pores of a pure ZiSha pot, post-firing:
6…. POINT SIX:
THE GRAVE VICIOUS CYCLE.
If nobody cares about this industry, more and more people stop recognising Fully-Handmade authentic ZiSha works. The concerned honest artists and craftsmen are RIGHTFULLY concerned, saying: "When everybody is buying and owning fakes, fakes become the real thing".
The temptation for businessmen is to make a lot of money due to the extremely low cost of JMpots and the ease of swindling customers, so much so that the true Fully-Handmaking ZiSha Art Form is at risk of vanishing. Many young artists are giving up this profession because it is almost, a losing battle.
There is too much money to be made making Jigger-machined pots and selling as "Fully-Handmade pots": cost per JMpot is between $20-$40, selling price is $100 to $400. Too lucrative. And swarms of customers are buying them. This vicious cycle perpetuates and the sale of machined pots involving factory owners, associated retailers, online portals run unabated and are getting bigger and bigger. Very lucrative and very popular.
Again, NO retailer will ever sell their Jigger-machined pots as "Jigger-Machined Pots".
ALL Jigger-Machined Pots are sold as "Fully-Handmade ZiSha Pots".
Have you ever seen a retailer advertise their wares as "Jigger-machined pots" or "Jigger-machined pots with hand touch-ups"?
You get the point. Thank you.
The cost of an authentic, painstakingly Fully-Handmade ZiSha pot to a retailer is $175 as explained above, and if you just sell at $230 (barely surviving), you stand the risk of being disregarded by the browsing customers who are looking below the $150 zone for a "Fully-Handmade ZiSha" pot. You thus need to be very strong and extremely patient and committed to the cause of supporting FHMZS art, to stay alive and even to exist, to continue your service and business.
Why take the trouble to sell authentic FHMZS pots? The customers you wish to inform, apprise and teach to recognise a FHM pot, you may still be knocking your head against the wall, it is an uphill task. And even if they do buy in, your profits go far, far lower than your other retailers and factory owners who sell machined fake ones. Their profit margin is 4-6×. Yours is 20%. That is why we must start recognising the authentic Fully-Handmade ZiSha works.
7…. POINT SEVEN:
NOT ENOUGH POTS FOR THE OVERSEAS MARKET.
~ "When everybody is buying the fake products, nobody knows how the real thing looks anymore."
With not enough Fully-Handmade ZiSha pots for the overseas market, machined pots flood the market totally. Everybody get used to machined pots, retailers know they can flip them 4-6 times to the browsing public at $70-$150 prices (and this is being kind, for they often flip audaciously, and successfully even higher at $400-$1000!), and such non-ZiSha pots will hence continue to dominate and “demand” such prices.
This vicious cycle perpetuates and the sale of Jigger-machined pots involving factory owners, retailers and online portals run unabated. They continue, going from strength to strength, are getting bigger and bigger nowadays, they are widespread and rampant.
We consumers, not just need to take up the mantle to support Fully-Handmaking Authentic ZiSha Craftsladies and Craftsmen: for we the customers are the guardians of this industry and art.
If not, the young craftsmen and artists will cease to be supported, they look for other occupations, and worst they might as well work to get more money helping out in Jigger-machining factories and dolled up "studios" (taking photos to sell such wares). Many would-be young ZiSha artists often move on to other trades and occupations: teaching, banking, engineers.
Sorry to break the news here, as these youths have already been doing so, going to machining factories as employees for better upfront pays, they are doing "touch-up works" for these fake machined pots to make them "more authentic" commanded by these factory bosses; many youths are shunning the proper journey of a ZiSha Artist for it is a long journey of: being trapped on a workbench, having hands always covered in mud, working 10pm to 4am. Even if one has attained L2 Senior Master Artist rank at 46 years of age, he or she still MUST attend classes in the afternoons.
It is a chain reaction.
We have the MISSION to support true ZiSha Art.
We will march on with strength and resilience.
It will take a lot of effort over a prolonged period of time.
We hope all of us will win.
We declare the launch of the realzisha.com to you, to avail authentic Fully-Handmade ZiSha Art to you. We will not sit and watch this industry go from bad to worse.
We commit to upholding this Art and its fraternity, righting this industry, to be of service to all of you.
It is also for you real tea-drinking friends all over the world, to complete the whole tea experience, with a Fully-Handmade ZiSha pot in its rightful place, on your tea table, just like the ancient poets poor and rich, would engage in.
We believe with persistence, like a steady, firm stream, we all will win. 细水长流，我们会赢的。
For we must carry on the good work and will of the dignitaries.
Let us believe.