Chu Dau pottery – the continuance of Vietnamese cultural identities

Saturday, 2017-06-17 11:10:30
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Not only the quintessence of ceramic art, Chu Dau ceramics also demonstrate the purity of Vietnamese traditional culture. Therefore, the revival of ancient Chu Dau pottery is also considered the revival of a chapter in the history of national culture. (Credit: NDO/Trung Hung)
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NDO – Flourishing during the 13th-17th centuries, Chu Dau pottery later waned in popularity but thanks to the tireless efforts of scientists, related authorities and with support from the business community, the local pottery has been revitalised, with its unique characteristics from the past, as one of the nation’s most beautiful ceramic styles.

In the 1980’s, it seemed unlikely that Chu Dau, a peaceful rural village in Thai Tan commune, Nam Sach district of the Red River Delta province of Hai Duong, had a long history of ceramics. Almost all of the people in the northern delta, even descendants of the talented craftsmen of this land, cannot believe that their ancestors had created such a delicate and gorgeous style of pottery, with a technical and artistic talent that was unrivalled in the world at the time.

Relics found in Thang Long Imperial Citadel (present-day Hanoi), in the ancient trading port of Cu Lao Cham (central Quang Nam province) and remains kept in museums and private collections around the world, clearly demonstrate the prosperity of historical Chu Dau pottery . Chu Dau had been recognised as one of the world’s most beautiful pottery styles dating from the 14th to the 17th century.

In addition, since the 1980s, archaeological excavations in Chu Dau have unearthed a large number of ancient artifacts related to the pottery industry, once again confirming that Chu Dau was a specialised centre for high quality ceramics during that period.

Through historical ups and downs, Chu Dau ceramics had disappeared for hundreds of years. Since 2001, with the desire to restore a famous pottery, Hanoi Trade Corporation (Hapro) has invested in modern facilities and equipment, opened classes to train local workers and revived ancient glazes and manufacturing techniques, while inviting artisans to pass on the craft to local labourers.

Typical characteristics of the ancient pottery have risen from the past. From the look, enamels, motifs and decoration, all of them exude the identity and essence of Vietnamese culture, being very familiar but also full of traditional values, beliefs and showing the philosophy of the Vietnamese from ancient times.

Peaceful images associated with nature and the daily labour of the Red River Delta residents, such as buffaloes, girls driving boats, rural cottages, grasses, flowers, leaves and birds, are expressed by vivid and liberal drawing on the pottery.

The material used to make Chu Dau pottery is white clay, which is taken from Hai Duong’s mountainous Chi Linh area, the intersection of the six rivers of Luc Dang Giang, which has created valuable sediment, enriched over the course of hundreds of years.

After undergoing meticulous sedimentation, filtration and treatment in order to remove impurities and achieve the necessary smoothness, this ceramic material will be shaped on turntables to create a variety of pots and vases of all sizes.

It is easy to find giant ceramic molds to shape large ceramic products such as these in Chu Dau.

Experienced artisans with talented skills are continuing the revival of one of the oldest ceramics in Vietnam.

The method of creating patterns also makes a distinctive feature for Chu Dau pottery. The motifs of this famous pottery are made using the method of “painting under enamel,” ie the pattern is painted on the pottery first and then the product will be glazed and burnt afterward.

Modern gas furnace systems have been invested in to improve the quality of Chu Dau ceramic products.

As well as having sophisticated patterns and an elegant style, another feature also makes the reputation for Chu Dau pottery, that is a variety of glazes, such as white glaze, celadon, blue glaze, green enamel, “tam thai” enamel (painted in three colours of green, red and yellow glaze), and special “cracked” glaze.

Among them, cracked glaze is the most famous. The special feature of this enamel is that its yellow colour is made from natural materials available in the locale - paddy rice husk. During the process of firing at high temperatures, tiny threads like small cracks appear, running through the glaze creating a special feature for Chu Dau pottery.

Despite the old techniques and colours of ancient Chu Dau pottery, they are still being researched and restored, its diversified products of high quality and various designs have conquered customers both at home and abroad.

Chu Dau products vary with an ancient style, ceramics, pots, vases, gift items, dishes, fine art objects, spiritual pottery products and worshiping objects. All have been praised by domestic and foreign pottery lovers and experts.

Each product is carefully inspected in every detail before being sent to market.

The essence of ancient Chu Dau ceramics is reflected in modern local pottery.

After disappearing for nearly half a millennium, Chu Dau pottery has been revived, inherited and developed to become valuable export items. Chu Dau products have now been exported to more than 20 countries and territories, and are on display in 46 famous museums in 32 countries throughout the region and around the world.

Along with the restoration of the ancient pottery and creating stable jobs for hundreds of local labourers in recent years, Chu Dau is also focusing on developing community-based tourism with many connected tours, activities and services serving visitors to Chu Dau.

TRUNG HUNG