Foshan China is one of the most fascinating cities in Asia for fine arts and crafts. I enjoyed touring the ceramics district and especially the ancient ceramics factory, or kiln.
Foshan sits just north of Hong Kong, just a few miles from Guangzhou, which is the easiest Mainland Chinese city to access from Hong Kong. Foshan is arguably the world’s top spot for pottery and ceramics. Choose from enormous ceramic vases, statues, large and small figures, and get some of the best quality at the lowest prices. Many of these shops have been owned by the same families for multiple generations over hundreds of years.
Right in the heart of Guangzhou, take a taxi or bus to Foshan Avenue in Foshan City, which is loaded with artists from all walks of life. On Foshan you will find what they call Ceramic City. This unique area has rows and rows of ceramics and pottery for sale. The amazing detail and colors are even more stunning now that I know these are all hand made. Students come here and study the art to perfection.
The Ancient Nan Feng Kiln
This brings us to our destination: the Nan Feng Kiln, which is the oldest ceramics factory in China. It dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368) and some say even further to the Song Dynasty (960). It is also home to a school that teaches the art and craft of ceramics to students from around the world. You can tour the school and factory for a small fee. Aside from the tour fee, there is nothing touristic about Nan Feng. Most of the other tour members were Chinese; I was the only Westerner. It seems to be a place to teach other Chinese about the ancient art of pottery making. Stepping into the factory is like stepping a hundred years back in time. Wood is still used to fire the kiln. Everything is done as it was done thousands of years ago, and even the addition of electricity is minimal.
I watched the students craft very small details into giant sculptures. I also saw a man spin a vase from a ball of clay, and cut it into shape for the next stage. Everything is done the same way it’s always been done, except for a single electric bulb overhead. The space was dusty and old, and smelled of unfinished pottery materials, but the premises were amazingly well preserved. Even though the kiln has never stopped production in over 700 years, the kiln still operates perfectly. The antique process fascinates me. Near the end of the tour, the gates are guarded by a giant ceramic dragon more than 15 feet tall. The tours are offered daily from 8am til 5pm, and the fee is 15 Yuan (about $2.50).
After the tour, it’s back out to the streets for more ceramic shopping. Bone china, or bone ceramics, are also available here. Bone china can be lit up, and looks beautiful in the evening. Some of the statues and vases stood more than 10 feet high. Most are about 24 inches, and some small statuettes are a mere 3 inches and still have remarkable detail. You can spend $3 or $300, depending on the quality and size of the piece. Shop owners from across the globe come here and buy thousand of dollars worth of ceramics, then ship them back home to their stores. The 12 zodiac animals are featured in many of the statues, as well as goldfish, delicate Geisha dolls, tall lamps, and fountains.
It’s worth a trip to Foshan Avenue and Nan Feng, if you are traveling in Guangzhou or its vicinity. It will take a full day, and I recommend it.