Those who have visited my place have probably been served food and drink with these old cups and bowls.
At times, I am concerned that people might make a confused face at these tattered pieces that I collect and use. Their shabby exteriors, cracked edges, and noticeable repairs might come off as a sign of adversity and ill luck to some.
It’s not like everyone is a stranger to this type of crockery. I remember some elderly friends, who came over for a visit, were particularly delighted to see these old ceramic pieces on my dining table. I was told that they are the same as the cups and bowls they used back in their hometown in the old days. The deeper bowls are used to serve porridge while the shallower ones are for meat and veggies, I was told. As the conversation went on, I came to understand that a bowl full of rice was a luxury to these old people in the past. Besides food, these utensils are filled with memories. The memories of the good old days when they caught frogs in the fields, fishing in the water, and hunting birds in the wild.
I found my ceramic pieces in different places. The sellers told me that they were likely to be from the Early Republic of China era, i.e. the time between 1910s and 50s. But I believe some of them might well be from the late Qing Dynasty. The reason why it is so difficult to trace their origin is because they were everyday objects used by ordinary people rather than the valuable masterpieces fired in the imperial kilns and were recorded in the annals of history. These ordinary pieces would have been buried in the dirt and never seen by the modern world if there were not some sweet soul who treasured their ordinariness and decided to pass them onto future generations.
These ordinary utensils share a similar look. They usually have blue and white patterns and are glazed with one color. One can tell from the foot ring that these pieces are made with poor quality clay with sizable sand particles. Yet, they are solid, heavy, and durable. Considering their exteriors, they are far from elegant; but refined details, such as the unglazed ring at the inner bottom of the bowl could be observed. It is not too difficult to tell that these ceramic pieces are meant for daily use with their low-cost production, time- and labor-saving techniques, and the random patterns and rural scenery painted on their surface.
Undoubtedly, these pieces are created by crafters who had just mastered their basic ceramic-making techniques. They are created, either intentionally or unintentionally, before ideas were transformed into rigorous aesthetic considerations and easily became part of nature. In “What is Design”, the first chapter of his book, Essays , Sori Yanagi praises these ordinary objects created by unknown craftsmen. “Because they are faithfully and naturally created for local living, there is a profound beauty in them. In fact, such works are filled with the warmth of human nature that is extremely charming.”
Leaving aside the goal of achieving exquisite craftsmanship, the ordinary craftsmen create daily objects with unique distinctions and defects that I deeply cherish. As I spend more time using these objects, I discover that beauty usually comes inadvertently. Perhaps what matters the most is the food, people, or the unreplicable feelings. But what I should cherish the most might well be the perfect encounters with these ordinary objects.