NANCHANG, April 16 -- Every Saturday, a quiet porcelain factory in Jingdezhen, China's ceramic capital, bustles with young artists selling their products.
The Letian Pottery Creative Market is held every weekend in Jingdezhen Sculpture and Ceramic Factory in central China's Jiangxi Province, one of several state-owned ceramic factories that sank in the tide of the country's shift to a market economy at the end of last century.
But in recent years, the abandoned factory has been revived in a different form, with young students, artists and porcelain lovers gathering there to create and sell their original ceramic works.
Whale-shaped vases, panda-motif chopsticks holders, and delicate porcelain jewelry provoked wows from visitors.
"Unlike tourist souvenirs in other scenic spots, things here are very original and creative, as well as practical," said Feng Jiange, a tourist from Beijing, with his hands full of bags. Hardly anyone left the market empty-handed.
Chinese souvenirs have long been notorious for their shabby quality and lack of originality or regional features. Previous news reports have said that many Chinese souvenirs are produced in small factories in Yiwu, known as the small-goods distribution center of China, and then sent to different scenic spots, resulting in similar-looking goods with few local qualities.
However, things are changing, and the creative market in Jingdezhen is one example. Original souvenirs designed by young people and displaying local characteristics are emerging in other famed scenic spots.
In the northwest tourist city of Dunhuang in Gansu Province, famous for ancient Buddhist grottoes, a 23-year-old woman named Yang Yang opened a small souvenir stall last year selling her original hand-sketched Dunhuang maps, postcards, and scarves.
In the northwest city of Xi'an, one of China's ancient capitals, young designers decorate pins, magnets, cups and bags with icons from local cuisine, scenic spots, and poetry.
At the Panda House souvenir shop in the southwest city of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province and home to the giant panda, panda dolls wearing unusual outfits such as tunics and Superman costumes are sold.
These shops stand out from other souvenir shops with their interesting and culturally rich designs.
"I was very excited when I saw this little shop and all these original postcards and scarves. After looking around for a long time, I finally found something worth buying," said Zhang Qin, a Beijing tourist who visited Yang Yang's souvenir stall.
But these young designers and entrepreneurs also have problems. Unlike Letian creative market, which is organized by the Pottery Workshop, a ceramic art education and communication center, young souvenir designers in other cities are fighting alone.
Although Yang Yang now heads a team that includes three sales staff and four designers, there are few others with similar support in Dunhuang. She envies the creative and lively atmosphere in Jingdezhen.
"I am not afraid of competition. I hope that more people can join us so that we can learn from each other and come up with better creative ideas and designs," Yang said.
They are also bothered by a serious piracy situation.
"Sometimes I make something new and sell them on the market. A week later, the same design is everywhere," said Xiaoshao, who sells his self-designed ceramic cups at Letian market.
Yang Yang has faced the same problem.
"We have to speed up the process of creating and designing to make sure that the copycats can never catch up with us," she says.
She said she expects more government support to protect intellectual property rights.