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Everlasting beauty of the peony: peony porcelain master breathes new life in traditional culture

By Kou Jie, Liu Ning (People's Daily Online)    17:02, January 08, 2021

Glittering in a delicate jewelry box, a pair of peony porcelain rings have caught people’s attention. For the wives of foreign leaders who attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit held in Qingdao in 2018, the beautiful artwork is a national gift for them from the Chinese government. It is the highlight of Li Xuewu’s peony porcelain artwork, which later became stunningly popular both in China and abroad.

Being the inventor of peony porcelain, 49-year-old Li Xuewu has combined the white porcelain-making techniques of the Tang dynasty (618-907) with innovative modern art design. The major theme of his artwork is peony flowers, which is highly praised in Chinese culture as a symbol of prosperity and honor.

Each year, over 50,000 peony-themed porcelain are sold both in China and abroad, creating an annual income of over 60 million yuan. Li’s artwork is selected by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as national gifts to foreign leaders, while his peony-porcelain jewelry have received a warm welcome from Belt and Road countries such as Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

Luoyang has also breathed new life into ancient history through its themed cultural festival and tourism activities. Known for its 1,500-year history of peony cultivation, Luoyang established the Peony Cultural Festival, an annual festival to celebrate the blossom of the beautiful flowers. In 2020, despite the negative influence of COVID-19, the festival attracted over 29 million visitors, creating an income of more than 27.8 billion yuan.

“Breathing new life into ancient Chinese culture is what I have been doing. Peony culture is an inseparable part of ancient Chinese culture, while adding modern elements in its ancient glories can not only revive the tradition, but can also bring new opportunities,” said Li.

Everlasting beauty of the peony

For thousands of years, the peony has been the inspiration for the work of Chinese poets and artists. In his famous poem “Admire the Peony Flowers,” Liu Yuxi, a famous poet of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) praised the flowers, noting that “the peony is the most beautiful flower in the land, and the whole capital stirs into motion when it opens its blossom.”

Little has changed over the 12 centuries that have passed since Liu wrote this poem. Luoyang, the former capital of China during the Tang Dynasty, has been discovering new opportunities from its peony heritage. For instance, the city established the Peony Cultural Festival, an annual festival to celebrate the blossom of the beautiful flowers in 1983.

Talented individuals have also seized opportunities to dig nuggets of gold from the city’s rich peony culture. Li Xuewu, who started his peony porcelain business in 2009, is one of them.

“The peony blossom season only lasts for about three months, making it hard for people to enjoy its beauty. One of my best friends came to Luoyang in 2007 in the hope of seeing the famous peony, but the flowers had withered away. At that time, I began thinking how could I keep the beauty of peonies for a longer time,” said Li.

Peony Porcelain. (People’s Daily Online/Du Mingming)

Bearing the wish to preserve the everlasting beauty of peonies, Li spent three years on investigations and research, reading countless ancient records, while making different experiments. In 2009, he successfully mastered the Tang white porcelain-making techniques, and used it on peony porcelain design.

According to Li, the ideas of his artwork originated from cultural relics in different Chinese museums. By using porcelain techniques, he can now revive the ancient culture, preserving traditional cultural elements in his artwork.

In addition to ancient-culture themed artwork, Li has also developed modern decorations that caters for people’s daily need. For instance, his peony porcelain can be made into jewelry and indoor decoration, creating lucrative income.

“Ancient culture and modern design can coexist harmoniously. The old has never faded away but has nourished new opportunities, while the new has revived the long-gone history,” said Li.

Peonies along the Belt and Road

In 2013, Li’s peony artwork was selected by the Chinese government as a national gift to foreign leaders. In the later years, the peony porcelain has become a best-selling product in many Belt and Road nations, while foreign leaders, such as the Pakistani ambassador, visited Li’s studio to explore the secrets of the beautiful art.

“To cater for our foreign customers’ need, I have been studying their culture and tradition, extracting cultural elements from their historical records. For instance, blue and green colors are the favorite of Islamic nations, by mixing their totems and traditional patterns with peony porcelain, we’ve created artwork specially for them, which are welcomed by the locals,” said Li.

According to Li, in recent years, his artwork has become a new favorite of art collectors abroad, while designs that mix traditional Chinese cultural and local elements have received welcome from foreign markets, making the peony porcelain a new name card of Chinese culture.

“Our ancestors brought our culture to the world through the ancient Silk Road, we are now doing the same – spreading our modern culture along the Belt and Road,” added Li. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Kou Jie, Bianji)

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