“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.
Historically, in Chinese Art, including Yixing teapot, producing a replica or copying is a part of the learning process. The Yixing teapot culture has a few hundred years history. The height of the Yixing teapot culture was during Qianlong period in Qing dynasty. From that era until the 20th century, many teapot artists learn by replicating teapot from the past or same era. Antique and grandmasters teapots are often used as a model for the apprentice to learn and copy. Even grandmasters copy each others’ teapot to capture the details and increase their understanding. Most of the replica teapots in those eras were still handmade, using real Yixing clay and fired in dragon kiln.
From the 1960s, mould and modern oven or kiln are used to intensify the production of Yixing teapots, especially during the Cultural Revolution period from 1966 to 1976. With the new technical knowhow, replica teapots productions were also intensified. One of the most rampant eras in producing replica teapots was in the 1990s where many Cultural Revolution, older and grandmaster replica teapots were produced to meet the huge demand by the Taiwan market. The clays of these batches are manipulated, but generally still made of real Yixing clay. Many of them have additives to enhance the color and appearance of the pot and also to alter the physical character of the pot for successful firing in the modern oven.
With the recent vast and wide availability of information and technologies applied on the productions, the recent replica teapots can be as close as 99% lookalike of the real thing. Many seasoned collectors struggled to authenticate the recent replica teapots. Unless one has seen and has the experience and guidance to physically examine a real piece, it is very difficult to authenticate a Yixing teapot.
Generally, there are many different levels in replicating Yixing teapots. Many collectors can still accept a replica teapot, if it was made known, priced accordingly and done in real Yixing clay. This type of replica teapots can still be collectable and used for appreciation purpose and sought after by many collectors. The main criteria for considering a replica teapot is the clay and the price; and of course, the fact that it is identified as a replica teapot. Buying a replica as a genuine Yixing teapot is definitely what most collectors try to avoid but inevitably, that happened very often.
The real Yixing clay supply was exhausted since 1990s and the older authentic Yixing teapot are hardly available. With the great demand from modern China and broadening of the Chinese tea culture worldwide, replica teapots conveniently fill in the gap to satisfy the huge market demand. New collectors are lured into collection with replica tea pots from different eras, masters and styles. The stories to support these replica teapots are also incredible. A real pot can be bought and cloned into thousands with uncanny level of similarities and details that even the expert takes a lot of effort and experience to authenticate any teapot.
To consider purchasing a teapot for decoration purpose, the criterion lies with each collector. Any form, style and design and stories that fit in the collectors’ ears and pocket can be considered. But, to consider purchasing a replica teapot for brewing tea, it is a totally different matter. The main criteria should be the authenticity of the clay. Many modern replica teapot use modern unknown clay with additives and they may be harmful when used to brew tea for consumption. They are always attractive and furthermore, the stories and price always fit. It may be prudent to use a porcelain or glass tea brewing vessel e.g. gaiwan etc. to brew tea for drinking instead.
The two teapots above is a replica of each other. They are made at least 50 years apart. Not many collectors can tell the difference, even when they have the chance to physically examine both teapots. It is even more difficult to authenticate a teapot if the person has not physically view an authentic piece before. There are way too many replica teapots online and some even in books, so it is really a tough journey to take.
Replica Yixing teapots, although was a learning tool of the past, has gone beyond its real meaning. With the new technology and technical knowhow , teapots can be replicated in large scale for commercial gain to meet the huge market demand. Maybe in near future, we can order a Yixing teapot online and 3D-print it with clay ink….!!
This century could potentially be remembered as the Renaissance of Replica of Yixing teapots.