Taiwan's ceramics center

A ceramic work would not be able to shine or last long were it not for the glaze applied on it. Yingko, a small town at the southwest of Taipei County, would blur under the glare of Taipei were it not for its thriving and laudable pottery industry. The significance of the glaze and hand painting to a fine ceramic work is as valued as that of the pottery industry to Yingko.

Yingko used to be concentrated on making daily-use crude earthen-wares like tea pots, bowls, and cups. About 10 years ago, some ceramists with vision and taste started thinking about upgrading the level of their works, and the idea turned out to be a boon for the town, leading the pottery industry of Yingko to another stage of quality and international competitiveness.

So far, according to the estimates of Yingko Town Hall, over 70 percent of Yingko's economy is driven by the ceramic industry. That bout of small revolution of Yingko's ceramics ushered in the trend of replicating gracious Ming and Ching dynasty porcelain, which are still being dearly treasured by government dignitaries and art collectors worldwide.

At the climax of this wave of replication several years ago, when Taiwan's stock market spiralled to an incredible point and the world economy had not shown significant signs of recession, Yingko's ceramic manufacturers could receive piles of orders from abroad with all the expenses paid three months before the requested work was finished.

According to the China Art Ceramic Company, the spearhead of replicating ancient masterpieces, the keen competition from the pottery industries of Hong Kong and mainland China is cutting the profits of their export market, so most of Yingko's ceramists would rather focus on the domestic market. Exports take around 30 percent of the business pie of China Art Ceramics, while the local market accounts for around 60 percent.

Yingko, which used to possess some potter's clay of its own, does not count on its indigenous clay anymore, but rather imports potter's clay and even more porcelain clay from Japan or eastern Taiwan. Porcelain is overriding traditional crockery to be the major product line of Yingko's ceramics.

Porcelain works usually have to stay in kilns for more than two weeks, where the heat reaches 1,200 degrees Celsius, as opposed to 900 degrees Celsius for earthen-wares. So, porcelain can stay shiny and intact forever without any special care.

Although Yingko is famous for its ceramics, it was not named after any ceramic work, but instead after a folk tale in the 17th century that left a legendary rock for the people to commemorate.

It is said that in 1600 A.D., when Generalissimo Cheng Cheng-kung (Koxinga) led his army through a certain wild field in the north of Taiwan, he encountered a battle with a giant parrot, which was regarded as a goblin and the culprit for the place's stormy weather.

The giant parrot was finally shot down by a cannon and became a big stone. The place was later named as Yingko, the Chinese pronunciation of parrot bird, in commemoration of the event. After the battle, the weather of Yingko improved and thus attracted a pilgrim of ceramists, setting the start of Yingko's ceramic future.

Along Chung-cheng 1st Road lies Hong Teh Temple, dedicated to Sun Tzu, a military strategist of the Warring States Period (403 to 221 B.C.) and the author of The Art of War. The temple is a large, imposing structure nestled against the surrounding hillside.

A large statue of Sun on the roof at the rear of the temple can be seen from some distance, and the eaves are lavishly decorated with sculptures and carvings from Chinese mythology. In front of the temple is an ample square that can provide a cool, quiet resting place on a hot afternoon.

Yingko is a small, simple and quiet town, where one can make a one-day or even a half-day trip to this ceramic center. Wen-hua Road and Chung-cheng 1st Road are lined with ceramic factories and shops. Some shops are located on Chienshanpu Road, Chungshan Road, and Yingtao Road.

Yingko Rock can be found protruding from the hill around Yingko beside Chung-cheng 1st Road. Right across number 344 Chung-cheng 1st Road is a lane leading to the hill stairs to the rock. Coming from Taipei through Panchiao, and Shanchia to Yingko, the ceramic factories and the landmark of Yingko -- the Yingko Rock -- are the best spots in the lovely small town.

It is amazing to learn that such a small town could bear such a big title as ``Taiwan's pottery center,'' yet it certainly will not fail you to discover that Yingko earned the title with some natural resources, a lot of foresight and hard work.

Getting there

Yingko is conveniently accessible by bus, train, or car. One can catch the bus on Taipei's Chunghua Road. It takes about an hour's drive to reach Yingko from Taipei. Drivers have to be wary about the narrow and sinuous road between Shulin and Yingko.

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