First in History: Qing Dynasty Yixing Teapots of TianQing Clay Found in US 清代天青泥紫砂壶首次被发现

-- George Wang, Ph.D.,

Abstract 摘要

TianQing Ni or Clay has caught tea drinkers' imagination for many centuries and people no longer know what it is ever since it vanished during the end of the Qing dynasty.  This article demonstrated for first time that several Yixing teapots of different shape and color made in the Qing dynasty, fit perfectly with what has been described in the literature, and are therefore made of TianQing clay, with drastic change of color after usage as its most striking characteristics.

幾個世紀以來,“天泥”一直吸引著飲茶者的想像力,自清朝滅亡以來,人們就已经不能确定它为何物了。本文首次證明清代制作几把颜色造型各异的宜興紫砂壺,其特性與文獻中所描述的完全吻合,由此判定均採用了天青泥料, 其主要特征为使用后颜色的显著变化。

What IS TianQing Clay 什么是天青泥

TianQing Ni or clay is the most expensive and sought-after  Zisha clay in the Qing and late Ming dynasty.  However, what it really is still controversial, and it has not reached consensus as to which existing teapots were made of such clay.  From the book "Sandy Purple Clay of YangXian" by  Mr LIU Yulin, it belongs to the Purple clay category, and it has "dark liver" color after being fired.  Furthermore,  after being used for a while, it can turn greenish.


Screenshot of the book <<YanXian MingHuXi>> by ZHOU Gaoqi of Ming dynasty

Excepted from <<YanXian MingHuXi>> by ZHOU Gaoqi of Ming dynasty:

TianQing Clay, from Lishu, becomes dark liver color after firing. The interlayer of the purple clay is Pear-Skin clay, also called sandwiched fat, which is pear color after firing; Light Red clay, which appears pine flower color after firing; Light Yellow clay, which will appear bean-blue color after firing; Dense clay, after firing It shows a light ochre color; Pear Skin and White Sand clay mixed together, after firing, show a light ink color. This shows that due to the relationship of geological origin, the iron content and chemical composition of each clay ore are different, the firing atmosphere is different, and the color changes are rich. As the mountain is changing manifestly, it shows a bizarre effect after firing





I have a dark color teapot but not sure what kind of clay it has.  After being soaked in water for a week, it suddenly turned greenish.  This reminds me it might be TianQing clay.  I immediately sent the pictures to Mr. LIU Yulin and got positive answer from him.  He also sent me back a closeup picture of TianQing clay test plate.  This is exactly what I saw with my teapot under magnification glass.


YiXing Zisha Teapot TianQing Clay SHAO Hengyu mark with Calligraphy 清邵亨裕款天青泥杨桃壶 

It has dark green color before being used(久置未用)呈黑灰色

L13.9cm, H10.6cm

Picture taken after dry-up of usage . Notice its shiny jade-like appearance


Picture showing particles of TianQing clay, from Mr LIU Yulin,  author of  the book《阳羡茗砂土》。 图片来自《阳羡茗砂土》 作者刘玉林先生

By comparison,  a teapot previously considered of "Republic green" clay might also be made of TianQing clay.  It clearly developed a satiny sheen after only a few day's usage.


Bamboo Yixing Teapot JingYuanZhai JichangZhi mark of TianQing Clay清康熙静远斋继长制天青泥竹段壶

Kangxi Reign of Qing dynasty (1662-1722).  It changes color and has variations of colors, characteristic of TianQing Clay.  JingYuanZhai is the residence name of the 17th son 允礼 of the Kangxi Emperor.

What's interesting with this teapot is that there are a few Purple areas with this green teapot , likely the effect of the TianQing Clay.  This is exactly what ZHOU Gaoqi of Ming dynasty said in his book "it shows a bizarre effect after firing".


My 3rd teapot of likely TianQing clay is the one made by YANG Pengnia.  This one currently has a dark liver color and most likely has never been used.


 This teapot has an overall dark liver color. However, after soaked in water for a week, the pine leaves turned green where it is much thinner. 

 This Chen Mingyuan marked pumpkin teapot has three colors at the same time: dark liver color, blue or dark grey color, and green particles under the magnification glass.

In summary, there are five teapots here which are mostly likely of TianQing clay.  Apparently all of them were made in the Qing dynasty.  


Teapot by YANG Fengnian (The sister of YANG Pengnian).  The two pictures shows the same teapot.  The first pictures doesn't look like TianQing clay.  But the second picture does.


We believe the teapot above made by YANG Fengnian of Qing dynasty is likely of TianQing clay, but needs further confirmation.


Qing Yixing Zisha Teapot by SHAO Daheng 邵大亨鱼化龙

Rumor has it that SHAO Dehang made teapots of TianQing clay as well.  We believe this Fish-turned-Dragon teapot by SHAO Daheng is of TianQing clay

Tianqing Clay Teapot Comparison 天青泥紫砂壶比较



Year Made

Main Colors

Very sandy, extreme permeability

Shiny and Metal like

Can show a bizarre effect after firing

Confidence Level

Qing dynasty

Blue or Dark Grey, or Greenish (after usage or soaked in water for a week)





Qing dynasty

(Kangxi reign)

Green, with multiple purple areas



irregular purple areas


Qing dynasty

Dark liver, plus green for thin areas (after soaked in water for a week)

Not obvious of Sandiness

Yes for green areas

2 colors


Qing dynasty

(Kangxi reign)

Blue or Dark Grey plus Dark liver, and Green particles



3 colors


What is NOT TianQing Clay 什么不是天青泥

All over the internet, most people wrongly put Chemical teapots (Cobalt blue) as TianQing clay.   In fact, the mines of TianQing clay have been exhausted in the Qing dynasty.  Any sales of freshly made TianQing clay teapots are almost certainly scams.


Chemical Teapots (Cobalt blue) --NOT Tianqing clay 钴料蓝化工壶

Republic Green.  Not TianQing clay 朱可心民国绿提梁壶

Characteristics of Tianqing Clay Teapots 天青泥紫砂壶的特征

TianQing clay is so rare and precious,  it can be safely said that if the teapot sells below $10k, it is not TiqnQing clay.

Characteristics of TianQing clay:

1) It vanished in late Qing dynasty (it is better to think this way to avoid scams)

2) After firing, it has dark liver color

3) Feel and look very sandy, extreme permeability (so permeable that it gets wet outside when being used), and very easy to produce Zisha appeal.

4) After usage it become very shiny and has a satiny sheen, can turns greenish when it is wet and look like green jade -- therefore the term "Jade of Zisha" with astonishing beauty. (All clay teapot changes color when fired. It is its drastic change of color after usage not after firing which makes it a Tianqing clay)

5) It can shows a bizarre effect after firing (notice the color variations with the Bamboo teapot)

There are reason why it is so precious and has rampant scams -- It is rare and beautiful (like any other things in the world)



1)清代晚期最晚民国已经绝迹 (矿区1953年塌方,后建大水潭公园).


3)砂性大,透气好,易泡养 (砂性非常大,透气特别强以至于使用时外壁是湿的,极易泡养用几次就有变化,in the end 会变得像翡翠样)


5)  烧制后有可能会有奇妙的效果 (例如静远斋继长制竹段壶的颜色变化)

天青泥贵重是有原因的 -- 稀有和美丽 (就像世界上任何其它东西一样)