Why the readily available Di Cao Qing is actually a rare clay

There are a limited number of mining areas where the magical zisha ore can be found in Yixing,and the best is from the famous Huang Long Shan: No. 1 mine, No. 2 mine, No. 3 mine, No. 4 mine, No. 5 mine, Tai Xi open-pit mine, Tai Xi mine and Bao Shan mine. However, amongst these mines, it is the prolific No. 4 mine of the Huang Long Shan mountain—also known as the “Holy Land” of Zisha—that vastly holds the highest quality zisha ores. One of the most precious ores found in this particular mine is the enigmatic Di Cao Qing (“bottom layer”) clay, a rare clay famously known to be the late Grandmaster Gu Jing Zhou’s favorite clay (and for a good reason)! Due to its rarity and famous following, it has become extremely well-known and widely sought-after by artists and collectors alike!

Characteristics


At first glance, the raw Di Cao Qing ore appears purple-red, with a hard and dense structure and sandy texture. Due to the lack of iron oxide in some areas of the ore, trace gray-green spots will be found throughout—also known as the “chicken eye”—a prominent feature of Di Cao Qing ore which transforms into exquisite, tiny golden flecks that sparingly encrust the clay after firing.

Di Cao Qing Ore at 11M deep


Additionally, Di Cao Qing specifically extracted from the No. 4 mine has a high-temperature resistance, tolerating a wide range of firing temperatures from ~1180ºC and upwards of ~1420ºC depending on the particular kiln (unlike inauthentic Di Cao Qing clay). It is because of its high firing tolerance that only Di Cao Qing from the No. 4 mine can produce the “five colors of clay” effect - a unique output with colors that mirror that of Qing Shui Ni, Zini, regular Di Cao Qing, and other varieties of clay colors. In fact, a high-fired No. 4 mine Di Cao Qing can yield a uniquely bluish-gray color, a truly fascinating charming and noble feature!

Di Cao Qing Fired at around 1300+ Degrees.


The special characteristics of No. 4 mine Di Cao Qing can also be traced back to its roots. Extracted from the deepest well out of the three (11 m, 36 m, 44 m) in the No. 4 mine, Di Cao Qing ores are a result of prolonged exposure and nourishment from Huang Long Shan’s coldest and purest groundwater. Furthermore, the deeper the ore forms in the well (i.e., 44 m), the more minerals (such as mica and quartz) it retains, which ultimately gives it its quintessentially sandy texture and a delicate sparkle due to the golden “chicken eyes” found throughout the densely enriched clay. Additionally, a deep-mined, top-grade No. 4 mine Di Cao Qing clay has a beautifully oily appearance after firing and crafting, and a tendency to enhance the flavor of whatever liquor it holds. This, of course, makes it the top grade Di Cao Qing - the perfect clay for brewing tea, thus making it an extremely desirable clay for both zisha collectors and tea lovers.

Di Cao Qing Ore at 36M Deep

60 Mesh Deep Well Di Cao Qing( 36M Deep )  Fired around 1180~1200 Degrees

 

With no signs of diminishing popularity in the future, an influx of Di Cao Qing fakes are regularly introduced in the market by the minute! As such, it is important for collectors to be able to distinguish the characteristics of authentic No. 4 mine Di Cao Qing. A superficial way to do so is by noting the clay’s ability to form a deep patina with very little effort. In fact, changes in the Di Cao Qing’s appearance is notably immediate and distinct! After every session of infusions, the clay will develop an alluringly glossy patina and embolden in pigmentation. (Beware of inauthentic “Di Cao Qing” teapots that go through extreme changes at the very beginning, yet stays physically unchanged after further use. This is often a telltale sign of a chemical-infused clay)

To mimic the overall aesthetic of Di Cao Qing, imitators have been known to mix ‘Wai Shan Ni’ (clay derived from different mountains) or regular zini with Ben Shan Ni (the clay that's mined in Huang Long Shan) to falsely present the hybrid clay as authentic ‘Di Cao Qing’. Uninformed owners of this hybrid clay, however, will eventually realize that the texture of the clay is unlike the real Di Cao Qing, and the patina development of their teapots does not seem to happen overnight, and in fact, may have taken a very long time to show, if any at all!

Value

Sadly, due to the excessive mining throughout the decades and the resulting groundwater infiltration in the mid-1990s, the government officially closed Huang Long Shan’s No. 4 mine in 2005 and has since banned all future operations around it. As a result, there are now very little authentic No. 4 mine Di Cao Qing available in the market - yet miraculously, an endless supply of ‘Di Cao Qing’ teapots are made every minute! Victims of this scam will often blindly parrot the vendor’s claim that their pieces were made with real Di Cao Qing conveniently extracted from the No. 4 mine 20-40 years ago. Is there really an excess of Di Cao Qing still presently available in the market? Is Grandmaster Gu Jing Zhou’s favorite clay truly that cheap and easy to come by even to this day?



It is worth noting that top quality clay will always be matched with top level craftsmanship! No artist/studio will waste their precious supply of clay with mediocre work. The best clay are used by the best artists, and only the best artists can make the best use of the best clay! As a result, a top quality authentic zisha teapot made by top level artists will never be in excess and NEVER be cheap! So, please think twice before purchasing a teapot made out of “No. 4 mine Di Cao Qing” by an ordinary craftsman for anything less than $200.

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2 comments

George Tavani

Excellent information from highly knowledgable folks. I am blown away by brilliance of this clay! Seeing it in person is a real pleasure. Very satisfying to behold, and handle. Simply lovely. The surface is very oily in appearance, a beautiful gloss shines so bright with a deep richness. Chicken eyes abound. Thank you YZG!

George

Very informative, and it makes good sense to me. A lot of helpful, and insightful information I was unaware of. I have not seen many other Zisha Studio’s discuss their clay in this sort of depth, and transparency. I already have a Di Cao Qing teapot picked out, hopefully it’s available in a few months! Keep up the good work!

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