Only through hearsay did I learn about a neighborhood gem, rich in Chinese culture. Unfortunately, it will be gone soon after you read this.
The Beijing Tian Long Glazed Tile Kiln sits just across the street from the International School of Beijing. Part of the community since 1993 (and located near Chaoyang Park beforehand,) it’s an unassuming area at first glance. However, the grounds are vast with rooms full of ceramics, machines, molds and storage. Three showrooms are full of figurines and tiles, each one a unique piece of Beijing’s history.
The replacement roof tiles for the buildings in the Forbidden City were manufactured here. Additionally, numerous sets of spare roof ornaments in this factory showroom were decorative elements popularized in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, placed on the descending corner ridge of the palace roofs. There are up to 9 beasts on the roof, always in a set order beginning with the Celestial Being in front and the Winged Monkey at the end. The eight treasures of Buddhism are also popular sets manufactured here, the treasures highlighting articles which bring good fortune to people.
Knowing nothing about the process of ceramics myself, I was in awe of the machinery used here to create these pieces. The kiln looked rather plain to me, but seeing the results of the finished product made me realize it was anything but. Colors of the pieces are in vibrant blues, greens and golds, with a variety of accent hues. Gold tiles were reserved exclusively for the emperor in the past, and blue shades signify anything to do with heaven and the sky.
The owner and general manager is Li Renjie, a 60-year-old man who will retire to his city apartment when the building is demolished. Money that he was given for the land will not suffice for him to relocate the business, and his two daughters have no interest in keeping it running.
The village next door is already reduced to rubble. Trucks and workers haul away bricks and other materials daily. As the demolition nears this tile factory, likely within the next ten days, Li Renjie hopes that he is able to sell – and not destroy – the relics that remain. If you’re able to get to this factory, I highly recommend doing so. It’s like keepingy a little piece of China’s history.