[WATCH] 88-year-old potter spends near-decade building “Porcelain Palace” in China

Yu Ermei pursued a lifelong dream of constructing ceramic-tiled building despite discouragement from her own kin
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A Goldthread2 documentary short tells the story of a 88-year-old Chinese pottery doyenne Yu Ermei, who took up the artisanal craft at the age of twelve. She has spent the eight years erecting a “Porcelain Palace” in her hometown Jingdezhen, a city in southern China renowned for its 1000-year history of making ceramics. 

After decades of pottery, Yu retired to pursue her dream of constructing a ceramic building of her own design. The Porcelain Palace is decorated with over 60,000 ceramic pieces from the iconic town, many of which were created by Yu herself. 

“My dream was to make my own ceramic palace and make it better than the one in Tianjin and the one by Gaudí,” said Yu, whose competitive spirit motivated her to design a building to outshine extant ceramic edifices in the world, including the domestic rival, Porcelain House in Tianjin, and Antoni Gaudí’s Park Güell in Barcelona, Spain. 

Yu had acquired the land at 79 years old and started the project at 80, despite dissuasion from loved ones.

“Everyone told me, ‘You shouldn’t do it. You’re too old,’” said Yu, whose own children called the endeavour “throwing money into a bottomless hole.” 

She nonetheless persisted and told detractors, “Don’t stop me from doing what I want to do.”

Built with the help of a small team of construction workers, the Porcelain Palace is 1,200 square metres in size, and features Chinese fairy tale motifs and portraits of Yu’s favourite political figures. The construction cost US$880,000, and has another five years until completion.

With her palatial ceramic monument, Yu hopes to pay rightful homage to the rich pedigree and legacy of pottery in her hometown. Jingdezhen, known as the “Porcelain Capital,” is virtually synonymous with Chinese porcelain, having produced fine wares for officials as early as the 6th CE, according to Britannica

“Tianjin isn’t even famous for ceramics,” she said. “It has no connections to ceramics compared to this place.” 

The Porcelain Palace is a work of a mosaic grandeur that attracts many tourists on weekends.

“I have finally achieved this dream on my own terms,” Yu said. 

Wiki Production Code: A0245

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