Social media fires up visitors to 'state kiln'

Tourists enamored with city's sweet deals and discount ceramic products

By Zou Shuo in Liling, Hunan | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-21 08:08
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Customers browse a porcelain warehouse in Liling, Hunan province, in December. CHEN HONGDOU/FOR CHINA DAILY

Everyone likes a bargain. That's one of the reasons that Liling in Hunan province has attracted tourists in their droves — the city has become the must-go place for picking up cheap porcelain.

The buzz started last September in much the same way as the buzz around barbecue in Zibo, Shandong province, and malatang (spicy hotpot) in Tianshui, Gansu province. Social media posts started flaring up and attracting likes in their thousands on platforms such as Xiaohongshu and Douyin, showing viewers the great deals that can be picked up from the kilns of Liling for product castoffs, overruns and factory seconds — items with slight manufacturing flaws.

Liling has a long history of producing porcelain, and along with Dehua county in Fujian province and Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, is known as one of the "three capitals" of Chinese porcelain-making.

The city is sometimes referred to as a "state kiln" thanks to its reputation as a place where porcelain was made exclusively for the nation's top leaders, including Chairman Mao Zedong, from the late 1950s to the 1980s.

The high-end porcelain produced in the city — Liling underglaze-colored porcelain — was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in 2008. The top-grade underglaze-colored porcelain has been delivered to Beijing for national leaders, state banquets and as state gifts.

Today, travelers can find everyday ceramic items such as cups and bowls sold at dirt cheap prices, usually under 5 yuan ($0.7) each. Some are even given away for free.

On Xiaohongshu, travel guides for different factories have sprung up telling people where they can find lots of beautiful bowls, plates and cups for under 5 yuan.

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