Chen Mansheng 陈曼生 (1768-1822) is a prominent figure in Chinese teaware history. He was an artist and designer who created an innovative new style of teapots known as mansheng’s Eighteen Styles or Mansheng Teapots. We will be exploring several of them.
What is so special about his designs? Mansheng combined epigraphy, painting and calligraphy with pottery. He was not a potter, instead, he got some artists to make his designs and then added suitable calligraphy for each teapot shape.
Heads up: depending on which source you consult, there are slight variations on which teapots are included in Mansheng’s Eighteen. One source suggested that there might be more than eighteen designs…
However many designs there are, the shuipiao is usually among them, sometimes even more than once: One design with a triangular back handle like the one in the image and another one with a top handle.
Mangsheng’s Shipiao has a cone shape with a larger bottom and tapered top, the lid is flat with an arched bridge. The spout is straight. The pot stands on three little feet.
So why the name? In the Buddhist scriptures, there is a saying 弱水三千只取一瓢 (ruo shui san qian zhi qu yi piao = only one ladle of weak water is needed) meaning that there are many great things that could happen in life but you only need to hold onto one to be happy. This saying was made famous in the classic book ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ (18th century).
It is said that the shuipiao teapot was originally called shidiao 石铫 and was modeled after a cooking device called diao. The name shipiao is a combination of shidiao and piao (in reference to that saying).