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A lifelong dedication to enamel

By Zhang Kun ( China Daily ) 2021-04-02

A lifelong dedication to enamel

Xie Dangwei holds an enameled steel ware piece on which he sprayed the pattern when he worked at the Shanghai Jiuxin Tangci Factory before the factory went bankrupt in 2002. GAO ERQIANG/CHINA DAILY

Enamel on steel was used so widely in the everyday lives of Chinese people that the material was given a special name, tangci, when the country introduced a new system of industrial standardization in 1956, Xie says.

For many years in the latter half of the 20th century, people ate and drank from tangci mugs and bowls. Even doctors placed their surgical tools in tangci trays, recalls Li Meizhu, a 76-year-old woman in Shandong province, who still uses a tangci mug as her toothbrush holder.

These products, printed with institutions' names and characters to commemorate special occasions, have been given to employees as awards in recognition of their contributions.

Xie became a young worker in the Jiuxin Tangci Factory in Shanghai in the 1970s, applying colors on the steel surface with a spray gun. He was good at it, and took great pride in his work. In 1978, he participated in a vocational-skills competition and won a prize for processing tangci ware.

"I asked the jury to sell me 10 of the enamel products I made, and these were the first 10 pieces of my collection," he says.

In 2002, the State-owned Jiuxin Tangci Factory went bankrupt, and Xie, who was assistant to the factory director, decided to build a new factory and start his own tangci production line. His factory went bankrupt and closed down less than a year later. Xie found himself deep in debt, and after suffering from depression for a few years, he found a new job in the real estate industry.

But tangci remained his true passion. Through the years, he bought such items whenever he found ones with interesting forms or historical importance. His friends and colleagues would later donate their vintage objects and scour antiques markets at home and abroad for him.

Xie eventually amassed a collection of more than 2,600 items, alongside some original paintings artists created as pattern designs on enamel ware.

In the beginning, his wife did not understand his enthusiasm. She especially did not like him hoarding these items at home.

"She has issued me a total of 17 divorce papers," Xie recalls. "But I made up my mind to never sign them."



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