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China Focus: Cross-millennium ceramics trade bears witness of China-Africa trade exchange

Ceramics exports from central China’s Hunan Province to Africa have regained momentum, after a COVID-19-affected slump, according to the Zhuzhou subsidiary of the customs authorities in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan.

Li Shuming, of Zhuzhou Customs, said that, affected by the pandemic, the exports of ceramics made in Liling, a county-level city administrated by Zhuzhou, which boasts a long history of porcelain production, have declined. Liling exported ceramic products worth 1.26 million U.S. dollars to Africa last year.

He said the customs cleared an export of 15,408 pieces of ceramic tableware produced by Liling Jingtao Ceramic Corporation Ltd. in May, which was destined for South Africa.

He expected the upcoming third China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo to be held in Changsha from June 29 to July 2 this year to help local exporters further explore the African market.

As the permanent host of the biennial event, the city of Changsha will host visitors from 53 African countries, eight international organizations, and over 1,500 centrally-administered state-owned enterprises, business associations, and financial institutions at this year’s session.

Li said ceramic exports to Africa are mainly household porcelain items such as coffee cups, which are destined for African countries, including South Africa, Tunisia, and Morocco.

Hunan’s trade ties with Africa can be traced back over 1,000 years ago, when porcelain wares made in an ancient kiln in Changsha were exported to Africa through the Maritime Silk Road.

In 1998, a German salvage company discovered the shipwreck and named it “Batu Hitam.” Over 67,000 pieces of treasure were found on the ship, 85 percent of which came from a kiln in Changsha.

Qu Wei, director of the Tongguan Kiln Museum in Changsha, said that the kiln was a center of a porcelain-making cluster in the Tang Dynasty, which produced artifacts that have been found to have reached about 30 countries and regions, as far away as northern Africa.

Many made-in-Changsha porcelain relics carry designs and patterns that were ordered by foreign customers, such as paintings of “foreign women figures” and tropical plants like “palm trees.”

“The porcelain wares from the Changsha kiln were ‘high-end customized’ products from over 1,000 years ago,” said the curator Qu.

Nowadays, in addition to Chinese ceramic makers’ efforts to reach out, more and more African business people are seeking business opportunities through trade ties.

Karim Nyanzi runs a kitchenware store in Uganda. He told Xinhua over the phone that in his shop, 10-inch plates imported from the Hunan Hualian China Industry Co., Ltd. based in Hunan are the best seller.

Nyanzi said that the size of the plate is suitable for holding meals in Uganda. The porcelain wares are good in quality and cost-effective, which makes them popular among locals in Uganda.

Nyanzi took over the business from his father. He has since expanded the import volume and types of ceramic products from Hunan, introducing more Chinese porcelain wares such as bowls and pots to Uganda.

“Chinese ceramics have a long history and a good reputation. Using Chinese porcelain wares can increase the exquisiteness of life,” Nyanzi said.

Xu Lingfang, a regional general manager of the Hunan Hualian China Industry Co., Ltd., said the company entered the African market in 2017, which benefitted from a series of pragmatic measures under the China-Africa economic and trade cooperation.

The company’s products have since been exported to African countries, including South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, and Morocco.

“We have kept developing designs of ceramic products to cater to African culture and living habits. Through participating in the previous sessions of the China-Africa economic and trade expo and other domestic and foreign exhibitions, our products have been recognized by more and more African customers,” said Xu.

To better facilitate the China-Africa trade, the industrial hub of Zhuzhou launched a sea-rail transport service to Africa in January last year, linking cities in Hunan and south China’s Guangdong Province by rail transport before the exported goods are transferred to offshore shipping to Africa.

The cargo transport service is one of five international logistics channels in the planning and building to connect Hunan with Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Source: English