Kilns stick to ancient way of making bricks despite rock-bottom demand

Source:Global Times Published: 2016-5-8 19:58:01

Workers load bricks from inside the kiln as light floods in from a hole at the top. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Braving temperatures of more than 50 degrees in a dome made of mud and bricks, a worker shovels fuel into the scorching furnace. When it cools, thousands of bricks are ready to be transported out by workers on the cart.

Looking from the outside, the kiln looks like a small hill scarcely covered by vegetation, except smoke spews from two chimneys on top and seeps through the mud walls.

This is one of only five traditional kilns left in Ganyao, an ancient town in Zhejiang Province famous for brick-making for centuries. Kilns first appeared in Jiashan county, administering Ganyao, in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and in its boom days, there used to be more than 800 such kilns. One kiln that is still operational has 150 years of history, and is owned by the Shen family.

It takes almost three months to produce bricks called Jingzhuan, which are now used only in the restoration of ancient architecture. About 8,000 bricks can be made at one time. Due to the small demand and the kilns' low efficiency, most of them have been shut down. The remaining few are also on the verge of closure, as there are only about 30 workers left, compared with more than 300 in the peak days.

Traditional brick-making methods are laborious, with all the major steps of making them - plus the loading and polishing - all done by hand. It's impossible to hire young people nowadays to do this backbreaking job in a dusty and sweltering working environment.

The workers now are aged 60 on average. Shen's son is the only heir to this method of making Jingzhuan bricks, and their kiln has been given provincial-level protection.

Global Times

Ornamental bricks made in the kiln are on display. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

A worker carries bricks to the cart. Each brick weighs at least 40 kilograms. Photo: Yang Hui/GT


Smoke spews from the top of the kiln. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

A worker adds wood chips to the furnace. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

A worker pulls a cart loaded with bricks from the kiln. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Newspaper headline: Another brick in the wall

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