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The History of Chinese Ceramics


I like Chinese history. Chinese long history is a long river. When I was a junior student, I told myself that I wanted to be an archaeologist. I often try my best to know more knowledge about Chinese history, such as television, books and so on. Today, I want to put some knowledge of one aspect of Chinese history--the history of Chinese Ceramics.

It is well known that the tradition of ceramic manufacture in China can be dated back to at least eight thousand years. And porcelain is one of the great inventions brought to the world by Chinese ancestors. Ancient Chinese pottery and porcelain manufacture featured a significant role in Chinese old glories of art, culture and technology. The technology and art of ancient Chinese ceramic making had a long history of development with most admirable achievements made from period to period. These achievements had long been spread out to many other countries and districts in world, and had thus made a significant contribution to world civilization.

It was the Chinese who, very early and independant of foreign influences, developed the craft of pottery into a fine art. Their ceramics was one of the great major Oriental contributions to civilization.

As early as 3000 B.C., potters in Henan and Gansu produced a technically superior pottery. Porcelain, a ceramic-that is adaptable to higher firing temperatures than earthenware and is harder, more translucent, and white after firing, was achieved some time after A.D. 600. The secret of its composition was well guarded by China and not discovered in the West for over 1,000 years. The discovery of porcelain in China itself was porbably an accident. Stoneware--a hard stonelike pottery with many porcelain characteristics--appeared quite early in China, and its evolution into true porcelain, may have resulted from a casual addition of an infusible white rock called petuntse and the white clay known as kaolin to the stoneware mixture.

Henan Ware. The earliest ordinary Chinese pottery came from Henan and was made by hand, probably on a slow wheel, and shaped into ritual funerary vessels as well as ordinary objects. Made from brown, red, and buff clay, it was well shaped, thin, and of exceptional dignity and beauty of proportion. The outstanding pieces were painted brilliant red, black, purple, and white, before firing. A more crude Henan ware, coarse and of a gray tone, was modeled by hand. Its primitive decoration consisted only of marks left by matting or rough cloth pressed aganist the clay white it was still wet. Unlike its predecessor, this ware continued to be made, both for everyday and decorative objects, for about one or two thousand years, even into Han dynasty(206 B.C.--A.D. 220). The third great Henan was created from a kaolinic clay, which produced objects of a dazzling whiteness; fragments of this ware have been found are carved in a sharp fret pattern like the bronze of the same period. This beautiful pottery may, however, have been made simply for use as molds.

Han Ware. During the Han Dynasty--a period contemporary with the greatest years of Rome--Chinese ceramics took great strides forward. Molds were now used to create whole objects rather than, as previously, merely to apply relief work to the surface. The potter's wheel was improved, and elaborate painted decorations and incised patterns were used. Slip decoration(liquid clay applied in swirls or dots) was devised, as were colored glazes. From Rome came the technique of lead glazes.

T'ang Ware. Even greater advances took place during the T'ang Dynasty(A.D. 618-906). Funerary objects from T'ang tombs boats molded Hellenistic reliefs of dancing figures, some holding the pipes of Pan, indicating a regular cultural interchange between East and West. Small yellow or green-glazed grave figures of priests, soldiers, women, horsemen, and both real and imaginary animals, as well as splendid ewers, bowls, and jars, have also been unearthed. At the same time, the development of the tea ceremony brought refinements both in manners and in ceramic designs. Poets likened a thin T'ang pottery to jade, ice, or even a lotus blossom floating on ice. The creation of a kaolinic stoneware foreshadowed the development of porcelain; its hard, gray green glaze, for which, smoke from wood ashes was probably inadvertently responsible, is a forerunner of the famous celadon glaze(a translucent green glaze having a velvety texture).

During this period, the potter's' technical skills had increased enormously. He could make many colored glazeds and wares made from the newly discovered porcelain were exported to Europe and the Near East.

Sung Ware. The Sung period(960-1260), especially after the establishment of the southern capital in 1127, represents a cultural pinnacle when all arts expressed the ideal of harmony between man and nature. It was with the Sung porcelain that Chinese ceramic art truly matured. The Chinese use of the term porcelain at this time included not only the "pure" porcelain(with a white translucent body) but also those with gray and dusky bodies which had been fired to such a state of vitrification that they emitted a musical note when struck. This musical note was the principal test of early porcelains in China.

A wide cleavage occurred between the art of the potter and that of the metal worker, and in the most important wares of the period the long, heavy shapes resembling metalware which had characterized earlier Chinese ceramics were replaced by light, simple, delicately glazed form. Only at the end of the period did enamel decoration and some ceramic painting appear on the glazes.

The earliest of the Sung wares was the Ru ware. It was first made with an iridescent, blue-gray glaze in northern China, near Kai Feng Fu for the imperial household before it moved south in the twelfth century to escape the Tartars. Thereafter, in the north, the Sung Ru ware was presumably different and darker, though no positive examples of Ru ware survive.

There are many existing examples of the next sung ware, Ko ware, which was produced for a long time, Ko ware was dark and had a thick, crackled, gray, yellowish, or gray-green glaze. Pegmatite was eventually added to vary and control the crackle.

Of the various types of Ting ware, the ivory-white porcelain made in Southern China, with a dull, white body and sometimes an ivory glaze, is considered the finest. Dished and bowls often had a band of metal around their rough, unglazed upper rims. Since its appearance in the twelfth century, this ware has been widely imitated, and in the sixteenth century the potter Chou Tan ch'uan started an entire school of Ting ware copyists.

The heaviest of the Sung ware was the opaque, vitreous Chun ware, from which "tulip" bowls were fashioned. It had a dubbly glaze(from mixing feldspar and copper with the kaolin body in oxidizing flames of round kilns) which often broke into Y-shaped lines called earthworm marks. Sometime, on the lavender-colored pieces, an underlying design of birds or flowers showed through the glaze.

The Chien stoneware from Fujian Province, used primarily for teacupsm owned much of its popularity to the development of the tea-drinking ceremony. This ware was black or brown, and the lines in the surface, caused by the presence of iron in the glaze, produced a pattern resembling. "hare's fur or partridge feathers".

From the district of Tz'u Chou, a pottery center since the-sixth century, came a superb gray stoneware corvered in white slip and decorated with incised or painted flowers. Sgraffito( scratched) decorations, or red, yellow, or green enamel overglaze painting, were sometimes used.

Ming Ware, Early piece of the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644), with their massive shapes, applied figures, foliage, pendants, and raised outline, are reminiscent of Western, Asian, and Assyrian brickwork. The Ming techniques differed from the Sung and earlier methods. In one ware, firing preceded glazing and Persian colored glazes were superimposed on one another and fired at a low temperature. The effect, although brilliant, seems almost archaic in comparison to the lighter, smoother Sung finishes.

Because of the concentration of workmen at the Imperial factory at Kingtechchen, technical knowledge increased in the early Ming era at an unprecedented rate. Later, a fine porcelain with a transparent, pure white glaze was produced. A beautiful cobalt-blue glaze was found to withstand intense teat and was therefore applied under the transparent porcelain glaze. An even finer blue, Mohammedan blue, was at times imported and used, at first only for Imperial pieces but later for more general distribution. Brilliant red glazes wre similarly applied.

Eighteenth and Nineteech-Century Ware. During the eighteeth century, a revival took place in China early types of ceramics which showed the enormous historial scope of Oriental art. New inventions like "iron-rust" and "tea-dust" glazes became very popular during the reign of Ch'ren Lung(1735-1769), as did "famille rose" ( Chinese porcelain decorated mainly in green). Crude armorial china, made for export to Europe, where it was well received, often was decorated at Canton instead of at Kingtehchen. The abandonment of underglaze painting in favour of overglaze decoration changed porcelain painting from a bold brushwork technique to a careful art similar to engraving.

A provincial factory in Fujian devoted mostly to manufacturing coarse porcelain for export to India, operated through the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. For European markets it produced a white ware called " blanc de chine" in France. Since the Ming dynasty, presumably to the present, Fujian has also produced ornamental objects and figure subjects.

Throughout China, many small factories have always produced quantities of stoneware and ordinary pottery. From Jiangsu Province came a stoneware in red and other colors in which tea was shipped to Europe as early as the seventeenth century, decoration was in the form of reliefs and molded and incised patterns, Europeans copied the shapes, colors, and ornaments of this ware with considerable fidelity, especially in eighteenth-century Saxony, and called the results "bucchero" ware.

After Europe discovered the secret of porcelain, its ceramic imports from the Orient decreased. Its commercial incursion into China created such political unrest there that even the Imperial patronage of factories lessened and no porcelain of importance, except for the famous Peking Medallion Bowl and some mid-nineteenth-century snuff bottles, was produced after the early nineteenth century.