Majiayao Chinese Pottery

Majiayao Chinese Pottery

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Majiayao Chinese Pottery - History

Bowl with 'human-faced fish' motif 

Bowl with 'human-faced fish' motif, pot with spiral pattern, jar depicting relief carved female figure- These are all painted pottery wares from the Neolithic Age along the upper and central reaches of the Yellow River in China, and mirror the life of Chinese people thousands of years ago.

Not only is the range of designs quite dazzling, but the wealth of shapes that were part of the painted pottery wares indicates their various functions.

Neolithic painted pottery is associated with a number of archaeological cultures from China's north-west, specifically those along the upper and central reaches of the Yellow River, including Yangshao culture and Majiayao culture. Yangshao culture (about 5,000–3,000 BC) takes its name from Yangshao Village in Minchi County, Henan Province, where the site was excavated and identified in 1921 by Johan Gunar Andersson. Majiayao culture (about 3,300-2,050 BC), which came shortly after Yangshao culture, takes its name from Majiayao village in Linzhao County, Gansu Province.

Painted pottery in Yangshao culture

Yangshao culture is distinctive and recognizable with two types of painted pottery, namely, Banpo and Miaodigou.

Banpo is an archaeological site located near Xi'an, Shaanxi Province and contains the remains of a Neolithic village dating back to 6,000 years ago. The classic Banpo painted pottery is a bowl with the ‘human-faced fish’ motif, and was unearthed in the 1950s. The basin, 16.5 cm in height with a diameter of 38.5 cm, is made of fine-mud red ceramics and has a design of a human face and fish body. It is uniformly red in color and decorated with black pigment.

Strikingly, the pattern of fish is everywhere at Banpo Village. According to archeologists, these patterns may have been used for decorating the utensils but they may also have been used for sacrificial rites in the spring season to pray for a good harvest. If that were true, the Banpo pottery designs might be the earliest religious artwork in art history.

Chinese ceramics

Chinese ceramics is one of the most important forms of ancient Chinese art and urges the continuous development of global ceramics. Chinese ceramics is the general term of the items made by clay, porcelain stone, kaoline, feldspar and quartz, after being fired. The workmanship of Chinese ceramic also blends the art of glazing colors and Chinese painting.

The earliest Chinese ceramics and development in different historical periods.

The first ceramics was made in the Palaeolithic Era, with a history of 117000 years. Ceramics stand out as one of the notable landmarks of the course of human civilization, as it was the first time that human beings used the natural resources to create a new thing, in exercise of imagination. The ceramics is the result of the chemical reaction between dry clay and fire. The Chinese ancestors of prehistoric times began to use fire and found out the various functions of clay. Gradually they realized that after being fired, the dry clay became solid, hard, durable and water-proofing. Thereafter, the ceramics was created.

The archaeologists have unearthed pieces of ceramics dating back to 10000 years ago. The ceramics excavated from the Hebei&rsquos Nanzhuangtou site is 9700 to 10800 years old. While those excavated from Wannian Town in Jiangxi Province, Zen Pi Yan in Guilin and Qingtang, Yingde Town in Guangdong Province are 1000 to 7000 years old.

The social process urges the quality improvement of Chinese ceramics. There were professional craftsman specializing in ceramics in Shang Dynasty and Zhou Dynasty (1600BC &ndash 256BC). The pottery was carved with more elegant patterns, and glazed to make the surface more smooth and shinning. The unearthed green glazed pottery of this period has the basic features of porcelain, fired under the temperature up to 1100 - 1200℃. Still it is quite different of the porcelain, and only regarded as the proto-porcelain. In the making process of ceramics, ancient Chinese people created porcelain. The development of ceramics matured and transited to porcelain in East Han Dynasty (25 - 220). The world-renowned porcelains including green porcelain, white porcelain, blue-and-white porcelain and tricolor-glazed pottery of Tang Dynasty were created successively and reached the highest level in craftsmanship and beauty in the later dynasties. Jingdezhen was one the most famous porcelain kilns in history and still produces beautiful, high quality porcelains.

The categories of Chinese ceramics

Ancient painted pottery

In 1921, Johan Gunnar Andersson, a Swedish geologist and archaeologist, discovered a Neolithic Age site in Yaoshao Village, Mianchi Town, Henan Province. Later sites of similar cultural characteristics found in Hebei Province, Shannxi Province, Gansu Province, Qinghai Province, Hetao region. This cultural type is named Yangshao Culture, with a history of 5000 to 7000 years. Ancient painted potteries have been unearthed from all Yangshao Culture sites, so it is also called Painted Pottery Culture.

The first ancient Chinese painted pottery was discovered in the Xian&rsquos Banpo Site, dating back between 4800BC and 4300BC of matriarchal society period. The patterns are of various kinds, such as the animal patters (fish, frog, deer and birds), geometric motifs (abstract animal patterns, plant patterns, triangle lines, diagonal lines, etc.), and woven patterns. The painted pottery of Yangshao Culture is not only stylish in design, but also practical in daily life.

Ancient Chinese painted potteries unearthed from Majiayao Culture sites are mainly basin, pot, jar, kettle and other vessels dating back to 3300BC to 2900BC, with human figure motifs, animal patterns, wavy lines, swirl lines, etc. The ancient painted pottery was mainly used as the funeral wares to be buried with the dead, the royals and nobles. So there are also painted potteries excavated from Dawenkou Culture sties, Daxi Culture sites, Qujialing Culture sites and Qijia Culture sites.

Black pottery

In the last stage of ceramics making process, add water slowly from the top of kiln to cause the wood charcoal to die out. Then the heavy smoke is produced and makes the pottery a natural black color. The black pottery is a new peak of Chinese ceramics, tracing back between 2500BC and 2000BC. Black potteries unearthed from Longshan Culture sites in Shandong Province include jar, basin, glass, tripod, pot, plate, etc., of creative designs and beautiful modeling. The distinctive features of black pottery include the black color, the thin ceramic body and the smooth surface, so it is praised as &ldquoeggshell ceramics&rdquo.

White Pottery

Originated in the Neolithic Age, the white pottery was made by Kaolin, white, smooth and lovely. Most of the white potteries were articles of daily use, such as kettle, bottle and bowel. The patterns were similar to those on the bronze ware, such as beast-face vein, taotie pattern, Kui pattern (Kui was a one-leg monster in the mythology). The Imperial Palace Museum in Beijing keeps a Shang Dynasty white pottery reconstructed from pieces of ceramics. The white pottery was mainly used by the slaveholders and gradually disappeared in West Zhou Dynasty.

Stamped pottery

The prints and patterns were stamped on the designated part of the pottery, and fired at a relatively lower temperature. There were soft stamped pottery and hard stamped pottery, mostly in brown, grey-white, and grey. It was easy to make and produce, thus getting popular in the coast areas and the lower reaches of Yangtze River, such as Shanghai, Zhejiang Province, Taiwan, Canton, etc. Springing up in the late Neolithic Age, the stamped pottery gradually declined in the Warring States Period (475-221BC) and finally disappeared in the Han Dynasty (202BC - 220).

How to maintain antique Chinese ceramics and porcelain

Chinese ceramics or porcelain bear a high value for collection and appreciation. Here below are four useful tips to well keep and maintain antique pottery.

1. The antique pottery is better kept in a box, with sponge or foam pad to fix it. Put the pottery on a fixed wooden shelf to display it.

2. To appreciate an antique pottery, you need to clean your hands, keep the hands dry, and take off the ring. You are not encouraged to wear gloves, as the pottery may slip from the hands. Hold the main body of the pottery, instead of holding the handle or the accessory parts, for they are likely to break up.

3. If it is a human figure pottery, you should be careful not to cause damage to the details, like the hair or finger. Don&rsquot hold the head, as the head was inserted into the body, and is easily to be separated. Hold the antique ceramic bowl or plate with your two hands in case of fracture.

4. Wipe off the dust with wet cloth and the soft brush. Don&rsquot put water directly on the glazed pottery, as it is absorbent.


The earliest Chinese pottery was earthenware, which continued in production for utilitarian uses throughout Chinese history, but was increasingly less used for fine wares. Stoneware, fired at higher temperatures, and naturally impervious to water, was developed very early and continued to be used for fine pottery in many areas at most periods the tea bowls in Jian ware and Jizhou ware made during the Song dynasty are examples.

Porcelain, on a Western definition, is "a collective term comprising all ceramic ware that is white and translucent, no matter what ingredients are used to make it or to what use it is put". [1] The Chinese tradition recognizes two primary categories of ceramics: high-fired ( 瓷 ) and low-fired (táo 陶 ), [2] so doing without stoneware, which in Chinese tradition is mostly grouped with (and translated as) porcelain. Terms such as "porcellaneous" or "near-porcelain" may be used for stonewares with porcelain-like characteristics. [3] The Erya defined porcelain () as "fine, compact pottery (táo)". [4]

Chinese pottery can also be classified as being either northern or southern. China comprises two separate and geologically different land masses, brought together by continental drift and forming a junction that lies between the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, sometimes known as the Nanshan-Qinling divide. The contrasting geology of the north and south led to differences in the raw materials available for making ceramics in particular the north lacks petunse or "porcelain stone", needed for porcelain on the strict definition. Ware-types can be from very widespread kiln-sites in either north or south China, but the two can nearly always be distinguished, and influences across this divide may affect shape and decoration, but will be based on very different clay bodies, with fundamental effects. The kiln types were also different, and in the north the fuel was usually coal, as opposed to wood in the south, which often affects the wares. Southern materials have high silica, low alumina and high potassium oxide, the reverse of northern materials in each case. The northern materials are often very suitable for stoneware, while in the south there are also areas highly suitable for porcelain. [5]

Chinese porcelain is mainly made by a combination of the following materials:

    – essential ingredient composed largely of the clay mineral kaolinite. – decomposed micaceous or feldsparrocks, historically also known as petunse. [6]

In the context of Chinese ceramics, the term porcelain lacks a universally accepted definition (see above). This in turn has led to confusion about when the first Chinese porcelain was made. Claims have been made for the late Eastern Han dynasty (100–200 AD), the Three Kingdoms period (220–280 AD), the Six Dynasties period (220–589 AD), and the Tang dynasty (618–906 AD).

Kiln technology has always been a key factor in the development of Chinese pottery. The Chinese developed effective kilns capable of firing at around 1,000 °C (1,830 °F) before 2000 BC. These were updraft kilns, often built below ground. Two main types of kiln were developed by about 200 AD and remained in use until modern times. These are the dragon kiln of hilly southern China, usually fuelled by wood, long and thin and running up a slope, and the horseshoe-shaped mantou kiln of the north Chinese plains, smaller and more compact. Both could reliably produce the temperatures of up to 1,300 °C (2,370 °F) or more needed for porcelain. In the late Ming, the egg-shaped kiln (zhenyao) was developed at Jingdezhen, but mainly used there. This was something of a compromise between the other types, and offered locations in the firing chamber with a range of firing conditions. [7]

Important specific types of pottery, many coming from more than one period, are dealt with individually in sections lower down.

Early wares Edit

Pottery dating from 20,000 years ago was found at the Xianrendong Cave site in Jiangxi province, [10] [11] making it among the earliest pottery yet found. Another reported find is from 17,000–18,000 years ago in the Yuchanyan Cave in southern China. [12]

By the Middle and Late Neolithic (about 5000 to 1500 BCE) most of the larger archaeological cultures in China were farmers producing a variety of attractive and often large vessels, often boldly painted, or decorated by cutting or impressing. Decoration is abstract or of stylized animals – fish are a speciality at the river settlement of Banpo. The distinctive Majiayao pottery, with orange bodies and black paint, is characterised by fine paste textures, thin walls, and polished surfaces the almost complete lack of defects in excavated pots suggests a high level of quality control during production. [13] The Majiayao and other phases of the Yangshao culture are well-represented in Western museums by the Banshan phase purple was used in slip-painting alongside black. [14] During the 4th millennium the potter's wheel seems to scholars of Chinese ceramics to have been a Chinese invention, [15] though several regions to the West also claim the honour. Previously coil-forming was used for large vessels. [16]

Finds of vessels are mostly in burials sometimes they hold the remains. By 4100–2600 BCE in the Dawenkou culture shapes later familiar from Chinese ritual bronzes begin to appear. One exceptional ritual site, Niuheliang in the far north, produced numerous human figurines, some about half life-size. [17]

Han dynasty, 206 BC – 220 AD Edit

On some Chinese definitions, the first porcelain was made in Zhejiang province during the Eastern Han dynasty. Shards recovered from archaeological Eastern Han kiln sites estimated firing temperature ranged from 1,260 to 1,300 °C (2,300 to 2,370 °F). [18] As far back as 1000 BC, the so-called "porcelaneous wares" or "proto-porcelain wares" were made using at least some kaolin fired at high temperatures. The dividing line between the two and true porcelain wares is not a clear one. Archaeological finds have pushed the dates to as early as the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). [19]

The late Han years saw the early development of the peculiar art form of hunping, or "soul jar": a funerary jar whose top was decorated by a sculptural composition. This type of vessel became widespread during the following Jin dynasty (266–420) and the Six Dynasties. [20]

The tomb figures that were to recur in the Tang were popular across society, but with more emphasis than later on model houses and farm animals. Green-glazed pottery, using lead-glazed earthenware in part of the later sancai formula, was used for some of these, though not for wares for use, as the raw lead made the glaze poisonous.

Sui and Tang dynasties, 581–907 AD Edit

During the Sui and Tang dynasties (608 to 907 AD), a wide range of ceramics, low-fired and high-fired, were produced. These included the last significant fine earthenwares to be produced in China, mostly lead-glazed sancai (three-colour) wares. Many of the well-known lively Tang dynasty tomb figures, which were only made to be placed in elite tombs close to the capital in the north, are in sancai, while others are unpainted or were painted over a slip the paint has now often fallen off. The sancai vessels too may have been mainly for tombs, which is where they are all found the glaze was less toxic than in the Han, but perhaps still to be avoided for use at the dining table.

In the south, the wares from the Changsha Tongguan Kiln Site in Tongguan are significant for their first regular use of underglaze painting examples have been found in many places in the Islamic world. However their production tailed off as underglaze painting remained a minor technique for several centuries. [21]

Yue ware was the leading high-fired, lime-glazed celadon of the period, and was of very sophisticated design, patronized by the court. This was also the case with the northern porcelains of kilns in the provinces of Henan and Hebei, which for the first time met the Western and Eastern definition of porcelain, being both pure white and translucent. [22] The white Xing ware and green Yue ware were considered the finest ceramics of north and south China respectively. [23] One of the first mentions of porcelain by a foreigner was in the Chain of Chronicles, written by the Arab traveler and merchant Suleiman in 851 AD during the Tang dynasty who recorded that: [19] [24]

They have in China a very fine clay with which they make vases which are as transparent as glass water is seen through them. The vases are made of clay.

Liao, Song, Western Xia and Jin dynasties, 907–1276 Edit

The pottery of the Song dynasty has retained enormous prestige in Chinese tradition, especially that of what later became known as the "Five Great Kilns". The artistic emphasis of Song pottery was on subtle glaze effects and graceful shapes other decoration, where there was any, was mostly in shallow relief. Initially this was carved with a knife, but later moulds were used, with a loss of artistic quality. Painting was mostly used in the popular Cizhou ware. "What is clear is that in the Song Dynasty which tended to uphold the esthetics of conventional Confucianism, underglaze blue was not at all popular Confucian esthetics emphasized simplicity, and the underglaze blue designs were judged to be too ornamental." [25]

Green ware or celadons were popular, both in China and in export markets, which became increasingly important during the period. Yue ware was succeeded by Northern Celadon and then in the south Longquan celadon. White and black wares were also important, especially in Cizhou ware, and there were polychrome types, but the finer types of ceramics, for the court and the literati, remained monochrome, relying on glaze effects and shape. A wide variety of styles evolved in various areas, and those that were successful were imitated in other areas. Important kiln sites and stoneware styles included Ru, Jun, Southern Song Guan or official ware, Jian and Jizhou. Whitish porcelain continued to be improved, and included the continuation of Ding ware and the arrival of the qingbai which would replace it.

The Liao, Xia and Jin were founded by non-literate, often nomadic people who conquered parts of China. Pottery production continued under their rule, but their own artistic traditions merged to some extent with the Chinese, producing characteristic new styles.

The fine pottery of all these regions was mainly high-fired, with some earthenware produced because of its lower cost and more colourful glazes. Some of the clay used was what is called kaolinite in the West. In some cases stoneware was preferred for its darker colour or better working qualities. Potteries used the local clay, and when that was dark or coarse and they wanted a fine white body, they covered the clay with white slip before applying glaze.

Yuan dynasty, 1271–1368 Edit

The Mongol Yuan dynasty enforced the movement of artists of all sorts around the Mongol Empire, which in ceramics brought a major stylistic and technical influence from the Islamic world in the form of blue and white porcelain, with underglaze painting in cobalt. This has been described as the "last great innovation in ceramic technology". [26] Decoration by underglaze painted patterns had long been a feature of Chinese pottery, especially in the popular Cizhou ware (mostly using black over slip), but was perhaps regarded as rather vulgar by the court and the literati class, and the finest ceramics were monochrome, using an understated aesthetic with perfect shapes and subtle glaze effects, often over shallow decoration carved or moulded into the surface. [27]

This was a great contrast to the bright colours and complicated designs developed under the Yuan, whose organization was mostly based on Islamic art, especially metalwork, although the animal and vegetable motifs remained based on Chinese tradition. [28] These were initially mainly made for export, [29] but became acceptable at court, and to buyers of fine ceramics internally. Export markets readily accepted the style, which has continued to be produced ever since, both in China and around the world.

Because of this, improvements in water transportation and the re-unification under Mongol rule, pottery production started to concentrate near deposits of kaolin, such as Jingdezhen, which gradually became the pre-eminent centre for producing porcelain in a variety of styles, a position it has held ever since. The scale of production greatly increased, and the scale and organization of the kilns became industrialized, with ownership by commercial syndicates, much division of labour, and other typical features of mass production. [30] Some other types of pottery, especially Longquan celadon and Cizhou ware, continued to flourish.

Ming dynasty, 1368–1644 Edit

The Ming dynasty saw an extraordinary period of innovation in ceramic manufacture. Kilns investigated new techniques in design and shapes, showing a predilection for colour and painted design, and an openness to foreign forms. [31] The Yongle Emperor (1402–24) was especially curious about other countries (as evidenced by his support of the eunuch Zheng He's extended exploration of the Indian Ocean), and enjoyed unusual shapes, many inspired by Islamic metalwork. [32] [33] [34] During the Xuande period (1426–35), a technical refinement was introduced in the preparation of the cobalt used for underglaze blue decoration.

Prior to this the cobalt had been brilliant in colour, but with a tendency to bleed in firing by adding manganese the colour was duller, but the line crisper. Xuande porcelain is now considered among the finest of all Ming output. [35] Enamelled decoration (such as the one at left) was perfected under the Chenghua Emperor (1464–87), and greatly prized by later collectors. [36] Indeed, by the late 16th century, Chenghua and Xuande era works – especially wine cups [37] – had grown so much in popularity, that their prices nearly matched genuine antique wares of the Song dynasty or even older. This esteem for relatively recent ceramics excited much scorn on the part of literati scholars (such as Wen Zhenheng, Tu Long, and Gao Lian, who is cited below) these men fancied themselves arbiters of taste and found the painted aesthetic 'vulgar.' [38] [39]

In addition to these decorative innovations, the late Ming dynasty underwent a dramatic shift towards a market economy, [40] exporting porcelain around the world on an unprecedented scale. Thus aside from supplying porcelain for domestic use, the kilns at Jingdezhen became the main production centre for large-scale porcelain exports to Europe starting with the reign of the Wanli Emperor (1572–1620). By this time, kaolin and pottery stone were mixed in about equal proportions. Kaolin produced wares of great strength when added to the paste it also enhanced the whiteness of the body—a trait that became a much sought after property, especially when form blue-and-white wares grew in popularity. Pottery stone could be fired at a lower temperature (1,250 °C 2,280 °F) than paste mixed with kaolin, which required 1,350 °C (2,460 °F). These sorts of variations were important to keep in mind because the large southern egg-shaped kiln varied greatly in temperature. Near the firebox it was hottest near the chimney, at the opposite end of the kiln, it was cooler.

Qing dynasty, 1644–1911 Edit

The lengthy civil wars marking the transition from Ming to Qing caused a breakdown in the Imperial kilns system, forcing the managers to find new markets. The Transitional porcelain of about 1620 to the 1680s saw a new style in painting, mostly in blue and white, with new subject-matter of landscapes and figures painted very freely, borrowing from other media. The later part of the period saw Europe joining the existing export markets.

The Qing dynasty produced very varied porcelain styles, developing many of the innovations of the Ming. The most notable area of continuing innovation was in the increasing range of colours available, mostly in overglaze enamels. A very significant trade in Chinese export porcelain with the West developed. Court taste was highly eclectic, still favouring monochrome wares, which now used a wide range of bright glaze colours. Special glazing effects were highly regarded new ones were developed and classic Song wares imitated with great skill. But the court now accepted wares with painted scenes in both blue and white and the new bright polychrome palettes. Technical standards at Jingdezhen were remarkably high, though falling somewhat by the middle of the 19th century.

Decoration, and sometimes shapes, became increasingly over-elaborate and fussy, and generally the Ming period is regarded as the greater indeed in China this was the case at the time. By the 18th century the tradition had ceased to innovate in any radical way, and the vitality of painting declines.

Primary source material on Qing dynasty porcelain is available from both foreign residents and domestic authors. Two letters written by Père François Xavier d'Entrecolles, a Jesuit missionary and industrial spy who lived and worked in Jingdezhen in the early 18th century, described in detail manufacturing of porcelain in the city. [41] In his first letter dated 1712, d'Entrecolles described the way in which pottery stones were crushed, refined and formed into little white bricks, known in Chinese as petuntse. He then went on to describe the refining of china clay kaolin along with the developmental stages of glazing and firing. He explained his motives:

Nothing but my curiosity could ever have prompted me to such researches, but it appears to me that a minute description of all that concerns this kind of work might, be useful in Europe.

In 1743, during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, Tang Ying, the imperial supervisor in the city produced a memoir entitled Twenty Illustrations of the Manufacture of Porcelain. The original illustrations have been lost, but the text is still accessible. [42]

Tang burial wares Edit

Sancai means "three-colours": green, yellow and a creamy white, all in lead-based glazes. In fact some other colours could be used, including cobalt blue. In the West, Tang sancai wares were sometimes referred to as egg-and-spinach.

Sancai wares were northern wares made using white and buff-firing secondary kaolins and fire clays. [44] At kiln sites located at Tongchuan, Neiqiu County in Hebei and Gongyi in Henan, [44] the clays used for burial wares were similar to those used by Tang potters. The burial wares were fired at a lower temperature than contemporaneous whitewares. Tang dynasty tomb figures, such as the well-known representations of camels and horses, were cast in sections, in moulds with the parts luted together using clay slip. They were either painted in sancai or merely coated in white slip, often with paint added over the glaze, which has now mostly been lost. In some cases, a degree of individuality was imparted to the assembled figurines by hand-carving.

Greenwares or celadon wares Edit

The major group of celadon wares is named for its glaze, which uses iron oxide to give a broad spectrum of colours centred on a jade or olive green, but covering browns, cream and light blues. This is a similar range to that of jade, always the most prestigious material in Chinese art, and the broad resemblance accounts for much of the attractiveness of celadon to the Chinese. Celadons are plain or decorated in relief, which may be carved, inscribed or moulded. Sometimes taken by the imperial court, celadons had a more regular market with the scholarly and middle classes, and were also exported in enormous quantities. Important types are: Yue ware, Yaozhou ware and the wider Northern Celadons, Ru ware, Guan ware, and finally Longquan celadon.

Jian ware Edit

Jian Zhan blackwares, mainly comprising tea wares, were made at kilns located in Jianyang, Fujian province. They reached the peak of their popularity during the Song dynasty. The wares were made using locally won, iron-rich clays and fired in an oxidising atmosphere at temperatures in the region of 1,300 °C (2,370 °F). The glaze was made using clay similar to that used for forming the body, except fluxed with wood-ash. At high temperatures the molten glaze separate to produce a pattern called "hare's fur". When Jian wares were set tilted for firing, drips run down the side, creating evidence of liquid glaze pooling.

Jian tea wares of the Song dynasty were also greatly appreciated and copied in Japan, where they were known as tenmoku wares.

Jizhou ware Edit

Jizhou ware was stoneware, mostly used for tea drinking. It was famous for glaze effects, including a "tortoiseshell" glaze, and the use of real leaves as glaze resists the leaf burnt away during firing, leaving its outlines in the glaze.

Ding ware Edit

Ding (Wade–Giles: Ting) ware was produced in Ding County, Hebei Province. Already in production when the Song emperors came to power in 940, Ding ware was the finest porcelain produced in northern China at the time, and was the first to enter the palace for official imperial use. Its paste is white, generally covered with an almost transparent glaze that dripped and collected in "tears", (though some Ding ware was glazed a monochrome black or brown, white was the much more common type). Overall, the Ding aesthetic relied more on its elegant shape than ostentatious decoration designs were understated, either incised or stamped into the clay prior to glazing. Due to the way the dishes were stacked in the kiln, the edged remained unglazed, and had to be rimmed in metal such as gold or silver when used as tableware. Some hundred years later, a Southern Song dynasty writer commented that it was this defect that led to its demise as favoured imperial ware. [45] Since the Song government lost access to these northern kilns when they fled south, it has been argued that Qingbai ware (see below) was viewed as a replacement for Ding. [46]

Although not as highly ranked as Ru ware, the late Ming dynasty connoisseur Gao Lian awards Ding ware a brief mention in his volume Eight Discourses on the Art of Living. Classified under his sixth discourse, the section on "pure enjoyment of cultured idleness", Master Gao said: "The best sort has marks on it like tear-stains… Great skill and ingenuity is displayed in selecting the forms of the vessels." [47]

Ru ware Edit

Like Ding ware, Ru ware (Wade–Giles: ju) was produced in North China for imperial use. The Ru kilns were near the Northern Song capital at Kaifeng. In similar fashion to Longquan celadons, Ru pieces have small amounts of iron oxide in their glaze that oxidize and turn greenish when fired in a reducing atmosphere. Ru wares range in colour—from nearly white to a deep robin's egg—and often are covered with reddish-brown crackles. The crackles, or "crazing", are caused when the glaze cools and contracts faster than the body, thus having to stretch and ultimately to split, (as seen in the detail at right see also [1]). The art historian James Watt comments that the Song dynasty was the first period that viewed crazing as a merit rather than a defect. Moreover, as time went on, the bodies got thinner and thinner, while glazes got thicker, until by the end of the Southern Song the 'green-glaze' was thicker than the body, making it extremely 'fleshy' rather than 'bony,' to use the traditional analogy (see section on Guan ware, below). Too, the glaze tends to drip and pool slightly, leaving it thinner at the top, where the clay peeps through.

As with Ding ware, the Song imperial court lost access to the Ru kilns after it fled Kaifeng when the Jurchen-led Jin dynasty conquered northern China, and settled at Lin'an (present-day Hangzhou) in the south. There, the Emperor Gaozong founded the Guan yao ('official kilns') right outside the new capital in order to produce imitations of Ru ware. [49] However, posterity has remembered Ru ware as something unmatched by later attempts Master Gao says, "Compared with Guan yao, the above were of finer substance and more brilliant luster." [50]

Jun ware Edit

Jun (Wade–Giles: chün) ware was a third style of porcelain used at the Northern Song court. Characterized by a thicker body than Ding or Ru ware, Jun is covered with a turquoise and purple glaze, so thick and viscous looking that appears to melting off the golden-brown body. Not only are Jun vessels more thickly potted, their shape is much more robust than the fine Jun pieces, yet both types were appreciated at the court of Emperor Huizong. Jun production was centred at Jun-tai in Yuzhou, Henan Province. [45]

Guan ware Edit

Guan (Wade–Giles: kuan) ware, literally means "official" ware so certain Ru, Jun, and even Ding are Guan in the broad sense of being produced for the court. Usually the term in English only applies to that produced by an official, imperially run kiln, which did not start until the Southern Song dynasty fled from the advancing Jin dynasty and settled at Lin'an. During this period walls become very thin, with glaze thicker than the wall. The clay in the foothills around Lin'an was a brownish colour, and the glaze very viscous. [52]

Ge ware Edit

Ge (Wade–Giles: ko), literally "big-brother" ware, due to a legend of two brothers working in Longquan, one made the typical celadon style ceramics, the elder made ge ware, produced in his private kiln. Ming dynasty commentator Gao Lian writes that the ge kiln took its clay from the same site as Guan ware, accounting for the difficulty in distinguishing one from the other (though Gao thinks "Ge is distinctly inferior" to Guan). [53] Overall, Ge remains somewhat elusive, but basically comprises two types—one with a 'warm rice-yellow glaze and two sets of crackles, a more prominent set of darker colour interspersed with a finer set of reddish lines' (called chin-ssu t'ieh-hsien or 'golden floss and iron threads', which can just faintly be detected on this bowl). [54] The other Ge ware is much like Guan ware, with grayish glaze and one set of crackles. Once thought to have only been manufactured alongside Longquan celadon, per its legendary founding, Ge is now believed to have also been produced at Jingdezhen. [55]

While similar to Guan ware, Ge typically has a grayish-blue glaze that is fully opaque with an almost matte finish. Its crackle pattern is exaggerated, often standing out in bold black. Though still shrouded in mystery, many specialists believe that Ge ware did not develop until the very late Southern Song dynasty or even the Yuan dynasty. In any case, enthusiasm for it persisted throughout the Ming dynasty Wen Zhenheng preferred it to all other types of porcelain, in particular for brush washers and water droppers (although he preferred jade brush washers to porcelain, Guan and Ge were the best ceramic ones, especially if they have scalloped rims). Differences between later Ming imitations of Song/Yuan Ge include: Ming versions substitute a white porcelain body they tend to be produced in a range of new shapes, for example those for the scholar's studio glazes tend to be thinner and more lustrous and slip is applied to the rim and base to simulate the "brown mouth and iron foot" of Guan ware. [56]

Qingbai wares Edit

Qingbai wares (also called 'yingqing') [57] were made at Jingdezhen and at many other southern kilns from the time of the Northern Song dynasty until they were eclipsed in the 14th century by underglaze-decorated blue and white wares. Qingbai in Chinese literally means "clear blue-white". The qingbai glaze is a porcelain glaze, so-called because it was made using pottery stone. The qingbai glaze is clear, but contains iron in small amounts. When applied over a white porcelain body the glaze produces a greenish-blue colour that gives the glaze its name. Some have incised or moulded decorations.

The Song dynasty qingbai bowl illustrated was likely made at the Jingdezhen village of Hutian, which was also the site of the imperial kilns established in 1004. The bowl has incised decoration, possibly representing clouds or the reflection of clouds in the water. The body is white, translucent and has the texture of very-fine sugar, indicating that it was made using crushed and refined pottery stone instead of pottery stone and kaolin. The glaze and the body of the bowl would have been fired together, in a saggar in a large wood-burning dragon kiln, typical of southern kilns in the period.

Though many Song and Yuan dynasty qingbai bowls were fired upside down in special segmented saggars, a technique first developed at the Ding kilns in Hebei province. The rims of such wares were left unglazed but were often bound with bands of silver, copper or lead.

One remarkable example of qingbai porcelain is the so-called Fonthill Vase, described in a guide for Fonthill Abbey published in 1823 as "an oriental china bottle, superbly mounted, said to be the earliest known specimen of porcelain introduced into Europe".

The vase was made at Jingdezhen, probably around 1300 and was probably sent as a present to Pope Benedict XII by one of the last Yuan emperors of China, in 1338. The mounts referred to in the 1823 description were of enamelled silver-gilt and were added to the vase in Europe in 1381. An 18th-century water colour of the vase complete with its mounts exists, but the mounts themselves were removed and lost in the 19th century. The vase is now in the National Museum of Ireland. It is often held that qingbai wares were not subject to the higher standards and regulations of the other porcelain wares, since they were made for everyday use. They were mass-produced, and received little attention from scholars and antiquarians. The Fonthill Vase, given by a Chinese emperor to a pope, might appear to cast at least some doubt on this view.

Blue and white wares Edit

Following in the tradition of earlier qingbai porcelains, blue and white wares are glazed using a transparent porcelain glaze. The blue decoration is painted onto the body of the porcelain before glazing, using very finely ground cobalt oxide mixed with water. After the decoration has been applied the pieces are glazed and fired.

It is believed that underglaze blue and white porcelain was first made in the Tang dynasty. Only three complete pieces of Tang blue and white porcelain are known to exist (in Singapore from the Indonesian Belitung shipwreck), but shards dating to the 8th or 9th century have been unearthed at Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province. It has been suggested that the shards originated from a kiln in the province of Henan. In 1957, excavations at the site of a pagoda in Zhejiang province uncovered a Northern Song bowl decorated with underglaze blue and further fragments have since been discovered at the same site. In 1970 a small fragment of a blue and white bowl, again dated to the 11th century, was also excavated in the province of Zhejiang.

In 1975, shards decorated with underglaze blue were excavated at a kiln site in Jiangxi and, in the same year, an underglaze blue and white urn was excavated from a tomb dated to 1319, in the province of Jiangsu. It is of interest to note that a Yuan funerary urn decorated with underglaze blue and underglaze red and dated 1338 is still in the Chinese taste, even though by this time the large-scale production of blue and white porcelain in the Yuan dynasty, Mongol taste had started its influence at Jingdezhen.

Starting early in the 14th century, blue and white porcelain rapidly became the main product of Jingdezhen, reaching the height of its technical excellence during the later years of the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722) [58] and continuing in present times to be an important product of the city.

The tea caddy illustrated shows many of the characteristics of blue and white porcelain produced during the Kangxi period. The translucent body showing through the clear glaze is of great whiteness and the cobalt decoration, applied in many layers, has a fine blue hue. The decoration, a sage in a landscape of lakes and mountains with blazed rocks is typical of the period. The piece would have been fired in a saggar (a lidded ceramic box intended to protect the piece from kiln debris, smoke and cinders during firing) in a reducing atmosphere in a wood-burning egg-shaped kiln, at a temperature approaching 1,350 °C (2,460 °F).

Distinctive blue-and-white porcelain was exported to Japan, where it is known as Tenkei blue-and-white ware or ko sometsukei. This ware is thought to have been especially ordered by tea masters for Japanese ceremony.

Blanc de Chine Edit

Blanc de Chine is a type of white porcelain made at Dehua in Fujian province. It has been produced from the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) to the present day. Large quantities arrived in Europe as Chinese Export Porcelain in the early 18th century and it was copied at Meissen and elsewhere.

The area along the Fujian coast was traditionally one of the main ceramic exporting centres. Over 180 kiln sites have been identified extending in historical range from the Song dynasty to the present.

From the Ming dynasty, porcelain objects were manufactured that achieved a fusion of glaze and body traditionally referred to as "ivory white" and "milk white". The special characteristic of Dehua porcelain is the very small amount of iron oxide in it, allowing it to be fired in an oxidising atmosphere to a warm white or pale ivory colour. (Wood, 2007)

The porcelain body is not very plastic but vessel forms have been made from it. Donnelly, (1969, pp.xi-xii) lists the following types of product: figures, boxes, vases and jars, cups and bowls, fishes, lamps, cup-stands, censers and flowerpots, animals, brush holders, wine and teapots, Buddhist and Taoist figures, secular figures and puppets. There was a large output of figures, especially religious figures, e.g. Guanyin, Maitreya, Lohan and Ta-mo figures.

The numerous Dehua porcelain factories today make figures and tableware in modern styles. During the Cultural Revolution "Dehua artisans applied their very best skills to produce immaculate statuettes of Mao Zedong and the Communist leaders. Portraits of the stars of the new proletarian opera in their most famous roles were produced on a truly massive scale." [59] Mao Zedong figures later fell out of favour but have been revived for foreign collectors.

Notable artists in blanc de Chine, such as the late Ming period He Chaozong, signed their creations with their seals. Wares include crisply modeled figures, cups, bowls and joss stick-holders.

Many of the best examples of blanc de Chine are found in Japan where the white variety was termed hakugorai or "Korean white", a term often found in tea ceremony circles. The British Museum in London has a large number of blanc de Chine pieces, having received as a gift in 1980 the entire collection of P.J. Donnelly. [60]

Painted colours Edit

Chinese court taste long favoured monochrome wares, and although the Yuan dynasty saw blue and white porcelain accepted by the court, more fully polychrome styles took much longer to be accepted. Initially blue from cobalt was almost the only pigment that could withstand the high temperature of a porcelain firing without discolouring, but gradually (mostly during the Ming period) others were found, or the extra cost of a second firing at a lower temperature to fix overglaze enamels was accepted. Copper-reds could produce highly effective results underglaze, but at the cost of an extremely high proportion of greyish rejects, some of which remain in circulation, and thousands more of which have been found when kiln waste-heaps have been excavated. Eventually underglaze blue and overglaze red became the usual way of achieving the same result.

Overglaze painting, usually called "enamels", was widely used in the popular Cizhou ware stonewares, and was sometimes experimented with by kilns producing for the court, but not until the 15th century, under the Ming, was the doucai technique used for imperial wares. This combined underglaze blue outlines with overglaze enamels in further colours. [61] The wucai technique was a similar combination, with underglaze blue used more widely for highlights. [62]

Two-colour wares, using underglaze blue and an overglaze colour, usually red, also produced very fine results. A number of different other methods using coloured glazes were tried, often with images lightly incised into the body. The fahua technique outlined areas of coloured decoration with raised trails of slip, and the subtle "secret" (an hua) technique decorated using very light incisions that could hardly be seen. As the range of glaze colours expanded, the taste for monochrome wares, now in the new strong colours, returned, and with it a number of special glazing effects were developed, including the return of crackle and spotty effects made by blowing powdered pigment onto the piece. [63]

Classification by colour, the famille groups Edit

The next development saw a group of 'families', or palettes of enamel colours used on Chinese porcelain. These are commonly known by their French names of famille jaune, noire, rose, verte, based on the dominant element in each colour palette are terms used to classify. A large proportion of these were export wares but some were made for the Imperial court.

  • Famille verte ( 康熙五彩 , Kangxi wucai, also 素三彩 , susancai, lit. ‘three colours on a plain [unglazed or thinly glazed] body’), adopted in the Kangxi period (1661–1722), uses green and iron red with other overglaze colours. It developed from the wucai ( 五彩 , "five colours") style.
    • 'Famille jaune is a variation using famille verteenamels on a yellow ground ( 黃地 ), often painted on the biscuit.
    • Famille noire ( 墨地素三彩 , modi susancai) is another subtype of famille verte, but it uses a black ground. Many famille jaune and famille noir pieces were "clobbered" with the yellow or black added in the 19th century.

    Famille verte dish, Kangxi period (1661–1722)

    Export porcelain with European figure, famille rose, first half of 18th century, Qing dynasty

    Double Peacock Dinner Service export: famille rose service with peacocks over a rock, late 18th century

    Moon flasks in famille rose, Jingdezhen, Yongzheng reign (1723–35)

    Pottery classified as stoneware in the West is usually regarded as porcelain in Chinese terms, where a stoneware group is not recognised, and so the definition of porcelain is rather different, covering all vitrified high-fired wares. Terms such as "porcellaneous" and "near-porcelain" are often used to reflect this, and cover wares that in Western terms lie on the border of stoneware and porcelain. High-fired stonewares were numerous from very early on, and included many high-prestige wares, including those for imperial use, as well as great quantities of everyday utilitarian pots. Usually they achieved their reputation by their glazes. Most of the celadon group, including Longquan celadons, especially earlier ones, can be classified as stoneware, and all classic Jian wares and Jizhou wares.

    By contrast, the Yixing clay teapots and cups made from Yixing clay from Jiangsu province are usually left unglazed, and not washed after use, as the clay is believed to improve the taste of the tea, especially after it acquires a patina from long use. There are in fact a number of different clays, giving a range of colours. The pots are unusual in that they are often signed by their potters, which is very rare in China, perhaps because they were associated with the literati culture, of which Jiangsu was a stronghold. The earliest datable example is from a burial of 1533 in Nanjing. Elaborately decorated examples, often with a rectangular body, were exported to Europe from the 18th century, and these and pots for local use often had poems inscribed on them. As well as teaware and desk objects such as brush-rests, fruit and other natural shapes were modelled as ornaments. Production continues today, generally using simpler shapes. [65]

    Imperial and private kilns Edit

    The very first imperial kiln was established in the thirty-fifth year of Hongwu. [66] Before that, there were no systematic regulations on the state-demanded porcelain production. The law stated that, if the quantity of ceramics demanded was big, potters would be conscripted and worked in the imperial kilns in Nanjing if the quantity was small, the ceramics could be produced in private kilns in Raozhou. [67] In either case, officials from the imperial centre were sent to supervise the production. The officials were responsible for making budgets, ensuring quality, and sending products back to the imperial court. Different rules on styles and sizes of the ceramics were put forward by the imperial court and must be strictly followed in the kilns. After 1403, imperial kilns were built, and carried out the imperial porcelain production on a large scale. [66]

    During the mid-Ming period, the demand for porcelain increased, the temporarily assigned officials were not able to handle the project. In the Xuande Period, the imperial factory in Jingdezhen was established. [68] The factory was divided into dormitories and pavilions on the north, official offices, and prisons on the east and workshops on the west. There were wells, wood sheds, temples and lounges for potters. The imperial factory in Jingdezhen was not a mere production site but also included government administrative offices. [69]

    The imperial factory was divided into twenty-three departments, with each taking charge of different aspects of ceramics production. [70] The work was subdivided by type and assigned to different departments like department of large vessels, small vessels, painting, carving, calligraphy, rope making and general carpentry. This subdividing of the work so that a single piece of a vessel could pass through several hands led to potters not signing pieces as they did in the private kilns. The division of labour also ensured a uniform style and size in the ceramics. [69]

    The number of imperial kilns varies during the Ming period. There were fewer than ten imperial factories in the fifteenth century, then the number increased to 58, later again to 62 and then decreased to 18. [69]

    Imperial orders demanded both individuality in the design of porcelain while also demanding large quantities of it. Understandably, these demands came from different sectors of the court that expected particular designs. For example, yellow and green products decorated with mythical flying creatures were specifically requested by the Directorate for Palace Delicacies. [71] The need for both individual design and mass production was a recipe for exhausting demands on porcelain kilns. Many were forced to outsource their production to private kilns in order to meet court quotas. Those who managed the production at imperial factories understood the need for outsourcing as an answer to scalability. [72] Outsourcing must have required a keen sense in picking private kilns that would deliver quality and quantity. Without cooperation and transparency between colleagues of different kilns, the satisfaction of the imperial court was in jeopardy.

    In the late Ming period, the corvée system in ceramics reformed with the strong influence of commercialization. Under the new system, a person would not be conscripted to work if he paid a certain amount of money. [73] Many good potters [74] thus left the imperial kilns and worked in the private ones where the pay was better. The late Ming period witnessed a drastic decline in the quality of pieces from the imperial kilns and a rise of private kilns. [75]

    The private kilns existed in the early Ming dynasty and their production constituted a part of the tax income of the government. Apart from making ceramics for people's everyday life, private kilns also accepted orders from the imperial court. However, making and selling imperial style ceramics in private kilns was strictly forbidden. [67]

    During the late Ming period, private kilns rose as imperial kilns declined. Many famous workers escaped from the overworked and underpaid environment in the imperial kilns to private ones. Private kilns were more involved in commercials than the imperial kilns did. In the late Ming period, several private kilns won great popularity among the literati, who were enthusiastic about the antique style porcelain. Examples were the Cui kiln ( 崔公窑 ), Zhou kiln ( 周窑 ), and Hu kiln ( 壶公窑 ). [75] Ceramics in the late Ming dynasty was produced in high quality and quantity, making Jingdezhen one of the earliest commercial centres in the world. [76]

    Competition in the porcelain industry erupted following the failure of the corvée system. [77] With government control at a low, investors could invest in many means of production, especially in handicraft industries. In Jingdezhen, over 70 percent of the 100,000 families occupying the 6.5 square kilometre town were involved in the porcelain industry.

    The economic resurgence brought on by the porcelain industry carried along its own ramifications. There existed two sides of the porcelain industry which are described as jiating shougongye ( 家庭手工业 , "family-run industry") and zuofang shougongye ( 作坊手工业 , "entrepreneurial industry"). [78] Family-run industries reveal the ruthless and inhumane side of the porcelain industry as seen in the story of Yang Shi in “An Injustice Caused by a Slight Dispute Over One Penny”. The story vividly describes a scene of domestic violence as a result of the wife, Yang Shi, purchasing a drink worth a penny to soothe her aching stomach. [79] This story sums up the drama within family-run industries as a result of the cut-throat approach to profits. Especially within work involving relatives or immediate family, one's own self worth and concept will be diminished in the face of success for the business.

    The cut-throat mentality served to blur the family hierarchy within family-run industries to some degree. Porcelain production required both the construction of pots as well as the decorations done after. Within a family-run pottery industry, the women took on this decorating role which helped to increase their value to the family. Men and women had to work harmoniously to produce good quality work and ultimately this spread throughout the porcelain industry. [79]

    Life as a potter Edit

    In the early Ming dynasty, the population could be divided into three categories: military, craftsmen, and peasants. Within the craftsmen system, most of the craftsmen were from the previous dynasty, the Yuan dynasty others were prisoners or unemployed people. Craftsmen households members had to work throughout their lifetime, and their status was hereditary. There were two subcategories within the craftsmen system: military craftsmen, who were specialized in producing weapon the ordinary craftsmen, who worked in various other industries. Potters belonged to the latter subcategory. [80]

    In the early Ming period, whenever the court demanded ceramics, labor would be conscripted by the court in different ways. Usually, there were different types of workers in the imperial kilns. Most of the potters were selected from the craftsman households by the local government and served in the imperial kilns for three months in every four years for free in other cases, workers were recruited from counties near the imperial kilns and paid regularly. Usually the recruited workers were assigned to different departments. [81]

    The imperial factory was divided into twenty-three departments, with each department having managers and workers. The number of managers was usually less than five, and the number of workers was usually about ten to twenty. [82]

    Making porcelain was not easy. More than half the firings of every kiln resulted in spoilt pieces and were thrown away in the neighborhood of Jingdezhen, resulting in a huge dump of porcelain fragments that still exist today. When the kiln was in action, it was important to control the fire, which ideally should produce a constant temperature. The proper choice, preparation, colouring, firing, and the slip should be made on every stage of the production. [83] The regulations on the potters working in the imperial kiln were severe. Potters were punished for delaying, smuggling, producing inferior goods, and other misconducts. [84]

    Overworked and underpaid, many potters refused or fled from being conscripted into the imperial kilns. By the time of Xuande period, the number of potters escaping from the corvee was about five thousand in the first year of Jingtai, the number reached about thirty thousand. There was also a great discrepancy in the number of workers in different departments. Sometimes private kiln workers from the corresponding departments would serve as temporary workers in the imperial kilns. To regulate the potters, the government reformed the policy so that the potters would not have to work in the imperial kilns if they pay certain amount of money per month. [85] The new law implied that the potters were no longer tied to the state government. Unable to stand the hard law and the heavy work, many talented workers found their new positions in the private kilns. The imperial kilns suffered from the lost in talented potters and labors, and the quality of the porcelain declined dramatically. [86]

    Starting from the ninth year of Jiajing, a new policy was carried out. The government prepared their own materials, utilized the private kilns to make porcelain, and paid the private kilns based on the number of porcelain produced. However, the state was usually not able to pay the amount required. [87]

    Post-production Edit

    The industrialization of Chinese porcelain during the Ming dynasty was not possible without a post-production system that honored scalability as well as scarcity. Individual retail sales were important to kilns but wholesale orders were of even higher importance. [88] In reality, wholesale orders were the backbone of porcelain economics. Without these orders that required months to a year of work to complete, demand would have definitely been lacking.

    Merchants entered provinces with little knowledge of how porcelain trade was conducted. They relied on brokers to introduce them to reliable kilns and ultimately negotiate prices. Once established, merchants took on negotiating matters. In particular, brokers helped alleviate risk for many kilns by analyzing the integrity of buyers. Due to the guild-esque nature between brokers and kiln owners, guilty knowledge of the buyer's secrets was common talk. [89] If a buyer was deemed as unreliable, word spread throughout the province of such news. Potters claimed the license to know who the bad buyers were. This dangerous knowledge had the ability to ruin a buyer's reputation but on the contrary contributed to the success of kilns.

    In observing court orders, porcelain was required for culinary, religious, and display purposes. Since porcelain was often used once and thrown away by the court, imperial orders were at a continuous flow in porcelain factories. [71] Demand was often too high for kilns to meet which hints at the necessity for scalability.

    From their respective kilns, fine porcelain was distributed over sea and land to Southeast Asia, Japan and the Middle East. The magnitude of foreign trade can be understood in a record showing over sixteen million pieces circulating through a Dutch East India Company. [90] The land transportation showed the intensity of labor in the porcelain industry. Dozens of carts sent from Mongolia, Manchuria, Persia and Arabic countries were loaded in the Ming capital full of porcelain and other Chinese goods. Some carts reached thirty feet in height which must have required extreme attention to avoid broken porcelain. Due to the hollowness of porcelain vases, they were filled with soil and beans. [91] The growth of the bean roots helped porcelain withstand further pressure during transportation. In order to effectively transport large amounts of porcelain, as much space in carts must have been used indicated by the thirty foot high carts. Knowing the risk that came with placing fragile porcelain next to and on top of one another, handlers of the porcelain mitigated that risk through the soil and bean method.

    Like the silk industry, the porcelain industry claimed merit for its mass-producing capabilities. Potters from lower economic backgrounds stuck true to their repetitive methods mostly due to the high risk in attempting new and not tested methods. Trying new techniques could result in the loss of an entire month's worth of work so for these potters, changing their method was not a luxury they could afford. [92] These potters were found in peasant societies outside of Jingdezhen and highlight the particular code that limited their imaginative potential. For potters within Jingdezhen, the code that governed the way their products were created was greatly influenced by international markets. These markets inspired creativity and innovation as seen in how “Jingdezhen and other pottery centres produced ceramic versions of reliquaries, alms bowls, oil lamps, and stem-cups” [92] The difference in code did not necessarily contribute to a hierarchical division but rather a diversification in the personality behind Chinese porcelain.

    Foreign trade was not always beneficial for potters because the further away that products had to go from the source (Ex: Jingdezhen) the more vulnerable cargo became. In examining a report of a Spanish voyage, about a fifth of a Chinese ship crew were killed when met by a Spanish voyager of the name Juan de Salcedo. [93] The two ships that were raided held many Chinese valuables including porcelain and most likely were used to trade off the coast of Midoro. Overall, international markets offered great potential for potters seeking greater wealth but unfortunately came with a vulnerability to crime.

    Trade on an international scale required organization between chiefs and potters. Throughout the Southeast Asian trading ports, chiefs had the power to set port fees as well as control interactions between elite merchants and foreign traders. [94] By possessing the license to impose fees, chiefs were able to profit on almost every transaction within their respective markets and it serves to boost their brilliance in constructing such a diverse market. Potters of luxury porcelain would have to work under the rules set by the chiefs and thus their relationship constructed a hierarchy.

    Chinese potters have a long tradition of borrowing design and decorative features from earlier wares. Whilst ceramics with features thus borrowed might sometimes pose problems of provenance, they would not generally be regarded as either reproductions or fakes. However, fakes and reproductions have also been made at many times during the long history of Chinese ceramics and continue to be made today in ever-increasing numbers.

    In addition, the reign marks of earlier emperors (typically from the Ming) were often put on Qing wares, which scholars are often inclined to treat as a mark of respect or aspiration rather than an attempt to deceive, although they clearly did often mislead centemporaries, and confuse understanding.

    • Imitations and reproductions of Song dynasty Longquan celadon wares were made at Jingdezhen in the early 18th century, but outright fakes were also made using special clay that were artificially aged by boiling in meat broth, refiring and storage in sewers. Père d'Entrecolles records that by this means the wares could be passed off as being hundreds of years old. [41]
    • In the late 19th century, fakes of Kangxi-period famille noire wares were made that were convincing enough to deceive the experts of the day. Many such pieces may still be seen in museums today, as may pieces of genuine Kangxi porcelain were given additional overglaze decoration in the late nineteenth century with famille noire enamels (a process known as "clobbering"). A body of modern expert opinion holds that porcelain decorated with famille noire enamels was not made at all during the Kangxi period, though this view is disputed. [58]
    • A fashion for Kangxi period (1661 to 1722) blue and white wares grew to large proportions in Europe during the later years of the 19th century and triggered the production at Jingdezhen of large quantities of porcelain wares that strike a resemblance to ceramics of earlier periods. Such blue and white wares were not fakes or even convincing reproductions, even though some pieces carried four-character Kangxi reign-marks that continue to cause confusion to this day. Kangxi reign-marks in the form shown in the illustration occur only on wares made towards the end of the 19th century or later, without exception. [citation needed]

    The most widely known test is the thermoluminescence test, or TL test, which is used on some types of ceramic to estimate, roughly, the date of last firing. Thermoluminescence dating is carried out on small samples of pottery drilled or cut from the body of a piece, which can be risky and disfiguring. For this reason, the test is rarely used for dating finely potted, high-fired ceramics. TL testing cannot be used at all on some types of ceramics, particularly high-fired porcelain. [ citation needed ]

    Chinese Pottery: The First Five Millennia

    Basin with Painted Geometric Decor and Burnished Surface, Chinese, Neolithic period, Majiayao culture, Majiayao phase, 3300–2650 BCE. Earthenware.
    Photograph courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums/© President and Fellows of Harvard College.

    Basin with Painted Geometric Decor and Burnished Surface, Chinese, Neolithic period, Majiayao culture, Majiayao phase, 3300–2650 BCE. Earthenware.
    Photograph courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums/© President and Fellows of Harvard College.

    Storage Jar with Painted Bichrome Decor and Burnished Surface, Chinese, Neolithic period, Majiayao Culture, Banshan phase, 2650–2300 BCE. Earthenware.
    Photograph courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology/© President and Fellows of Harvard College

    Storage Jar with Painted Bichrome Decor and Burnished Surface, Chinese, Neolithic period, Majiayao Culture, Banshan phase, 2650–2300 BCE. Earthenware.
    Photograph courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology/© President and Fellows of Harvard College

    Small Jar with Two Lug Handles, Chinese, Neolithic to Bronze Age, Qijia culture, 2200–1600 BCE. Earthenware.
    Photograph courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology/© President and Fellows of Harvard College

    Small Jar with Two Lug Handles, Chinese, Neolithic to Bronze Age, Qijia culture, 2200–1600 BCE. Earthenware.
    Photograph courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology/© President and Fellows of Harvard College

    Ovoid Jar with Curved, Saddle-Shaped Mouth, Chinese, Bronze Age, Siwa culture, 1300–500 BCE. Earthenware.
    Photograph courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums/© President and Fellows of Harvard College.

    Ovoid Jar with Curved, Saddle-Shaped Mouth, Chinese, Bronze Age, Siwa culture, 1300–500 BCE. Earthenware.
    Photograph courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums/© President and Fellows of Harvard College.

    Connoisseurs have long celebrated—and collectors craved—the beauty and technical brilliance of Chinese ceramics: the floral exuberance of Qing dynasty vases Ming blue-and-white ware mellow green celadons and subtly exquisite Northern Song Jun porcelains in unequaled blue and plum tones tricolor Tang horses and camels (some nearly life-size). Now, a highly focused, technically outstanding exhibition at the Harvard Art Museums (HAM) casts the viewer’s gaze almost incomparably farther back in time, to one of the foundational origins of this masterly craftsmanship.

    Prehistoric Pottery from Northwest China, on display through August 14, presents nearly five dozen examples of earthenware ceramics dating from the Neolithic Yangshao culture (5000-3000 B.C.E. )—including delicate bowls and elongated amphorae with textured surfaces, survivors of seven millennia—to the Qijia culture (2200-1600 B.C.E. ) and successors, coterminous with the nascent Bronze Age—featuring appealing animate forms, but in some senses surprisingly less refined construction and decoration than that of earlier eras. The sheer antiquity, size, and state of preservation of the objects resonate, as does the sense of discovery that comes from the work under way to understand their creators’ communities and cultures, whose existence has been rediscovered only within the past century.

    The exhibition provides a clear, chronological survey of Neolithic Chinese earthenware.
    Photograph by R. Leopoldina Torres/Harvard Art Museums

    The exhibition, in the museums’ third-floor University Study Gallery (used during the academic year for student- and course-related exhibitions)—and, for the most part, vividly available online, with helpful maps and explanatory materials—is also a robust demonstration of the joint potential of Harvard’s scholarly capital, museum and library collections, conservation expertise, renovated HAM resources, and global intellectual reach.

    Its genesis was Hudson professor of archaeology Rowan K. Flad’s service as organizer of the seventh worldwide Society for East Asian Archaeology conference in Boston, June 8-12, which brought together several hundred leading scholars in the field. As Flad’s own excavations turn toward northwestern China, he recognized that the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology’s important ceramic holdings from the area might merit exhibition for the guests. (The showpiece in the exhibition, a magnificent Majiayao vessel [3300-2650 B.C.E. ] from the Peabody collection, was reproduced as the cover illustration for both the conference program and the fourth edition of a classic, The Archaeology of Ancient China, near at hand on Flad’s shelf, written by Kwang-chih Chang—a previous holder of the Hudson professorship.) Flad reached out to Hung Ling-yu, assistant professor of anthropology at Indiana University, an expert in the settlement patterns, burial practices, and pottery of the Yangshao and Majiayao (3300-2000 B.C.E. ) cultures. (Closing the Harvard circle, Hung said in a recent conversation in the gallery that a class she took with Kwang-chih Chang in the late 1900s in Taiwan, and her course paper on the Yangshao culture, sparked her interest in the field and led to her academic career.) She spent the past academic year as a visiting fellow at the Fairbank Center, organizing the exhibition. Finally, Flad taught a freshman seminar this past spring on ancient Chinese technologies, including the earthenware pottery (the class even made a field trip to Harvard’s ceramics studio, operated in Allston by the Office for the Arts, for hands-on experience).

    Although the culture of the ancient upper and middle Yellow River valley, and contemporary excavations, could not be farther from the refined setting and controlled atmosphere of the HAM complex, Hung described two significant learning experiences from organizing the exhibition.

    First, although she and Flad had focused initially on the Peabody holdings, which are embedded in archaeological context from their discovery before World War II, she subsequently discovered that the art museums have an even larger collection, assembled by acquisition from dealers by Walter C. Sedgwick ’69, with assistance from Robert D. Mowry, former Dworsky curator of Chinese art—a collection that came to the museums by gift and acquisition in 2006.

    Second, understanding those works—which are naturally removed from the explanatory context of an archaeological dig—depends on analysis of artistic styles, technical examination of pigments, and other tools familiar to HAM curators and experts from the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. For example, ultraviolet (UV) illumination and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) [Note: the description of the technologies employed was updated and corrected June 17, 8:30 a.m. ] can discriminate between ancient and modern pigments, helping to determine whether a vessel is original, retouched or altered to enhance its appeal for the contemporary market, or a modern replica. This application of museum-based techniques of analysis, Hung said, was new to her, and now complements her core work of scholarship embedded in discovery and interpretation of materials and cultures in archaeological context. Both HAM and the collector, she noted, were completely open-minded toward, and receptive to, the analysis of each object those on display are considered, with reasonable confidence, to be authentic.

    Changing Cultures, and Interpretations

    The initial, small case in the exhibition underscores how recent the discovery of these Neolithic communities is, and how much work needs to be done to understand them. It includes Anau potsherds from the Peabody collection, discovered in southern Turkmenistan (in central Asia) in the early 1900s. One of the most significant artifacts is reproduced in a rare book, on display from the Tozzer Library it documents Swedish explorer J. G. Andersson’s 1920s Yangshao discoveries, from Henan province, and his resulting conclusion that Chinese ceramics arose from the west—and were therefore of Eurasian, or perhaps even European, origin. (That theory is no longer held the technology is documented from eastern, coastal regions in China.)

    The heart of the exhibition appears in a full-gallery-length set of cases, beginning with that landmark Majiayao vessel, but then stepping back to proceed chronologically from the Yangshao culture through Majiayao and Qijia cultures—the latter reflecting, among other changes, the transition from coil-built to wheel-thrown fabrication.

    An initial impression is simple wonder that very large earthenware objects could survive so well. Northwest China’s dry climate certainly helped. So did local customs: burial sites (the source of most of the objects, which had funerary uses) were pits filled with earth, noted Melissa Moy, Dworsky associate curator of Chinese art (Mowry’s successor). Elsewhere in China, tombs were covered with timber roofs, which typically collapsed at some point, shattering the contents below.

    Another impression is what Moy described as the obviously “robust, painted, dynamic decoration,” from the earliest documented era. Some of the Yangshao pieces are simply fired, or textured with ribbing or impressions made with a cord. But others, including delicate bowls, are glazed around the lip, in russet. The Majiayao works feature appealingly modern, abstract, geometric patterns, typically in black glaze over the reddish clay. But there are also those strikingly animate motifs—perhaps frogs or tortoises, maybe in water, circling a side jar. And later Majiayao works have bicolor glazing. All these colors, and the details of the vessel shapes, are richly illuminated because the works are not light-sensitive (unlike fragile drawings, for example), the exhibition designer was able to turn up the candlepower.

    Mysteries requiring further scholarship arise. Certain Majiayao vessels are masters of craftsmanship: the shapes perfectly symmetrical, the clay coils smoothed to a fine texture with paddles before glazing and firing the brushwork sure and exact. Others are cruder in form, lopsided, and clumsily decorated, or even unpainted. Were these the work, respectively, of master and apprentice-learner? Did they come from different workshops? Are finer vessels tradeware, and others for everyday use? (Hung said most excavated vessels are found empty, but occasionally traces of millet, or impressions of barley, have been discovered.) Do some pieces accrue to people of higher status? The answers to all these questions are to be determined, if possible, archaeologically.

    And then why, turning to the later, and relatively less understood Qijia culture and successors, did the decorative glazing become radically less complex—even as the pottery forms become more elaborate, with jars built with swooping necks and fluted edges, and, finally, inlaid decorative stones and turquoise? Were the most skilled workers now engaged in shaping bronze, or were the most ritually significant objects now made in that material? What was the impact of other changes in domestication of animals, and trade? (Visitors may resonate especially to a tiny rattle with a long neck and pointed snout a covered jar with handles and a tall cover with a stylized human head atop a giraffe-worthy neck a sort of a short-legged cow-pig with a delicate muzzle that might be comfortable alongside Dr. Dolittle’s pushmi-pullyu a tiny jar astride what could be a pair of wellington boots and a geometrically decorated Xindian culture (1600-600 B.C.E. ) cup with a single handle that somebody from Starbucks might want to knock off.)

    A final case addresses material culture—clay from the Majiayao region, in raw and processed forms hematite, a pigment source—and modern-day reproductions, using different techniques (the wheel, different pigments), created by local master craftsmen Yan Jianlin and his son, Yan Xiaohu, who live near the type site for Majiayao discoveries.

    Experiencing What Is Known—and Not

    The state of what is known is best described on the exhibition website (linked above)—a version of which is available on smartphones, an experiment being conducted by the museums, for exhibition visitors ( .

    To the extent that deeper understanding of these ancient objects and their makers is achieved, it will come through the sort of cooperative venture that led to this exhibition: research by scholars like Flad and Hung their teaching, from graduate students to Flad’s freshman seminar the melding of formerly separate collections, like those in the Peabody and the HAM holdings the application of archaeological and art-analytical approaches and educational exhibitions at the highest standards of contemporary museumship. Melissa Moy said of Flad’s work, from the conference through the freshman seminar and the organization of the exhibition, “He’s really tapped into everything we want to do at the museums”—use of the gallery itself, of course, but student engagement in the art-study centers and materials lab, the Straus conservationists, and more.

    That important work aside, this inaugural co-presentation of the Peabody and art museums’ Neolithic collections has yielded a beautiful exhibition that may appeal to even the casual visitor. Those who wish to go deeper may want to sign up for a gallery talk on July 14, led by Elizabeth La Duc, a Straus Center objects conservation fellow, and Yan Yang, curatorial assistant for the collection.

    Ceramic Web Page Tutorials [ 9 ] Prehistoric Pottery in China

    If you just want to see the ceramics
    or make a quick survey of the images:
    Scroll down through this main text page,
    click on the thumbnail images that interest you
    a larger image will appear in the left frame.

    2.1 Prehistoric Pottery in China Pre- and Proto-Chinese

    Neolithic OriginsMigration and Settlement

    The archeological evidence suggests that by 8000BC the vast area of what is today the Chinese Republic was gradually populated from both the north and the south-west by a succession of different races and cultures. Probably before 6000BC groups of migrating stone age hunter-gatherers had formed small communities within the great river systems of China. These settlers learned new crafts, becoming fishermen, herdsmen and agriculturalists. In the north they grew millet as a staple crop in the wetter south they planted rice.

    Earliest Pottery in Northern China ca. 6th millennium BC

    Perhaps before 5000BC simple bonfired pottery bowls, bottles and other utensils began to be made in China. Pottery-making settlements appear along the rich agricultural areas bordering - the two great river systems , the Huang-he(Yellow River) in the north and the Yangtze in the south. These developments parallel what had happened along the Nile in Egypt, the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia, the Ganges in India etc.

    9001 Small buff clay bottle. Peiliang, Honan ca. 5000BC
    This little bottle was found in Honan province and thought to be a very early example from around the 5th millennium BC. Many small food bowls, bottles, and other shapes, made from red or buff clay, pressed and coiled by hand appear to be made about this time. Some pots have been scratched with marks, impressed with cord patterns or decorated with painted slip, before being bonfired.

    9002 Red clay bottle pointed base. Yang-shao Culture. Ht:30.5cm. ca.4800BC. GMP.
    A small storage vessel handbuilt by coiling. A corded paddle smoothed out the coils during building. This produced the ridged texture/pattern.

    9003 Similar storage bottle, with "V" painting. Yang-shao Culture. ca.4800BC. BML.
    Although worn, this similar example appears to have an inverted "V" decoration in brighter slip around the shoulder. The loop rings low down are for a carrying cord. The pointed base would be pushed into the dirt floor. They were almost certainly valuable grave gifts.

    Neolithic Ceremonial Pottery Some Distinct Styles

    Beyond making simple food bowls and utensils there appear to have developed a few quite different methods of making and ornamenting ceremonial or ritual earthenware. Modern understanding and archeology of China's prehistory can be said to have only really begun in the 1920s. Two distinctly different styles were soon recognised by archeologists and then classified using the village names where each of these groups of pottery was first discovered: Yang-shao village in Shensi province and Lung-shan village in Shangtung Province. Graves in Pan-Po village in Kansu province yielded particularly fine examples of painted funerary pottery, so the Kansu style became recognised as perhaps the finest sort of Yang-shao painted ware.

    Yang-shao pottery appears earlier than Lung-shan and is mostly found in the North-western provinces. Lung-shan pottery is mostly found in the Eastern provinces, particularly Shantung, but there seem to be considerable overlaps with earlier Yang-shao sites.(see maps)

    Three Prehistoric Ceramic Styles Recognised in the 1920s

    1. Yang-shao Ware
    Handbuilt red earthenware bowls and dishes, brush decorated with slip. ca 5th-2nd Mill BC

    9004 Deep red clay bowl painted with triangles and lines.Handbuilt. Pan-p'o, Shensi.Yang-shao Culture. Diam:15.5cm. 5-4th mill.BC.

    2. Kansu Ware (Yang-shao)
    The finest examples of elaborately slip painted Yang-shao Ware, particularly funerary urns come from the Kansu Province ca 3rd-2nd mill. BC.

    9018 Funerary Jar Pan-p'o Kansu Province ca.2500 BC. GMP.

    3. Lung-shan Ware
    Typically, fine, fast wheel thrown ware with smooth fine black finish and wide variety of shapes but no slip 3rd-2nd mill BC.

    9019 Lung-shan blackware Urn with lid. Wheelmade.Ht:26.6cm. Shantung 3rd-2nd mill.BC

    These three styles of prehistoric Chinese pottery were recognised and classified in the early 20th century. They are still the bulk of Prehistoric Chinese Ceramics on show in the world's greatest museums. However, our understanding of Prehistoric China continues to evolve. In the last decades of the 20th century more discoveries and detailed excavations have caused archaeologists to add to the number of the prehistoric cultures considered to have existed in China. Such discoveries suggest that ethnically and culturally China's prehistory was very complex and much not related to the well-known historical Shang culture which throughout Chinese history has been considered the single origin and basis for the "Chinese" culture. This centralist single culture theory is now challeged by the most recent discoveries in various parts of this vast territory. The 21st century should produce more important ceramic finds and further speculation about China's cultural origins in prehistory.

    The Wide Range of Painted Pottery Early Painted Examples from 5th-4th mill.BC

    From Pan-p'o, Shensi Province

    9004 Deep red clay bowl painted with triangles and lines. Pan-p'o, Shensi. Diam:15.5cm. 5th-4th mill. BC. Yang-shao Culture.CG.
    A small food bowl made from light red clay, by pressing and coiling. After smoothing the surfaces it was brush decorated with a dark red-brown slip. The painting slip was brushed on, then burnished to produce the shiny finish. After drying such bowls were then bonfired. The dark slip covers the light coloured clay in slanting bands leaving exposed fine pale-coloured parallel lines and triangles of the body clay. This "negative" painting technique was often used.

    9005 Shallow red earthenware bowl from Pan-p'o, Shensi. Yang-shao Culture. Diam:44.5cm. 5th-4th mill.BC. CG.
    A large red earthenware basin decorated with black slip painting. The thick rim is emphasised further by the covering of black slip. Bold "convict arrow" shapes (of the red body underneath) are allowed to show through. This gives a sparkle to this strong black frame around the intriguing drawing inside the bowl.

    9006 Detail: face mask painted in black slip.
    Detail: A fine black slip brush drawing shows, on the left, a circular face mask and head-dress. Two fish are attached to the head as if whispering in its ears. Does this represent a man or a God? Is he sleeping, dreaming or dead? On the right is a larger fish drawn facing the man. An immensely intriguing drawing. Similar scenes appear in other dishes which have been found. Whatever its exact meaning, it indicates the importance of fishing to this community.

    9007 Detail of similar bowl: More elaborate head-dress.
    Pan-p'o, Shensi. Yang-shao Culture. Diam:44.5cm. 5th-4th mill.BC. CG.
    This detail from another dish has a similar theme but somewhat different details. There are no whispering fish the Man's head-dress is slightly different. What may be a fishing net is now on the right. These designs may be connected with a fish catch and serve a religious ritual purpose. Bowls with similar &rdquoconvict arrow&rdquo painted rims have been found in other sites in the Kansu province and the wider Yang-shao region but this imagery is singularly different from any later Chinese Bronze Age style.

    From Yuan-chi, Shansi (Eastern Yang-shao Culture)

    9008 Figure painted bowl with tapered base.
    Yuan-chi, Shansi. Yang-shao Culture. 5th-4th mill BC. CG
    Lines and painted shapes seem to whizz around this bowl. Could they perhaps represent human figures - running, or in boats? Whatever this represents, it is lively symbolism. The upward flare of the narrow base raising and supporting the bowl also adds to the confident style of the maker. The black slip was made from an iron red clay probably including minerals containing manganese.

    From Honan Province (South-Eastern Yang-shao Culture)

    9009 Small slip decorated bowl, Honan, Yang-shao Culture 5-4th mill.
    The upper part of the outside of this small red clay bowl has been brushed over with a thin covering of buff-white slip. A thicker brown or black slip was used for painting the curving lines and patterns. Not only is this quite sophisticated decoration, it also shows meaningful symbols - which, regretfully, are now beyond our knowing.

    9010 Small slip decorated bowl, Honan, Yang-shao Culture ca.5-4th mill.
    This little bowl appears also to have been covered with a thin white slip and burnished before the curvilinear design was brushed on with black slip. Comparing the patterns and motifs drawn on this bowl with those on the previous two bowls there seem to be some shared elements: a circle bisected by two lines and edged by two big dots. Certainly these patterns must have had symbolic significance to contemporaries. You may remember an earlier tutorial showing decorated pots from the Pre-literate Near East which were also communicating ideas using such images and symbols. All of which was a step towards devising a written language.

    From P'ei-hsien, Kiangsu Province South-Eastern Yang-shao

    9011 Red Painted deep bowl. Simple geometric designs.
    P'ei-hsien, Kiangsu. Dm:33.8cm.late 4th-3rd mill. BC. CG.
    This rather crude decoration, less imaginative, static and stark, may mark the decline of the Yang-shao culture in eastern Honan and Kiangsu. The rim was painted white and then marked with black lines and arrow heads. Around the outside of the bowl is a row of eight pointed star shapes painted in white outlined in black.

    From Kansu Province 3rd Mill. BC.(Western Yang-shao Culture)

    The most refined and richly decorated Yangshao funeral ceramics have so far been found somewhat later in the 3rd mill. BC. at sites in this more remote North-western province, Kansu. The area is roughly defined in the top left corner on this map.

    9012 Painted vase, Lan-chou, Kansu. Ht:18.3cm Late 3rd mill.
    The gloss of the finish results from the burnishing of the leather-hard clay before firing. Though worn there can be seen clusters of tiny raised blobs of thick slip forming rosette patterns. They are painted over the fine linear decoration in black. The deeper red beneath much of the painting may be due to a thin brushing of red slip over the somewhat paler body before the black slip(iron and manganese) lines and bands were drawn. Towards the top, on the right, the buff coloured body shows through where the coloured slips have worn away.

    9013 A tall stemmed vase with spiral painting. Majiayao, Kansu. ca 2700BC. GMP.
    Rather worn, but the spirited spiraling decoration is quite clear. This "negative" painting style produces dark solid background and fine swirling shapes and lines from the exposed pale body.

    9014 Kangsu Yang-shao jar painted in black mill.BC. SMFEA.
    Another example of negatively decorated, black pottery. This pot has survived in a better condition than the previous one. The body may first have been covered with a white slip before decorating. The spiralling petals of a flower-like shape dominate the design. This decoration is enclosed at the top with three broad black bands around the neck, which are separated by narrow bands of the exposed lighter body colour. Below, towards the foot, the flower design is bordered by narower and equal bands of light and dark these bands somehow add more "lift" to the pot. Notice the witty? repetition of circles - lugs and flower centre. Only simple techniques were used but they have producing a striking piece of pottery painting.

    The Finest Yang-shao Painting 3-2 mill BC. Kansu Painted Funeral Urns

    9015 Earthenware Funerary Jar Kansu Yang-shao ca.2500 BC. VAL.
    This displays the characteristics of the style at its best. A well-preserved funerary jar which has retained its glossy shine. The curvilinear design encloses bold chequered pattern medallions the vessel may have been slipped and burnished before decorating. The body when fired is light buff-orange - see the bottom part of this pot. The basic paint was made from a fine red clay slip. The red colour due to the high amount of red iron present. The dense black slip was probably produced by adding to the red slip materials containing iron, manganese and other flux minerals. A firing technique using a smoky reduction atmosphere could also have contributed to the smooth black finish.
    9016 Detail: A detail shows better the technique of allowing the lighter body to emphasise the black and red lines, further highlighted by the tiny stitching marks in black.

    9017 Earthenware Funerary Jar Kansu Yang-shao ca.2500 BC. VAL.
    These rich curvilinear patterns in black and a dark plum purple colour are probably the most inventive decorations in prehistoric China. Such strong stylistic patterns may provide clues to trade and migration routes of Neolithic people. Certainly there are general curvilinear similarities to be found in contemporary prehistoric styles in eastern Europe, Russia and the Mediterranean regions. However the specific motifs and arrangement of the patterns are characteristic of this culture alone. In many similar pots the neck is painted with a regular net-like pattern of fine lines. The main design covers only the upper part of the rounded shape passing beyond the widest part and ending at the point where the lugs are fixed.

    9018 Funerary Jar Kansu Yang-shao ca.2500 BC. GMP.
    A similar funerary jar, but one which has an even more complex spiral decoration. At the centre of each spiral(there are three around the pot) is an elaborate chequered linear design inside a round medallion. Notice the "tail" to this medallion. It has a black feather-like pattern made from tiny curved brush strokes.

    9019 Detail: Funerary Jar Kansu Yang-shao ca.2500 BC. GMP.
    This detail shows a variety of carefully drawn brush strokes. At the top right are some of the curved brush strokes. Notice the short black stitch-like stokes which are painted over the buff body colour and across the iron red strokes. The rectangular netting patterns show great brush control too. In this detail you can also see small solid black rectangles which on closer inspection turn out to be silhouette drawings of fish. Remember, this was made in an age before written language, so we have no record of the meaning of these symbols. But such motifs and patterns would have great meaning to the people who made and used them. To us they appear just decorative but such designs almost certainly contain complex ideas, incantations, prayers etc.

    9020 Earthenware Funerary Jar Kansu Yang-shao ca.2500 BC. GMP.
    The central design is based on a lattice of curved lines to produce the familiar diamond pattern. I would speculate that the red-purple iron slip was first used to mark out the narrow curved lines around the pot. First in one direction and then the other. This sets the overall pattern. When you look more closely .

    9021 Detail: Previous Funerary Jar
    . you can see the method used to give a clarity and sparkle to the design. The dark purple-black iron-manganese slip was used to paint the thick brushed diamond and triangle shapes. Care was taken to leave a small space between the iron red lines so that the lighter body could show. The final sparkle to this was given by using a fine brush and the black slip to produce the tiny stitch or thorn-like strokes out of the thick black shapes.

    Late Kansu Painting 2nd-1st Mill. BC

    9022 Painted earthenware jar Ma-ch'ang, Kansu 1700-1300BC.BC MGP.
    Ma-ch'ang pottery continues the Kansu painted style into the next millennium, but the designs have become more linear circles and diamonds crammed with checks and zigzags. The decoration is now monochrome. The bold curving rhythms, clarity and colour of the earlier Kansu decorative style has lost its strength and become a pale shadow of its former richness.

    The TING orThree Legged Cooking Pot

    9023 Drawing - Three pots form one Ting cooking pot
    This shape may possibly have developed out of the need to warm food and drink over a low fire by resting three similar cone shaped pots against one another with their mouths touching - in a sort of pyramid shape over the charcoal embers. One pot with three points or legs will straddle a pile of embers and allow the heat to warm the pot better and is more stable than three pots just touching. Anyway, however it originated, the tripod shaped pot became popular in China and in historical times was called a ting.

    9024 Pale terracotta three-legged Cooking Pot Qijia Culture, Kansu 2000-1500BC MGP.
    This pot looks as if it really could have been a cooking pot: it looks strong and in very good condition. Nevertheless it was found in a grave and used as an offering. Hand built mostly by coiling three conical shapes and these then blended into one pot with three points. Next the flared rim was built out and then the two strap handles added before scraping and finishing the whole shape. The regular comb-like scratches are probably made by the serrated edges of a small shell used for scraping smooth the surface. There is no slip nor any other decoration. The body looks somewhat coarse, giving it good resistance to heat shock when used for warming food over the embers of a fire.

    9025 A decorated three-legged bowl. Honan 3rd mill.BC (called a Ting in historical times).
    This prehistoric example found in Honan and dated as 3rd millenium BC is of interest for a number of reasons. Such a little vessel would have been a grave gift. The spiral pattern is no doubt significant. Women in some pre-literate cultures painted their breasts with this pattern. The three main shapes which comprise the main form of the pot are close to the form of an udder or breast. Were these forms an indication that this offering contained life-giving milk to sustain the dead person? Such symbolism is certainly a possibility as such bowls are not an uncommon grave find. This tripod form is one of the very few distinctive prehistoric ceramic shapes which survived into historic times in China.

    Prehistoric Pottery in North East (The low lying parts of Shantung province) - ca. 5th-2rd mill BC.

    The Maps show that the geography of Eastern China is markedly different from the desert or mountainous Western Regions. Hopei, Shantung, Kiangsu and Chekiang provinces are low lying regions which form the vast delta of the two great river systems of China. The north eastern province of Shantung apears to be the centre of the great changes which began around the end of the third millennium. For reasons which are still far from clear, prehistoric pottery in the North-eastern provinces differs considerably from the styles of the North-west. Painted decoration is rare, but quite complex hand made pottery was made. A much wider range of clays was available in this delta region. Coarse particled and fine particled and a wide range of white, buff, yellow, and darker clays too.

    Animal Forms

    9026 Piglet-shape red clay jug, Ningyang, Shantung. CG.
    In common with many other early pottery cultures world-wide, we can find functional pots in the form of quite naturalistic creatures - here, a piglet jug.

    Clay pots and Metal Forms? Another Prehistoric China Puzzle

    Before the arrival of the wheel potters modelled, pressed and coiled pottery in a manner we recognise. In early cultures where metal had arrived we can sometimes see the influence of metalworked shapes on their pottery. Sharp angled joins, ultra-thin edges, unusual handles. Precious metal articles could sometimes be copied in clay and become substitutes as Grave Gifts.
    5012 & 5013
    In Tutorial No.5. I included these Mycenaean Greek examples from the 3rd-2nd mill BC. You can see a clear link between the metal and the clay form. Notice that the clay copy is often too fragile to be anything other than a symbol grave gift, albeit much cheaper!

    In the following examples of Chinese late prehistoric pottery I find unmistakable signs of such metal influence. However, without any equivalent metal vessels yet discovered is only a supposition. Future archeological exploration may confirm my beliefs. In any case, such strangely shaped pots are well worth examining.

    Some Stylised or Abtract Forms

    9027 Tripod Jug or Water Pitcher, Dawenkou site, Shandung 5th or 4th mill BC.
    This striking three-legged jug is an extraordinary object. Three conical shapes form the base. Their open ends are blended together forming a bowl with a circular opening. Then to cover this opening an inverted dish or bowl shape was used. However, before fixing this on, it had a large circular hole cut in it for an enormous conical spout to be luted on. This whole &rsquolid with a spout&rsquo shape was then luted onto the three legged open bowl. A rolled handle completed this complex form. Whoever first evolved such a ceramic shape was an most inventive artist as well as a talented craftsman. The body is whitish and coarse grained.
    9028 Detail of Jug.
    Although the jug is badly cracked and poorly restored this closer photo shows some details which appear to emulate beaten metal joining techniques: 1. A luted join where the inverted bowl meets the open top of three legged pot is covered by a thin raised clay coil ridge. 2. A round opening in the top the pot has a conical spout fixed to it and joined at a very sharp angle. 3. The handle made out of a thick roll of clay has its top end blended, smoothed and curved into the conical spout but at the bottom is flattened and angular then fixed into the raised ridge around the pot. These details suggest metalwork techniques rather than pottery making techniques.

    9029 Three Legged Pottery Water Pitcher(kuei) Weifang, Shantung. 3rd or early 2nd mill BC. CG.
    This pot had elements in common with the last but lacks the boldness and abstract clarity of that previous example. However, this pot contains parts which also intrigue me. The sharp curved beak-like spout, the sharp angular join of the round lipped rim of mouth of the pot to that great beak spout it is easy to imagine this in copper or gold.

    9030 Three Legged Pottery Water Pitcher(k'uei) Weifang, Shantung.3rd or early 2nd mill BC. CG.
    This third example of prehistoric pottery jug or kuei has even more "metal-worked" qualities. A metal jug this shape would quite naturally be roll-joined and riveted.
    9031 Detail of Jug.
    Look at the handle. It's made of half-a-dozen lengths of thin clay rolls, pressed together and twisted. It reminds me of ancient fine metalworking techniques with wire. Look at the rolled edge of the top rim, then down to the clay shoulder underneath the handle it appears to be studded with large round rivet heads. Of course it's all clay, but the whole thing could be made in sheet copper or precious metal.

    Transitions during 3rd and 2nd Mill BC. Between Handbuilt Yang-shao and Wheel-made Lung-shan

    9032 Red Earthenware bowl tou, Tazza. Yang-shao ts'un Honan Ht:22cm 3rd Mill BC. MFFAS.
    In Honan there a numerous sites where the styles and shapes are found to be transitional between those of the Yang-shao and Lung-shan. Among these are the open bowls supported on tall spreading stems(called a tou in China and a tazza in the West). This example from Honan Province is coiled and handbuilt, not thrown. There is no painted slip decoration. The only ornament consists of pierced circles in the hollow stem. The pot was burnished and low-fired. I would guess that the Yang-shao potter who made this had seen a similar but thrown tou made in a Lung-shan village. In effect this Yang-shao pot was a copy of a wheel-made tou such as this next example below.

    The arrival of the fast throwing potter's wheel in any coil-building pottery community must have been dramatic. Perhaps as amazing as the arrival of the motorcar to people who knew only the horse and cart. Probably few of the older coil-building potters ever learned to use a fast throwing wheel. If,as seems possible, it was the women who usually made the coiled pottery in China, as occurred in the Middle-East, then the same change of role is likely to have also happened in China - pottery-making on a larger scale with the fast wheel became a male occupation. For more ino. see Tutorial 2.

    9033 oBlack earthenware stem bowl(tou), Lung-shan Culture, Shantung Ht:18cm 3rd 2nd Mill BC. MGP.
    This stem bowl was made in pieces on a fast wheel, joined together and then finished of on a wheel. Perhaps the most striking thing about the Lung-shan pots is the high quality of this dark-bodied thrown ware. Apart from throwing lines, the only ornament is holes cut into the stem.

    9034 Black finished Eathenware bowl on stem(tou) Lung-shan Culture, Shantung Ht:14.7cm 3rd-2nd mill.BC.
    This Lung-shan tou is a highly finished thrown vessel. Presumably ceremonial but certainly practical. The smooth black shine is characteristic of the best Lung-shan ware. The wheel-based band of grooves the only decoration.

    Great Changes

    • The Arrival of the FAST Potter's Wheel.
    • Greater control of kilns and firing.
    • Wide range of thin walled shapes.
    • Black, smooth finished, thrown ware.
    • Turned ridges and linear relief decoration.
    • Very few coloured slip painted pots.

    LUNG-SHAN Black Ware 3rd to early part of 2nd mill.BC

    9035 Black tripod Lung-shan warming pot or ting, Shantung Province. VAL
    This black cooking or warming pot is a bold statment. As we saw in a previous ting, three breast or udder-like shapes are welded together to make one larger pot which could stand securely astride the embers of a fire. You will have seen already such tripod pots from other prehistoric sites. However, this ting pot is covered in a dense black colour, probably clay slip paint - a finish particularly associated with the Lung-shan culture. The two handles above curve outwards and upwards to the rim counter-balancing the narrowing and then widening of the neck as it reaches the mouth of the pot.

    9036 detail of pot
    A textural pattern of fine parallel scratched lines covers the pot - probably made with the sharp comb-like edges of a small shell. These vertical lines contour and emphasise the three generous globular shapes. Where these blend into one, a more deeply scratched linear band has been deeply scratched around the pot and a sprig-like short strip with raised buttons. The whole form and decoration suggests a sensitive and subtle maker.

    9037 A Museum case of Lung-shan Pottery, Shantung province.
    A variety of shapes but all with the characteristic black burnished slip finish. By the late 3rd millennium BC a greater diversity of techniques and forms appear in the Shantung province (See Maps). Such pottery was of exceptional quality. Although the fine grained dark body was used for the black finished pottery, there is also a greater range of clay material in Shantung and other eastern provinces compared with the westward Yellow River basin. The vagaries of the great rivers and the immense delta area probably contributed to the deposition of widespread pockets of different clay material containing varied mixtures of minerals and a range of particle sizes. Potters in the eastern provinces exploited this situation to produce a number of different types of bodies: a rather pale yellowish or white body a rough sandy grey a fine grained reddish-brown a coarse grained reddish-brown a fine grained very dark body. There was also this unique Lung-shan black body with exceptionally fine particle size. Pots made with it were often very thin walled structures when fired.

    9038 Wheelmade dish on high ring cut feet - p&rsquoan - 3rd to early 2nd Mill. BC
    The pottery with a polished black exterior was never painted, and is almost always without decoration. As we have already seen, some styles and shapes are derived from the Yang-shao but such patterns become considerably altered in the Lung-shan culture. This is a very different sort of three legged pot, one made using a fast potters wheel - not slowly coiled and shaped by hand. It was used for ceremonial washing. This type of a shallow dish on a high ring - the p&rsquoan - anticipates bronze versions cast during the later Shang and Western Chou dynasties.

    9039 Lung-shan blackware Urn with lid 3rd-2nd mill.BC
    It was probably the fast turning potter's wheel that made the fundamental difference. It appears here in China for the first time. This type of lidded urn shape with handles must have been made in quantity for domestic use. It was expertly made using a fast potter's wheel. However, This one came from a grave site and was probably made from a smoother, darker body, as it was for ceremonial/funerary use. The black finish has a smooth shine. A fine dark iron slip was probably used on this dark body to produce the surface quality but a smoky reduction firing cycle would have contributed to this quality. Though not essentailly very different from the simple Mycenaean-Greek updraft kilns, kiln management must have been of a high standard in these Lung-shan potteries to regularly achieve high quality. Remember, this is still in pre-literate China.

    9040 & 9041 Two Black potter stem-cups. Lungshan Neolithic period, Weifang, Shantung
    These two examples of stem goblets illustrate a skilled and most creative use of the fast turning potters wheel at the close of the prehistoric period in China. The complex forms and the thinness of such fine thrown pots are quite exceptional. They are ceremonially functional as drinking cups or bowls, the design of both of them is complex in detail but somehow calming, even austere, with their tall,thin silhouettes. They are fine examples to end this tutorial covering prehistoric pottery in China.

    A Postscript: Neolithic Pottery during the Early Bronge Age

    The southern regions of China, too, had a neolithic culture, and shows the influence of both Yang-shao and Lung-shan styles. Southern neolithic pottery styles developed later and remained longer than in the north. These various prehistoric southern cultures are not yet very well understood, although sites have been found well up the Yantse River (in Kiangsi and Hunan) as well as in the east in Chekiang, Fukien, and in Kuangtung as far as Hong Kong. While most of such coarse pottery was hand-made with pad and beater, the wheel was also used. These pots continued to be made well into the early Bronze age, for the greater part of the population went on living in near neolithic conditions despite the sophistications accompanying a flourishing metal culture.

    The Dawn of History in China

    Sometime after 2000BC a form of writing was invented in China. Slowly the mist of a preliterate time begins to clear. From now on we can know with a little more certainty some names of deities and rulers, some rituals, some beliefs. But there are still many unanswered questions and unsolved puzzles about China at this eventful period around 2500-1500BC. In the next tutorial our study of ceramics in China shows a sharp change. The richly decorative Yang-shao styles and the refined sculptural forms of thrown black Lung-shan are gone. A great change has occured. We come to this in the next tutorial.

    This is the end of the first tutorial in
    Part II 1 - 6 Ceramics in China.

    we examine
    Ceramics from the first historical period of China: The Shang Dynasty to the Great Han Empire

    Adapted from the original versions which were written for my series of weekly illustrated lectures to ceramic students including those on the Harrow Studio Pottery Degree Course, Westminster University and The Central School of Art & Design, London UK from 1973 - 1994

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    --> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> --> Victor Bryant ©1994,2004 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> --> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> --> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> -->
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    It’s widely believed that there are, in order of time, three types of painted pottery featuring Majiayao culture, namely Majiayao (3,300-2,900 BC), Banshan (2,900-2,350 BC), and Machang (2,350-2,050) types. Banshan and Machang types are named after the Banshan Village in Linxia, Gansu Province, and Machang Village in Minhe County, Qinghai Province.

    In Majiayao painted pottery, there are many rippling and rotary designs drawn with smooth and balanced strokes to engender a quiet and gentle mood. These designs shed precious light on life in primitive Chinese society, with men fishing and hunting, and women doing housework and collecting vegetables and fruits.

    In the Banshan and Machang painted pottery, which were a little later than the Majiayao, the designs changed. More saw-tooth, circling and frog-shaped strokes appeared, which look wild, bold and enigmatic.

    More painted pottery wares have been discovered in recent years. For instance, in March 2005, it was announced that a 4,500-year-old pot with patterns of genitalia was discovered in Lintao, Gansu Province. Archaeologists identified it as belonging to the Banshan type of Majiayao culture and pointed out that this pot is the first Banshan type work to be found with patterns of both male and female genitalia.

    Majiayao Chinese Pottery - History

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    Portable XRF Analysis of the Pigments of Majiayao Pottery from Dayatou, NW China

    The site of Dayatou is located on a terrace bluff in the Tao River Valley in Gansu province, Northwest China.In 2015, the Tao River Archaeological Project team conducted systematic collection across the surface of the bluff and recovered thousands of Majiayao culture potsherds. To identify the technology and provenances of these potsherds, in the 2016 field season we used a portable XRF in a handheld configuration to analyze the chemical elements of the black paint decorated on 124 selected samples. For comparison, we also used the same method to analyze the paste composition of each sample. All the samples had enough clear painted and unpainted spots for analysis. These samples were selected from random bags of sherds collected from areas across the site. Different from previous studies, our case study provides a micro perspective on the technology and organization of pottery production at a single settlement. Portable XRF analysis proves to be an effective source for this research because of the efficient and accurate chemical identification. The data we have collected provide a general overview of the site, and will lend to future research on ceramics at the site of Dayatou, and for the Majiayao as a whole.

    Jingdezhen, or 'Jingde Town' is the famous "porcelain capital" of China. It's a prefecture-level city about 400 km (250 mi) west of ancient capital and "tea capital" Hangzhou.

    Jingdezhen got its name from Emperor Jingde of the Song Dynasty (960–1279) in 1004, because of its fine bluish white porcelain produced for the emperor.


    Watch the video: 10000 years of Chinese pottery - 15 minute overview!