Book: Ceramics - Art or Science? Author: Dr. Stan Jones

8. Ceramic Development in China

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The roulette wheel started to be used for decoration. It was a wooden cylinder with carved design fitted to a forked handle so it could be run round a pot when on the wheel. It was probably devised to reduce the repetitive carving of long panels of wood to produce border designs on tomb bricks. It required skill to avoid overlapping, which was otherwise hidden by lugs or small relief decorative items.

In the 4th century, significant improvements were achieved with much more consistency in the clear green glaze, giving it a very sensuous appeal. This led to less diaper decoration and less sprig moulded items. Ewers and jars became taller with longer necks and more elaborate handles. Black spots were introduced as a new decorative feature using a high iron oxide glaze – basically the same technique as used centuries later in Zhejiang to produce the “spotted celadon” so admired by the Japanese.

In the 5th and 6th centuries improvements in the stoneware body and glaze were even more evident, the body was paler with finer grain, while the glaze was slightly thicker and consistently olive green. More kilns were built in Zhejiang, south of the present Shanghai (Yueh), to produce this attractive “green glazed ware” (celadon) that was in great demand as jars, ewers and pitchers, and widely distributed. Other parts of China tried to mimic it – not always successfully. The kilns in Chang-sha are notable examples producing a lower-fired body with softer glaze that is vulnerable to deterioration and crazing.

The growth of population in the lower Yangtze valley gave great stimulus to its pottery industry in the 6th century AD. The designs used by potters continued to depart from those used to decorate bronze vessels and became increasingly independent. However, much Zhejiang pottery was plain or decorated fairly simply.

8.19 Sui Dynasty (581 – 618 AD)

There were only two Emperors in this period, but they were able to re-unite China and provide the foundations of a golden age in China for the following Tang Dynasty (rather like the Qin did for the Han). The Turkish Tribes in the North East and North West were split, using both diplomacy with the Persians and military force, which reduced the threat of invasion.

Map of Sui dynasty 600 AD - courtesy Thomas Lessman,

Map of Sui dynasty 600 AD - courtesy
Thomas Lessman,

The Sui capital was called Ta-Hsing originally and was designed in 583 AD on the site of the present Xian, so it was to the south of the Han Capital – Chang-an. (Later the Tang adopted Ta-Hsing as their capital and re-named it also Chang-an). The Sui were great Temple and lavish Royal Tomb builders. The first Sui Emperor distributed “relics” throughout the country and ordered temples and pagodas to be built to house them. Grave goods became more detailed and included beautiful models of saddled and bridled horses sometimes covered in a pale green soft lead glaze, although yellow was a more common colour. Horses were a recurring theme in Chinese modelling. Also models in the form of domestic articles were buried in this brief period.

Young Sui ladies with latest hairstyles (frowned upon by elders), thick glaze - courtesy Glade Antiques

Young Sui ladies with latest hairstyles
(frowned upon by elders), thick glaze -
courtesy Glade Antiques

Some very rare porcelaneous translucent white wares have been discovered, made in kilns in Hebei Province. The second Sui Emperor thought that unity and stability required good communications, so he carried out some vast public works, such as the north/south Grand Canal and an extensive road network. He also engaged in unsuccessful wars in Korea and massive repairs to the Great Wall. These endeavours were very extensive and exhausted the Chinese people causing revolution and the murder of the second Emperor by conspirators.

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