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

8. Ceramic Development in China

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Tang toys and whistles from Changsha kilns - courtesy Glade Antiques

Tang toys and whistles from Changsha kilns
- courtesy Glade Antiques

The great Southern movement of population in the Tang Dynasty stimulated the development of many new kilns. Celadons were produced in Chung-lai in Sichuan Province, in several areas in Guangdong and Fujian Provinces and in Changsha in Hunan Province.

In the latter, grey-bodied earthenware was also produced with copper green and iron brown fritted colours in an alkaline, rather than lead, glaze. Many fragments of this softly coloured ware with simple decoration have been found in the Near East, notably Iran. The Changsha potters began to use underglaze decoration, mostly browns and greens, and very occasionally blue. The glaze protected their decoration, and this development ultimately led to widespread blue underglaze.

Tang Changsha stoneware bowl, decorated under glaze - courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques

Tang Changsha stoneware bowl, decorated
under glaze - courtesy R&G McPherson
Antiques

In Jiangxi Province kilns produced white wares in Chi-chou and others in Jingdezhen (Ching-te-chen) produced white wares and celadon.

From these humble beginnings Jingdezhen was destined to become the largest pottery factory in the world during the Ming and Qing periods.

In the previously mentioned essay “Ch’a Ching” the celadons of Yueh-chou in Zhejiang ranked for jadelike quality first amongst wares for tea drinking, followed by the silvery white Hsing ware. The Yueh celadon wares continued to be produced in the South well into the 10th century, when some of the finest was made.

During the latter part of the Tang Dynasty the power of the Tang Emperor and Central Administration was continually eroded, the Empire shrank under the relentless pressure from the Tribes in the North and the Provinces grew in strength until they became independent. Finally peasant revolts brought the Dynasty to an end. After the fall of the Tang Dynasty, the Chinese Region was split into four parts. The Khitan Tribe, basically semi-nomadic horsemen from Southern Manchuria that had acquired territory in Inner Mongolia and Northern parts of Hebei and Shanxi held the area North East of China, while the Western Hsia held the area to the North West, cutting off contact with West and Central Asia. Central China was split into the remaining rump of the old Empire, roughly covering much of today’s Shandong, Henan, Hubei, Shanxi and Shaanxi Provinces, ruled by a succession of five short Dynasties (The Five Dynasties 907-960 AD). The remainder, mostly in the South was divided into Kingdoms (Ten Kingdoms 902-978 AD) corresponding pretty well to the previous Provinces.

8.23 Five Dynasties (907-960 AD)

Five Dynasties or Northern Sung whiteware mortar and celadon water pourer - courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques

Five Dynasties or Northern Sung whiteware
mortar and celadon water pourer - courtesy
R&G McPherson Antiques

The five short-lived Dynasties that ruled the northern part of Central China plunged the country into a state of political and social chaos. The corrupt Northern Courts offered little support to arts, although Buddhism flourished until its persecution in 995 AD destroyed much of its progress over the previous 110 years since the previous anti-Buddhism campaign. This period of confusion hit the development of the pottery industry and the Tang three-colour sancai wares went out of production completely. However, the production of white porcelain, celadon and black-glazed stoneware continued throughout this time.

Following a coup d’etat at the palace of the last of the Five Dynasties, the “Later Zhou”, a new Dynasty, the Sung, seized power, led by a skilled military and political operator determined to reunify China and overcome the threat from the north.

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