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

8. Ceramic Development in China

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8.30 Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 AD)

Kublai Khan founded the Yuan Dynasty in 1271 AD and set up the first Mongol Dynasty to rule on Chinese soil. In 1280 AD, the Mongols formally set up their capital, Khan-Balyq (Cambalic) or the Chinese Yen-ching (Yanjing) in the Chin Capital, (close to present Beijing). Although the Mongol conquest made China part of an Empire stretching from Hungary to Korea, and opened up foreign contacts as never before, as the trade routes were made secure, this relatively short lived Dynasty was oppressive and corrupt.

Map of Yuan Dynasty 1,300 AD - courtesy Thomas Lessman worldhistorymaps.info

Map of Yuan Dynasty 1,300 AD - courtesy
Thomas Lessman worldhistorymaps.info

The Mongols used the centralised form of government established by the Sung and further developed it. They distrusted the Chinese Intelligentsia and relied on Central Asians for Government Administration. Some Chinese writers recognised that the Mongols brought martial discipline, which was lacking under the Sung. Accordingly, after 1286 AD increasing numbers of Chinese entered Government Service hoping to influence the rulers to adopt a more benign policy towards the native Chinese. Musical drama was a popular pastime with the Chinese who used it to criticise the “foreign” rulers.

The Mongols were ardent converts to Tibetan Buddhism and tolerant of Taoists, but considered the existing temples were adequate and built few new ones. Islamic astronomy and architecture arrived, but the religion was kept out as it was thought incompatible with Buddhism. On the other hand the 13th and 14th Centuries saw the first Christian missions being tolerated by the Chinese rulers. There was even a Franciscan Archbishop of Yen-ching. However, they did not endure past the fall of the Yuan Dynasty. During the Yuan Period many ceramic objects were made as votive offerings or donations to religious institutions.

Yuan grave goods, massive tomb guardian, thickly potted Jun ware censor and grey moulded and cut horse and carriage - courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques

Yuan grave goods, massive tomb guardian,
thickly potted Jun ware censor and grey
moulded and cut horse and carriage -
courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques

The former Chin Capital was not suited to the new ruler’s requirements, so they built new fortified walls and extensive palace complexes in an area nearby. In doing so they laid the foundations for the present city of Beijing. Of the few buildings of the “new” Yen-ching that remain from this period, the Drum Tower and White Pagoda built by Kublai Khan in Tibetan form are good examples. However, his Great Palace was entirely re-built in the Ming Dynasty.

Yuan tile with elephant, man, pig and bird and moulded jar with green lead glaze, lotus petals and medallions - courtesy  R&G McPherson Antiques

Yuan tile with elephant, man, pig and bird
and moulded jar with green lead glaze,
lotus petals and medallions - courtesy
 R&G McPherson Antiques

The Mongols inherited artistic craftsmen and techniques from the Chin, but only gave patronage in limited areas such as Buddhist sculpture and painting. However, new crafts were developed including cloisonné and carpet making, mainly by Central Asian ethnic groups.

The ceramics market could already supply vessels with incised, moulded or stamped ornamentation; transparent or monochrome glaze; with ornamentation on white, red-brown, creamy yellow or black bodies, with lead glaze in several colours painted on the glaze and then fired.

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