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

8. Ceramic Development in China

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8.3 East Coastal China

The second main culture, in the East coastal region, tended to produce pottery with a black/grey body, hence the name “Black Pottery Culture”, with unpainted but incised decoration and sometimes having unusual shapes. This was not exclusive, however, other body colours were also produced. The early wares tend to be much more diverse than Yangshao, until Longshan became pervasive.

By 5,000 BC the Pei-hsin culture in Shandong Province and Northern Kiangsu (present Jiangsu) was characterised by fine clay or sand-tempered pots decorated with comb markings, incised and impressed designs and narrow appliquéd bands. Pots included deep-bodied tripods, goblet-like serving vessels, bowls and pot supports.

Those East Coast cultures in the region of the Lower Yangtze River had intensive agriculture with rice in paddy fields together with livestock. The Hemudu (Ho-mu-tu) site south of the lower Yangtze, dated about 4,400-3,300 BC, has yielded cauldrons, cups, bowls, tripods and pot supports made of porous, charcoal-tempered black pottery. Types of ceramics for everyday use were a painted variety and one with a cord impressed pattern.  The concurrent Qingliangang culture, north of the lower Yangtze, (4,000-3,000 BC) was characterised by painted ring-footed and flat-bottomed pots, pouring vessels, and serving stands. Early fine-paste red ware gave way to fine-paste grey ware and black ware later in this period. Pottery grave goods were rare and not of high quality, so it is likely that Qingliangang followers were not as worried about the afterlife as many other cultures. At these times the early Coastal cultures seem more advanced in terms of agriculture, textiles and architecture than other contemporary cultures. In later ages the so called “Southern States” of the Chinese Empire would continue their development, especially in the production of porcelain and other artistic crafts, making a particularly consistent unique contribution to Chinese culture.

On the Island of Quemoy, off the south-eastern coast of China opposite Taiwan, a cord-marked pottery existed probably before 5,000 BC. On Taiwan itself, a culture from the same date produced ceramic vessels with impressed patterns rather similar to the Jomon culture in Japan.

From 4,000 to 3,000 BC the Songze culture in the T’ai lake basin west of Shanghai created clay-tempered grey ware pots increasingly wheel made. Triangular and circular perforations were cut to form openwork designs in the short-stemmed serving stands. In the same area the Liangzhu culture (3,300-2,300 BC) again produced mainly wheel-made clay-tempered grey ware with black skin produced by reduction firing. Vessel forms included long-necked pitchers (some walls being black throughout, very thin and burnished). The people had a profound death cult with significant grave offerings, mainly jade but some pottery.

In Northern Jiangsu and Southern Shandong, the Tawenkou culture which followed the Qingliangang culture from around 4,000 to 3,000 BC, is characterised by the emergence of wheel-made pots of various colours, some of them remarkably thin and delicate, together with vessels having ring feet and tall legs. Graves had ledges to display grave goods. About the same date, in the lower Yangtze River valley, there was black-bodied pottery with red painted decoration. Vessels were thin-walled goblets and bowls, tall ring-footed goblets, serving stands and tripods.

Xiajiadian tripod blackware jar 1,400-1,300 BC - courtesy Glade Antiques

Xiajiadian tripod blackware jar 1,400-1,300 BC
- courtesy Glade Antiques

8.4 Liaoning Province (Hongshan Culture 4,700 to 2,900 BC)

A spectacular group of finds dated to 3,500 BC in Northeast Liaoning Province included 4-inch high pregnant female figures and some well-modelled large female figures. Graves in the area yielded not only painted pottery but also jade goods including 8-inch diameter discs with holes in their centres whose purpose is still unknown. The later Xiajiadian culture also produced distinctive painted pottery shapes.

8.5 Longshan Culture

From about 3,000 BC, there started a complex transitional phase from the Yangshao painted pottery as the Longshan culture began to displace it. From this time, previously relatively isolated tribes from Shanxi, Henan and Shandong in the Lower Yellow River Region started to share the pottery styles and technologies of the Longshan Culture. The major changes were a move from painted pottery together with a mastery of the fast potter’s wheel, so that pots could be produced which were complex in form and structure, leading to experimentation and exceptional new shapes. These included beakers with long stems, tall jugs and goblets. The bodies are black, grey or less frequently brown and decorated with incised or impressed patterns. They were burnished to look metallic and had a hard surface. The unique black body had very fine, uniform particle size with good plasticity for turning.

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