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

8. Ceramic Development in China

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8.8 Qijia and Siwa Cultures

Qijia – two vessels with handles and  tripod with piecrust decoration - courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques and Glade Antiques

Qijia – two vessels with handles and tripod with
piecrust decoration - courtesy R&G McPherson
Antiques and Glade Antiques

These two Cultures were the successors to the Yangshao Culture. The Qijia Culture (2,400 – 1,500 BC) developed in the Upper Yellow River Region of Western Gansu and Eastern Qinghai, following the Majiayao Culture. There was a wider range of shapes, particularly copying metal vessels, having broad arched strap handles and rivet-like details. Some vessels were also painted. The vessels of the following Siwa Culture (1,400 – 1,000 BC) were characterised by saddle shaped mouths and colour variations due to uneven firing.

Siwa Culture Vase - courtesy Glade Antiques

Siwa Culture Vase - courtesy Glade Antiques

8.9 Ceramics and the Introduction of the Bronze Age

The origins of the discovery of bronze in China is also shrouded in the mists of time. It is not known whether the technology was imported from the West or North or was an indigenous discovery. It appears that there was an overlapping stone/bronze age, known as Chalcolithic, stretching possibly as far back as 4,500-4,000 BC. Sites predominantly in the Northwest from 3,000-2,000 BC have revealed primitive copper and bronze knives, awls and drills. The construction and firing of clay cores and sectional piece moulds employed in Chinese bronze casting from 2,000 to 1,000 BC show early metalworking adapted to, and possibly developed from, the high-heat ceramic technology of the late-Neolithic potters. They were already using ceramic moulds and cores to produce pottery forms such as the “Li” couldron. Chinese bronze casting represents continuity in vessel shapes as an aesthetic and technological extension of ceramics (particularly of East China culture) rather than its replacement. As time went on, the relatively plain bronzes reminiscent of Longshan pottery became increasingly decorative.

The production of Neolithic ceramics such as Longshan continued well into the Shang period as China took some time in transition to the Bronze Age.

8.10 “Xia” Dynasty

Early Chinese historians referred to an early Chinese Dynasty called Xia (also Hsia). A comprehensive history of early China – the Shih-chi – written in about 100 BC listed seventeen Xia kings, and contained the legend of Yu, the first king and the Chinese equivalent of Noah, who drained the floods to make China inhabitable. However, there appears to be no conclusive evidence of its existence, although there were several highly developed cultures around 2,000 BC. Recently a 5-year Chinese government research project gave credence to the existence of the Xia Dynasty and dated it from 2070 to 1600 BC. This overlaps with the dates for the Shang Dynasty below, but this illustrates the difficulty of separating the Dynasties with little hard evidence. Other dates are somewhat variable as the transition from one Dynasty to another often took decades during which either, both or neither Dynasty existed. A likely contender for the Xia was a culture (and city) called Erhlitou, which existed from 2,400-1,450 BC inland in Henan province. It seems to have made the transition to a City State, with large palace complexes and many other smaller buildings. The graves of the elite were furnished with pottery and the first great ritual bronzes of Chinese history that were based on contemporary pottery designs. The vessel types and burial customs at Erlitou link the late Neolithic with the first Dynasty in China to leave unassailable historical records – the Shang Dynasty. For the first time, the names of the Chinese kings were recorded in inscriptions, the ancestor of modern Chinese script on oracle bones dated around 1,400 to 1,200 BC. These were pieces of bone and turtle shell used primarily for divination from 1,400 BC.

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