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

8. Ceramic Development in China

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Buildings during the Zhou Dynasty were made primarily of wood with compressed earth walls. The main vertical wood pillars were painted, but the colour had to comply with the rigid rules of the time, namely, the emperor had red pillars, Feudal Princes black, high officials blue/green and landowners yellow. Such forms of overt show of status are apparent through the ages, and exist up to the present in different ways.

Ceramic roof tiles first came into use in the Chunqiu Period. A number of other architectural ceramics developed at the end of the Warring States Period, for example, semi-circular or circular eaves tiles, fired bricks and floor tiles. These could be well decorated with impressed or incised ornamentation, sometimes of animals. However, they were only used on the most important buildings, not for general use. Large cities were built; one that has been excavated was possibly the capital city of the Feudal State of Qi. It measured 2km by 4km, surrounded by a wall 9 metres high.

Eventually seven States emerged from the struggles between the Princes at the end of the Zhanguo or Warring States Period, mainly those States in the Plains of the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers and Liaoning Province.

8.14 Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC)

The man who subsequently became “The First Emperor of China” came to the throne of his home State of Qin in West China in 246 BC, when he was only 13 years old. Originally called Ying Jien, he later changed his name to Huang Di, meaning “Supreme Lord”, assuming the title of great rulers of the past. His mother, the queen, became his regent until he was old enough to rule himself. His whole life was surrounded by intrigue and plotting. His first Prime Minister was his mother’s previous lover and it is said was his real father. While regent, the Queen secretly had two further sons by another lover called Lao Ai. This was achieved partly by the queen arranging for Lao Ai to appear to be a eunuch, hence acceptable company for her. As they were the king’s half-brothers, they were an unknown threat to him. Lao Ai plotted to kill the King and replace him on the throne with his elder son. This was to be done during the celebration of the King coming of age in 238 BC, but the King’s spies found out and Lao Ai and the King’s two half-brothers were killed.

The King took on a new young advisor who remained with him for 20 years becoming his First Minister. He was a great influence in the King’s reformation of the States governance and also encouraged the King to realise his ambition to take over the other Feudal States creating a unified China, which he started 10 years after ascending to the throne.

One by one the other six Feudal States came under his rule, by diplomacy, alliance but often after ruthless battles, which he led from the front, until, after 25 years in 221 BC, he had defeated the last one and the Qin Empire began. Expansion continued until the end of the Qin Dynasty when the Empire stretched from Korea almost to Vietnam. At this time it comprised as much as half of the vast area of present China. The King declared himself Emperor of all China, and changed his name again to Qin Shi Huang Di, “First Great Divine Sovereign Emperor”. At the age of 38 the first Emperor became the most powerful man on earth, ruling over ten times as many subjects as the Egyptian Pharaohs. For thirty years he ruled through the most violent phase in China’s history, but the result was a unified Chinese people and an Empire that outlasted the Roman Empire by 1,000 years. With advice from his First Minister he set about imposing his will on the populace. He abolished the feudal system, which were really “family businesses” and set up a central Government comprising 36 Provinces each governed by a Civil and a Military administrator and a Censor supervising both his colleagues, all appointed by the Emperor himself. Above these there were 9 State Secretaries reporting to the Grand Chancellor, the Grand Censor and the Prime Minister. He had laws drawn up which interfered in every aspect of his subject’s daily lives, and transgressions were punished severely, creating a large number of convicts. Books that did not align with his views were burnt. However, he also introduced many standards such as weights and measures and standard Chinese script.

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Author: Dr. Stan Jones  © Copyright 2010 -
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