rightThe art of ceramics flourished in the Sung dynasty, as various kilns across China strived to show off their best in terms of forms, glazes, decorative techniques, and methods of production. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The ceramics industry of the Song dynasty (960-1279) pursued advances in kiln technology. Craftsmen searched far and wide for fine, new clays and exotic glaze colors, always looking for innovative ways of creating their wares. The kiln facilities, molding techniques, and spectrum of glaze colors grew increasingly versatile. The fiery spirit and determination exhibited by potters back then even rival the thirst for experimentation found among modern-day artists. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

The government in the Song as well as Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) earnestly sponsored the production of porcelains. Besides providing for objects of daily life, the imperial court also specified forms, production techniques, and raw materials for its ceramics, resulting in the rapid spread of kilns throughout the land that produced advanced porcelains. The famous kilns generated pieces that were fine in biscuit body, controlled in glaze consistency, and beautiful in decorative motifs. The production style of such renowned kilns became the frequent target of imitation by other nearby kilns, creating for an extensive network of kilns. Song porcelain reigned in its minimalist aesthetic, esteeming clean lines and sparse decoration. The myriad forms and renderings of Song and Yuan ceramics disclose details about the eating, adornment, and worship customs of the time. These wares have also been praised both domestically and internationally, and have been appreciated by and exalted among many in later generations.” \=/

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: The most characteristic production of that time is the green porcelain known as "Celadon". It consists usually of a rather solid paste, less like porcelain than stoneware, covered with a green glaze; decoration is incised, not painted, under the glaze. In the Song period, however, came the first pure white porcelain with incised ornamentation under the glaze, and also with painting on the glaze. Not until near the end of the Song period did the blue and white porcelain begin (blue painting on a white ground). The cobalt needed for this came from Asia Minor. In exchange for the cobalt, Chinese porcelain went to Asia Minor. This trade did not, however, grow greatly until the Mongol epoch; later really substantial orders were placed in China, the Chinese executing the patterns wanted in the West. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

In 2014, Archaeology magazine reported: Ancient potters synthesized an unusual form of iron oxide that might help modern materials scientists develop cheap, ultra-high-density data storage. The compound, called epsilon-phase iron oxide, formed in the distinctive glaze on Jian bowls made during the Song Dynasty (a.d. 960–1279). Epsilon-phase iron oxide has a number of amazing magnetic properties, but it is difficult to make its pure form in notable quantities. An understanding of the chemical composition and firing process of the glaze might provide new strategies. [Source: Archaeology magazine, September-October 2014]

Good Websites and Sources on the Song Dynasty: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; ; Tang Dynasty: Wikipedia ; Google Book: China’s Golden Age: Everday Life in the Tang Dynasty by Charles Benn; Chinese History: Chinese Text Project ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization ; Chaos Group of University of Maryland ; 2) WWW VL: History China ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia Ceramics and Porcelain: 1) China Museums Online: ; 2) Guide to Chinese Ceramics: Song Dynasty, Minneapolis Institute of Arts; features many examples of different types of ceramic ware produced during the Song dynasty, including ding, qingbai, longquan, jun, guan and cizhou. 3) Making a Cizhou Vessel Princeton University Art Museum This interactive site shows users seven steps used to create Song- and Yuan-era Cizhou vessels.

Song Dynasty Porcelain


In the time of the Liao, Song and Jin dynasties (10th — 13th century) major porcelain-making kilns were widely distributed in both the south and the north. In addition to celadon and white porcelain, many other wares were popular, such as qingbai (porcelain with a bluish-white glaze), black-glazed ware, and porcelain with painted designs. A wide variety of porcelain-making techniques competed vigorously. [Source: Shanghai Museum,]

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “After the Sui and Tang dynasties, the spread of kiln firing technique allowed for porcelain to become available to both the rich and the poor. Amongst the most popular were the green wares of the Yue kilns in the South and the white wares of the Xing kilns in the North. Furthermore, Ding ware and Changsha ware were exported in large quantities, reaching as far as Egypt and Mesopotamia. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei,]

The ruling house of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) doted on refinement and the elegant accoutrements of culture, and it accordingly gave priority to the fine arts. Under this stimulation, the manufacture of porcelain progressed, and it was at this time that several famous types of wares were produced. From the Tang dynasty (618-907) into the Sung, Ting ware succeeded Xing ware, Lung-ch'uan ware carried on the tradition of Yuah ware, and both the white wares and the green wares made great strides in terms of quality and quantity. In addition, the production of dignified shapes and harmonious glazes reached a full maturation in Kuan ware, Ju ware, Ko ware, and Chua ware. The porcelain industry at Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province was also forging ahead at this time with Ying Qing wares, white wares and Tz'u-chou type wares being sold throughout the north. Pieces with black ground and white decoration or white ground and black decoration are particularly lively and exuberant, expressing the special spirit of the people. Among the black-glazed wares, Chien wares from Fujian province and Chi-chou wares from Jiangxi province are the most famous. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei,]

Types of Song Dynasty Porcelain

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: Song porcelain “are divided into the four general chromatic categories of glaze: 1) celadon, 2) white, 3) black, and 4) polychrome. Celadons consist of sky-blue Ju ware from Henan, light bluish-green Kuan ware from Zhejiang, plum green Lung-chuan ware, and olive green Yao-chou ware from Shaanxi. White-glazed pieces were mainly from northern and southern centers of production, represented by Ting ware from Hebei and Ching-te-chen from Jiangxi, respectively. The Northern wares are distinguished by their ivory white color and flowing glaze-like teardrops. Southern wares have bluish white glaze, the places where it congealed being lake-blue in color. Both of these areas specialized in fluid engravings or regular stamped impressions for decoration on the biscuit. Chien ware from Fukien represents the epitome of black ware, the crystallization of the glaze being like the fur of a black hare. Multi-colored wares are exemplified by Chun ware from Henan, in which the turbid sky-blue glaze often reveals reddish purple coloring. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

According to the Shanghai Museum:“ During the Song dynasty, five well known kilns, Ru, Guan, Ge, Ding and Jun, manufactured exquisite porcelain wares for royal families. In addition, folk kilns both in the south and the north produced many unique wares of high quality. Porcelain manufacture of the Liao and Xi-Xia regimes in northern China provided many distinctive products with ethnic style and craftsmanship. Meanwhile, production of blue-white porcelain at the Jingdezhen greatly promoted its position in China. [Source: Shanghai Museum,]

1) Ru ware vessels had an ash-gray body covered by finely-cracked sky-blue glaze with ‘sesame seed’ spur marks on the underside. The kilm site has been found at Qinglaingsi, Baofeng country, Henan Province. It was produced during the reign of Huizong (1101-1125) in the late Northern Song Dynasty. 2) Guan ware vessels had gray, black or yellow bodies covered by a cracked powder green, millet yellow or brownish-yellow glaze. The Southern Song Xiuneisi and Jiaotanxia Guan ware kiln sites have been found in Fenghuangshan and Wuguishan in Gangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Its Northern Song site has not been located yet, 3) Ge ware featured a crackled grayosh blue glaze. The thick black crackles and fine yellow ones were called “iron wires, with golden threads. The kiln site has not been found. 4) Ding ware is mainly comprised of white wares, known as ivory white, decorated with carved , incised, molded and engraved designs. The mouth rime of the wares have no glaze because theyr were fired upside down. High-quality vessels made for the ryoal family were covered by gold, silver and copper. The kiln site was in Quyang county, Hebei Province. 5) Jun ware is known for it pure moon-white or sky blue glaze, or a blue glaze with red or purple ptaches produced with iron and copper pigments in a reduction furing, The kiln site was found in Yu county, Henan Province.

“Five-Footed Washer is an example of Ge ware at the Shanghai Museum. Ge Kiln is one of the five famous kilns of the Song dynasty, also the only one with its location yet to be found. This washer, with a thick body and smooth glaze of beige, is covered in crackles of different sizes on the surface of its glaze. As the big black crackles and small yellow ones are interwoven with each other, the pattern is called Jin Si Tie Xian meaning golden threads interwoven with iron wires. With its refined and structured craft and its dignified and elegant shape, this piece is a typical extant work of Ge Kiln. [Source: Shanghai Museum]

There were other types of porcelain too such as Jian ware and Chifeng ware. “Tea Bowl with ‘Jin Zhan’ Mark” is an example of Jian ware at the Shanghai Museum. All decorated with black glaze, Jian wares in the Fujian region of the Song dynasty had very distinctive varieties. The tea competition popular among royalty in the Song dynasty was a game to see whose tea mark would remain for the longest time. Therefore, black porcelain was used to highlight the white tea dust. Jian wares became popular during this period, and later were also widely spread to Japan. This small cup in the Shanghai Museum was inscribed with two characters ‘Jin Zhan’, indicating it was a tribute to the imperial palace. “Jar with Black Incised Peony Design on White Ground” illustrates the Chifeng ware The rim and outer wall of the jar is coated with white engobe and applied with transparent glaze on top. The black fills the space between the designs as ground, which are floral motifs dominated by the peony. With its size and rough and blunt craft, this jar embodies the general features of northern folk porcelain. But seen from its unique decoration technique and style, it is a reflection of Khitan ethnic style.

Ju Wares

pillow with incised decoration in sandstone

Ju ware, a kind of celadon from the Northern Song dynasty that ranges in color from blue to green, is the rarest of all forms of porcelain. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Ju ceramic wares of the Northern Sung, fired in the early 12th century, are porcelains renowned for the classical beauty of their warm and glossy sky-blue glaze. Surviving pieces of Ju ware are extremely rare, with less than 70 found in collections around the world today. The National Palace Museum is fortunate to have 21, the most of any collection. With the discovery of the Ju kiln site, both the scattered unearthed shards and the archaeological excavation of the entire kiln site now offer a better understanding of this kiln and its products. In exploring Ju ware from a single kiln to the broader level of cultural exchange, combined with observations by means of modern scientific equipment, we also have gradually gained a clearer and richer view into its transmission and craftsmanship. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

The Ju kilns, located at the Ch'ing-liang Temple in Pao-feng County, Henan Province, fired bold and outstanding porcelains with glazes marked by a moist and glossy appearance. Standing out among the numerous celadon types made at the time, they became the porcelains designated by the imperial family for its use. \=/

“The unique style of Ju porcelain glaze color is a slightly greenish blue hue with the slightest sparkle of rose pink luster, appearing quite different from the Yao-chou, Southern Sung Kuan (Official), and Lung-ch’üan celadons of the Sung dynasty. Starting in the period of the Ming and Ch'ing dynasty, Ju porcelains received particular attention among connoisseurs. Regardless of the terms they used to describe Ju wares, such as "sky-blue color", "blue sky after rain", or "light blue hue", they all were insufficient to capture the consummate skill and perfection of the color and luster of actual pieces. In addition, the grading of Ju porcelains, whether the surfaces of the glaze had crackle or were completely without any form of pattern, were considered in the view of connoisseurs to be in a class of their own and regarded as the paragon of celadons.” \=/

Examples of Ju Wares

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of Plate with greenish-blue glaze, Northern Sung Ju Ware (height: 4.4 centimeters, Depth: 2.8 centimeters, Rim diameter: 21.4 centimeters, Base diameter: 15.5-15.7 centimeters): The bottom of this dish is engraved with an imperial poem by the Ch'ing dynasty emperor Ch'ien-lung, who used the line "Porcelain of the Sung is like music of the Chou" to describe the classical perfection of Sung porcelains, praising them as the best of the porcelains. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of Plain narcissus planter with greenish-blue glaze, Northern Sung Ju Ware (height: 6.7 centimeters, Depth: 3.5 centimeters, Rim width: 16.4 centimeters, Rim length: 23 centimeters, Bottom width: 12.9 centimeters, Bottom length: 19.3 centimeters): Known as the only narcissus planter without any crackle to its glaze, the form of this piece is perfect and reflects the appreciation of the Ming dynasty connoisseur Ts'ao Chao, who praised "Those with 'crab-claw' (crackle) patterns as divine, but those without as truly superb".

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of Incense burner, Northern Sung Ju Ware (height: 15.3 centimeters, Rim diameter: 23.8 centimeters): Similar to a lacquerware vessel shape of the Warring States and a bronze burner type of the Han dynasty, the robust form here has a strongly classical manner. This type of vessel was included in the list of Ju wares submitted by the favored official Chang Chün to the Southern Sung emperor Kao-tsung.

Ju Ware and Cultural Exchanges Outside of China

ju ware bowl

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “ Ju porcelains were used for approximately twenty years, from 1086 to 1106, during the reigns of Emperors Che-tsung and Hui-tsung. Although only a short time, these works expressed an appeal that took the form of cultural exchange that transcended borders. The mallet vase, for example, is a shape that derived from glass crafts of Iran and Egypt, entering China around the 11th century. The mallet jar had been popular in Middle East glassware from the 9th to 10th centuries and was used to store wine, oil, and rose water. In China, the Ju ware mallet vase, done in imitation using porcelain, was suited as an object for display and appreciation. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

The warming bowl in the shape of a lotus blossom also appeared in lacquer wares, metal wares, and the ceramics of other kilns, representing a form popular at the time. Also being almost identical to Koryo celadons in Korea, it reflects the extent of commercial relations in porcelains that took place between the Northern Sung and Koryo during the 12th century, which was specifically recorded in the book “Illustrated Text of the Hsüan-ho Emissary to Koryo”. Hsü Ching, the author of this book, had been sent to Korea as an emissary of the Northern Sung, and he described the porcelains he saw at the Koryo court, such as "Yüeh-chou ancient secret-color (porcelains)", "Ju-chou new kiln wares" and the types of wares produced at the Ju kilns.” \=/

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of a sculpted incense celadon burner with mandarin duck cover 12th century, Koryo Dynasty, Korea (height: 18.8 centimeters, Width: 16 centimeters): The smoke of incense lit within such a burner would waft through the body of the mandarin duck above and then slowly emerge from its beak. This incense burner is not only practical, its form is also extremely well designed, revealing the fine and elegant manner of Koryo celadons. \=/

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of an incense burner, Northern Sung Ju Ware. Ch’ing-liang Temple kiln site, (height: 13.6 centimeters, Rim diameter: 15 centimeters, Bottom diameter: 16 centimeters): The book "Illustrated Text of the Hsüan-ho Emissary to Koryo" of the 12th century records a kind of Korean incense burner, in which the bottom is in a form that looks like it is "supported by an inverted lotus blossom". Without any surviving pieces to offer testimony to this record, pieces of Ju wares that have been archaeologically excavated show evidence that a similar form indeed once existed. \=/

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of a lotus-shaped warming bowl with greenish-blue glaze, Northern Sung Ju Ware (height: 10.1-10.5 centimeters, Depth: 7.6 centimeters, Rim diameter: 15.9-16.2 centimeters, Base diameter: 8.1 centimeters): The warming bowl in the shape of a lotus blossom is found among lacquer wares, metal objects, and ceramics. It was not only a classical Sung dynasty shape, but also highly favored by the Koreans, becoming a popular vessel type among Koryo celadons. \=/

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of a petal-rim celadon bowl, Koryo Dynasty, Korea (height: 9.5 centimeters, Body diameter: 14.2 centimeters): The warming bowl in the shape of a lotus blossom is found among lacquer wares, metal objects, and ceramics. It was not only a classical Sung dynasty shape, but also highly favored by the Koreans, becoming a popular vessel type among Koryo celadons. \=/

Imperial Ju Ware

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “ Many of the treasured Ju porcelains in the National Palace Museum collection also have stories behind them waiting to be told. Though centuries have elapsed and their history obscured, the inscriptions engraved on the bottom of these Ju wares are like records that take us back in time, each one of their characters preserving the memory of a time in their transmission. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Because Emperor Kao-tsung of the Southern Sung had a favored consort surnamed Liu, who had the sobriquet Feng-hua and two seals to this effect, this celadon dish engraved with the two characters “Feng-hua” has been indirectly linked to Consort Liu and therefore considered as having once been in the collection of the Southern Sung court. The bottom of the round celadon washer engraved with imperial poetry of the Ch’ien-lung Emperor of the Ch’ing dynasty, judging from the line, “Celadon of the Sung House of Chao was established in Ju-chou, its glaze said to be made from agate powder”, indicates that this is one of the rare Ju porcelains that had been identified by him and that it had passed through the Ch’ing court collection of the 18th century. \=/

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of a round wash basin with greenish-blue glaze, Northern Sung Ju Ware (height: 3.5 centimeters, Depth: 2.5 centimeters, Rim diameter: 12.9 centimeters, Base diameter: 9 centimeters): The Ch’ing emperor Ch’ien-lung, in his imperial poetry, used the lines, “Celadon of the Sung House of Chao was established in Ju-chou, its glaze said to be made from agate powder” to explain the background of Ju ware production, revealing in concrete terms the imperial understanding of Ju wares. \=/

porcelain wares

How Ju Ware Was Made

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The mysterious and unique sky-blue glaze of Ju wares is recorded in Sung dynasty texts as containing a considerable amount of powdered agate. From today's scientific point of view, we know that agate is a kind of quartz whereby silica is deposited in layers. However, the addition of agate powder does not have a significant influence on the color, quality, or crackle of glaze. Nonetheless, the area of production for Ju wares also was abundant in agate, and mining of this semi-precious mineral took place several times in the Northern Sung period. Combined with the glistening, slight rose-pink luster to Ju wares, it invariably reminds one of this record that "agate was added to the glaze". [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“In the quest for perfection in porcelain, many Ju wares were completely covered with glaze before firing, leaving only marks on the bottom where spurs separated them from other stacked pieces and the saggers. This arrangement prevented distortion of the objects and also allowed the glaze to cover virtually the entire piece. The incredible skill involved in this process resulted in the spur marks remaining after the firing of Ju wares as being only the size of sesame seeds. Surviving pieces of Ju ware plates, vases, bowls, and slightly larger washers have five spur marks on the bottom, small washers and dishes have three, and narcissus planters five or six spur marks. \=/

“Judging from an oval spurred firing tool that appears to have been designed specifically for firing narcissus planters (excavated from the Ju kiln site at the Ch’ing-liang Temple at Pao-feng county in Henan province), narcissus planters were probably fired in the so-called central kiln area. Most surviving narcissus planters have six spur marks on the bottom. This piece, perhaps slipping during the firing process or for some other unknown reason, has only five spur marks remaining, forming a feature of its firing quite different from others. \=/

“A temperature tester was used to confirm the temperature inside the kiln and observe the color of the glaze. The temperature tester insert biscuits that have been excavated from the site of the Ju kilns, judging from their ten holes, suggest that each firing may have required more than ten trials and observations in order to achieve the intended results, showing that the process of firing Ju wares was quite complex and time-consuming. \=/

“When Ju wares were fired, raw clay pieces were stacked inside saggers, the surfaces of which were covered with a layer of flame-resistant clay, preventing the pieces from coming into direct contact with each other and protecting them from the kiln flames. This resulted in the high purity of the porcelain glazes and its translucent luster. The bedder and ring setter were placed underneath pieces, and during the firing process they served to separate the pieces from the sagger. The bedder and setter with spurs were used for support firing. Those without spurs were used in setter firing. Oval setters were kiln utensils designed specifically for the firing of narcissus planters.” \=/

Chun Ware

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Chun ware porcelain is famous for the color of its glazes. The glaze colors used on the majority of Chun wares, such as vessels, incense burners, bowls, and plates in the National Palace Museum collection, are bluish-green, greenish-blue, and sky blue. Copper red coloring pigment was applied on some green or blue glaze bases in order to create a visual effect like the glow of the sunset. The richness of the glaze colors of objects like planters and pot stands was beyond imagination. Two different colors, hues, or tones on both the inside and the outside of the vessel occurred frequently. Ancient scholars thus referred to the glaze on Chun ware as "art by accident". Since the Ming dynasty, the literati have commented regularly on Chun glaze, as in Kao Lien's Tsun-sheng pa-chien (Eight Discouves on a Healthful Life Style) (1591) where he used terms such as cinnabar-red, shallot-green, and eggplant-purple to describe the brilliant glaze on Chun ware. The predominant colors of the Museum's Chun ware collection are green, blue, purple and red. The variety in levels of tone in the same hue and the mixture of the different colors in the wares is also an important aspect of this collection. The work "Inverted bell-shaped planter with sky-blue and rose-purple glaze" is a good example of the above technique where specks of light blue and rose red appear on the sky blue glaze base, while copper red forms a ribbon-like pattern on the rim of the ware. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The question as to whether or not Chun ware was made during the Northern Sung dynasty has always confused researchers in this field. The theory that Chun ware was indeed produced during the Northern Sung (960-1127) dynasty originated during the late Ming (ca. 16-17th century), when scholars identified five major wares — Ting, Ju, Kuan, Ko, and Chun. In publications such as the Nan-yao pi-chi (The Notebook of Nan Ware), T'ao-Shu (The Theory of Ceramic), and Ching-te-chen t'ao-lu (The Ceramic Record of Ching-te-chen), Chun was referred to as a product of the Northern Sung dynasty (960-1279). The need to re-evaluate this analysis was proposed in 1975, when there was new evidence unearthed from Yu County in Henan Province suggesting that Chun ware may have been made during another time period. The structure of the kilns, the casting mold, and unearthed items from this site have raised many yet unanswered questions. The confirmation of the chronology of Chun ware is still ambiguous and difficult to attain. Until convincing archaeological evidence has been excavated, Chun ware will not be classified as a product made during the Northern Sung dynasty. Unlike previous exhibitions of Chun ware, some of the displayed items in this exhibition have yet to be conclusively dated and will therefore not be labeled as a product of the Sung dynasty (960-1279). \=/

Celadons produced in Lonquan, Zhejiang, China

“The Chun ware collection of the National Palace Museum includes utilitarian wares, such as vessels, bowls, plates, and incense burners, as well as planters, pot stands and a tsun vase. The above works can be identified as pieces that were fired in the Chin (1115-1234) or Yuan (1271-1368) dynasty according to the observation of Chun ware excavated from ware cellars, kiln sites and dated tombs. Documents from the Ming (1368-1644) and Ch'ing (1644-1911) dynasties refer to Yu County as the origin of Chun ware production. The discovery of most of these cellars and kilns containing Chun ware in Henan Province supports this assertion. In order to deliver a more effective viewing experience for the audience, a map of cellar and kiln sites has been prepared. Shards of Chun ware that have been recovered in Lin-ju, Pao-feng, Ho-pi, Yeh-chu-kou, and Liu-chia-men in Henan Province have been put on display. Through observing the shards, and comparing the colors of the glazes, viewers will be able to distinguish the difference between the glaze colors from different places and thus appreciate the diversity and beauty of Chun ware. \=/

“Chun ware appears thick and milky in quality. After low temperature firing and multi-layer glazing, cracks sometimes occurred during the first few firing processes. These cracks were then covered with new layers, leaving a unique pattern known as the "pattern of a worm trail along the ground", which can be seen in the "Hibiscus-shaped planter with moon-white glaze" in this exhibition. The Chun ware displayed has a thick clay body. The layers of glaze on the edges of these types of works are thinner and are an earthy yellow in color. This is in contrast with the thick layers of colored glaze on the body. In order to showcase the dazzling colors of Chun ware, some of displayed items are partially enlarged and reproduced, so that the uniqueness of its beauty with ever changing colors can be clearly seen in detail. \=/

Examples of Song Dynasty Chun Ware

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of Tsun Vase with Moon-white Glaze, 13th-14th century (height: 26.5 centimeters, rim width: 21.7 centimeters, base width: 17 centimeters): “The form of this vessel imitates that of a bronze tsun vase. With an everted rim and a long flaring neck, the expanding body rests on a short flaring base. Each section is clearly distinguished and bears four sets of vertical ribs ("flanges"). The vessel is covered with an uneven moon-white glaze marked by distinct bubbles that ran down to the base. The glaze along the mouth and the edges of the flanges is thin, appearing dark yellow in color. The concave underside, covered in an ochre slip with blue details, is carved with the Chinese character for "five (wu)." [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of Hibiscus-shaped Planter with Moon-white Glaze, 13th-14th century (height: 20.6 centimeters, rim width: 28.2 centimeters, base width: 14.1 centimeters): “This planter with an everted and delicately foliated rim evokes the shape of a hibiscus blossom. The deep vessel with undulating walls echoing the petals is slightly contracted at the base, which is short, flat, bears five drainage holes, and follows the shape of the blossom. The somewhat thin body is covered by a thick and uneven moon-white glaze with distinct bubbles. "Earthworm track" patterns appear occasionally on the surface with creamy white traces of the glaze flow. Edges of the body surface appear brownish in color, and the glaze extends down to the base, where it appears neat and even. The underside bears a dark slip and is incised with the Chinese character for "one (yi)." \=/

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of Lotus-shaped Pot Stand with Azure and Aubergine Glaze, 13th-14th century (height: 7.3 centimeters, rim width: 22.5 centimeters, base width: 13.9 centimeters): “This pot stand with an everted and delicately foliated rim evokes the shape of a lotus blossom. This shallow vessel with undulating walls echoing the petals has a flat bottom that is supported by three "cloud-head" feet. The thick body and glaze create for a classic, solemn effect with the distinct ridge of the rim. The exterior is covered with a lustrous aubergine glaze, while the glaze on the inside is shiny azure. The color of the rim glaze appears to represent a mixture of blue and purple. The glaze flow under the rim is light purple, and down to the base, it turns blue and brownish in color; the ridges appear brownish-yellow. The glaze on the interior and exterior is marked by "earthworm-track" patterns that are long and continuous. The glaze extends down to the base, which is flat, covered with a brown slip, bears 17 evenly spaced spur marks along the edge, and is incised with the Chinese character for "three (san)."

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of Cha-tou Planter with Azure and Lilac Glaze, 13th-14th century (height: 26.1 centimeters, rim width: 27 centimeters, base width: 16 centimeters): “This cha-tou planter is in the shape of an ancient bronze vessel. With a round everted mouth and a long broad neck, the distended thick body stands out on the short base stand, which is perforated with five drainage holes. The thick glaze is shiny and uneven in color. The lilac glaze on the exterior is streaked with blue along the neck, while the body has an area of light purplish glaze. The azure glaze on the interior is marked by "earthworm-trace" patterns. The rim is brownish in color. The glaze extends down to the base, at the edge of which the glaze clearly has been finished. The interior of the base is flat, covered with a dark slip, and incised with the Chinese character for "one (yi)." \=/

Ding Wares

Ding ware tea bowl

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Ding wares come from a region of northern China in Hebei Province formerly known as Dingzhou (Ding prefecture); the white porcelains made there have been prized since the Song dynasty (960–1279). Archaeologists have found the main Ding kiln complex on the border of present-day Quyang in Hebei province, unearthing a complex cluster of kilns covering a wide area and capable of rich production. The kilns began to flourish during the Tang dynasty (618–907), and soon gained fame throughout northern China. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“By the late Tang and Five Dynasties periods in the tenth century, Ding porcelains had become highly popular among the Chinese aristocracy in the Yangtze and Yellow River regions and even among the Khitan Liao in present-day Manchuria. The refinement of Ding ware production techniques continued into Song and Jin (1115–1234) times; the ware came to be characterised by the use of coal as kiln fuel, the adoption of the "upside-down" firing technique to improve quality, and the use of incised or moulded decorations on the vessel surfaces. Not only were these wares given as tribute for use in the imperial courts of the Northern Song (960–1127) and Jin dynasties, but they also broke through border barriers, as large numbers of them have been found in Liao and Southern Song (1127–1279) grave burials. These wares have thus earned their reputation as "the best under Heaven". \=/

The Northern Song poet Su Dongpo (1037–1101) sang the praises of Ding decorated porcelains that "rival the beauty of carved red jade", and the Jin-dynasty scholar Liu Qi (1203–1259) wrote about a decorated Ding-ware vessel whose white colour was "the most esteemed under Heaven", testifying to the huge popularity that decorated Ding white porcelains enjoyed at the time. The decorative motifs were either carved into the unglazed white-clay vessel bodies or impressed into the clay using moulds; thus decorated, the clay bodies were then covered with a transparent glaze that collected more thickly within the incised or impressed lines and thus became darker in colour, clearly revealing the decorative designs and greatly increasing the resplendent beauty of the austere, ivory-white vessel surface. Such refined and understated beauty, with its endless variety of patterns, has become the paragon of white porcelain in the eyes of connoisseurs, and both official and private kilns have competed to imitate it since Song times. There are nearly eight hundred porcelain vessels of the Ding type in the National Palace Museum collection; most bear decorative motifs, whether fluidly incised or moulded in rich patterns, and all display the astonishing variety of designs created by the Song craftsmen.” \=/

Early White Porcelains and Ding Ware

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “ In the late sixth century, a conscious effort to develop white ceramics arose in northern China. By Sui and Tang times (sixth to tenth centuries), kilns producing white porcelain were centred on the Xing kilns but had spread across Hebei and Henan provinces; their production was abundant, and historical accounts of the time record that their wares were commonly used by rich and poor alike. The Ding kilns at Quyang in the Dingzhou region of Hebei also began to flourish after the middle of the Tang dynasty, in the early ninth century. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Early white porcelains display a variety of lustrous shades; many of the otherwise-plain vessels are decorated with relief-carved decoration, and often have shapes that strongly reflect the influence of metal-vessel types. Some Ding porcelains are inscribed with the character guan (official) or xinguan (new official), and appear to have been supplied for use in the imperial court; contemporaneous documents and monument inscriptions consistently indicate that during middle Tang Dynasty to the Five Dynasties period (9th-10th century), court officials were designated to supervise porcelain production or taxation at the Ding kilns. \=/

“In the mid-Northern Song (eleventh century), China was at peace; with a stable society and flourishing production, there was a demand for high-quality goods in the bustling cities. Porcelains came into common production and one kiln after another rose to fame. The Ding kilns improved production quality by means of saggar support rings and the "upside-down" firing process, and broadened the decorative range of their wares through the use of incised or moulded motifs; as a result, they were able to produce porcelain vessels in large numbers while maintaining consistent quality, and to supply a large market both inside and outside China.” \=/

Examples of these kinds of Ding ware in the National Palace Museum collection include: 1) Covered jar with rope motif, Late Tang dynasty to Five Dynasties period, 10th century; 2) Foliate rimmed bowl stand with Guan mark, Five Dynasties period, 10th century; 3) Porcelain ewer with dragon mouth, Northern Song dynasty, 10th century.

Decorations on Ding Ware

Ding ware with incised lotus design

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Ding-ware plates and bowls for everyday use are very consistent in form. Their rims are generally un-glazed, which facilitates the application of metal rim-bands around them and thus enhances their beauty. The unglazed rim was a result of the "upside-down" firing process, in which the rim of each Ding-ware bowl or plate was left unglazed in order to allow it to be turned upside down and placed rim-first on a round supporting ring; the ring and vessel were then stacked atop the support-ring of the vessel below. Numerous vessels could be stacked in this way for firing, with the rings coming to resemble a tubular saggar and containing a series of bowls or plates of the same shape that did not touch each other. Thus on the one hand, the space saved inside the kiln allowed a much larger quantity of vessels to be fired simultaneously, while on the other hand, supporting the vessels by their rims ensured that vessels with broad rims, small feet and thin walls would not lose their shape during the firing process. This innovation in porcelain kiln-firing was quickly adopted at many other kilns, spreading to sites as far away as Jiangxi and Fujian. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Around the middle of the eleventh century, Ding kiln craftsmen began decorating their porcelain vessels with incised decor, using broad-bladed carving tools in a variety of techniques to quickly execute lines that mimic the variations in thickness of brush-strokes. They were also adept at using comb-like multi-pointed tools to incise multiple parallel flowing lines amid the main decorative motifs, enhancing the fullness of the flowers and leaves or mimicking the fluidity of rippling water. \=/

“Among the motifs incised, most commonly seen are lotus or day-lily blossoms and leaves, winding elegantly and spontaneously around the vessel surface. The soft and deftly-executed lines of other motifs, like wild geese in a pond or swimming fish, sketch out a song in praise of nature, while little dragons with a calf-like faces or big dragons striding with heads held high are wonderfully buoyant and animated. \=/

“In the late Northern Song period (early twelfth century), the Ding-ware craftsmen used mushroom-like moulds to neatly form the vessel shapes while simultaneously moulding their decorative motifs. Many of the surviving moulds themselves bear carved inscriptions that date them to the Jin period (late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries), reflecting the increasing popularity of moulded-decor techniques at that time. Use of such moulds allowed the manufacture of large numbers of vessels identical in both shape and decoration, thereby meeting the needs of a broad market. \=/

“These meticulously-crafted moulds were similar to those used to cast gold and silver vessels. They commonly produced porcelains with compartmented walls or chrysanthemum-petal shapes, decorated with flying birds dancing among luxuriant flowers, waterfowl bobbing amid finely detailed ripples, vigorous little-dragon patterns, densely-layered propitious clouds, or spreading flowers and leaves densely and seamlessly packed together, all displaying the unique compositions and designs of the mould-carvers. \=/

Examples of these kinds of Ding ware in the National Palace Museum collection include: 1) Dish with impressed design of peacocks and peonies, Northern Song to Jin dynasties, 12th -13th centuries; 2) Dish with impressed design of peonies and pleated rim, Jin dynasty, 13th century; 3) Conical bowl with incised daylily design, Jin dynasty, 12th -13th centuries; 4) Plate with impressed design of children at play, Northern Song to Jin dynasties, 12th -13th centuries. \=/

Influence of Ding Porcelains

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “After the middle Northern Song (eleventh century), kilns producing white porcelain proliferated throughout northern China. These included established kiln-sites at Jingxing, Cizhou, Huozhou, Gongxian and Jiexiu as well as kilns, now known only from documentary records, at Suzhou and Sizhou, all of which imitated Ding-ware incised and moulded decorative motifs or the "upside-down" firing technique. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

There are also records of a "Southern Ding" ware, as archaeological excavations have uncovered evidence of a fair amount of conscious imitation of Ding wares at southern Chinese kiln sites like Jingdezhen, Jizhou, Xuanzhou, Nanfeng, Guangze, and Shaowu. The literati of the Ming period (1368–1644) prized Ding wares, and many imitations proliferated; even such imperial wares as Yongle (1403-1424) and Qianlong (1736-1795) white porcelains also clearly reflect a reliance on Ding ware as a model.

Examples of this at the National Palace Museum collection include: 1) Bowl with impressed design of pomegranate, plum blossom and the moon, Jingdezhen ware, Southern Song dynasty, 12th -13th centuries; 2) Ewer with wrapper design, Late Ming to early Qing dynasties,17th -18th centuries; and 3) Bowl with impressed spiral and floral design, Huozhou ware, Yuan dynasty, 13th -14th centuries.

Ru Ware, Celadons and Official Kilns

celadon vases from Longquan kiln

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Judging from historical records, so-called "Official kilns" of the Song dynasty refer to sites producing porcelains for the court in the Northern Song and those in the Southern Song at Xiuneisi and Jiaotanxia. In more recent times, the exploration and study of Southern Song Official kilns trace back to the 1930s with evidence gathered and fieldwork by Chinese and Japanese scholars. Though Southern Song Official kilns could not be clearly distinguished at the time, the appreciation for celadons they produced and the issue of solving related questions continued into the 1990s. With the discovery of the Laohudong kiln site in Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province, many scholars have come to recognize that it and Jiaotanxia as indeed where official wares were fired in the Southern Song. In comparison, our understanding of Northern Song official kiln sites has not only progressed along lines revealed by textual analysis but also by researching imperial poetry from the Qianlong Emperor and excavations at the Qingliang Temple site in Baofeng County, Henan Province. In doing so, the Ru kilns have become considered as possible sites for the Northern Song kilns. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Ru wares, which stand out prominently in the writings of Song dynasty authors, were fired at kilns located at Qingliang Temple in Baofeng County, Henan Province. The firing and use of Ru celadon are described by Song authors as follows: "They were only offered for imperial selection, and those rejected were permitted to be sold" and "At the time of the old capital (of the Northern Song, Kaifeng), Ding vessels did not enter the Forbidden City, only those of Ru." These citations offer historical testimony that Ru wares were used at the court. Furthermore, Xu Jing in his Illustrated Travels of the Xuanhe Emissary to Goryeo (1124) points out the similarity between Goryeo celadons in what is now Korea and Ru wares. Taken together with samples excavated from the Qingliang Temple kiln site close to Goryeo celadon, there is now also evidence for exchange between the Ru kilns and those outside of China. \=/

"Official kilns" generally refer to sites where ceramics were fired for court use. Official kilns were established in the Northern Song under Emperor Huizong, and textual records refer to them as "official kilns of the capital." However, up to now, concrete proof of their exact site has yet to be found, making it difficult to ascertain anything about their nature. If, though, the similarity between some vessel shapes of Southern Song Official (Guan) wares and Ru porcelains is taken into consideration, then at least from the viewpoint of ceramics fired for official use, Ru wares indeed can be seen as the official wares of the Northern Song. \=/

A “Ru Ware Dish” at the Shanghai Museum is dish, elegant and beautiful and is a typical ware of the extant porcelains of Ru Kiln. Known as the first of the five famous kilns in the Song dynasty, Ru Kiln works are extremely delicate in workmanship. The object features fine and smooth paste, mild glaze in various colors including sky blue, powder blue and so on. Ru Kiln began to fire official wares from the period of Emperor Huizong of the Northern Song dynasty. Due to its short firing time, few works were handed down. [Source: Shanghai Museum]

“Celadon Meiping Vase with Carved Peony Design” at the Beijing Museum is a an example of Yaozhou ware. Located in present-day Huangbao Town, Tongchuan City, Shaanxi province, Yaozhou Kiln is one of the renowned ancient porcelain kilns in the history of Chinese ceramics. This vase is a rare masterpiece of Yaozhou wares. As the straight and curved lines are contrasted for shaping, and the diameter of the vase is lifted as much as possible to achieve a better proportion, the vase looks slim and slender, tall and shapely, which makes it a typical Meiping (meaning Prunus) vase of the Song dynasty. The vase is covered with patterns all over, among which the three sets of carved designs hold a dominant position, with the primary and secondary motifs clearly distinguishable in proper density and order. The incised floral decoration is sharp and vigorous with lively and smooth lines.

“Celadon Li-shaped Censer is an example of Longquan ware. Located in present-day Longquan County, Zhejiang province, Longquan Kiln began to produce objects in the Tang dynasty. The products, still profoundly influenced by the Yue Kiln of the Northern Song, usually took on greenish yellow glaze. The two types of glaze, powder blue and plum green, originated in the Southern Song dynasty, and represented the highest level of ancient celadon firing. Multi-leveled glazing was applied on many products, making a bright and fresh green color. The tripod censer features its white and hard paste, jade-like smooth glaze. The shoulder of the censer is embossed with bow-string pattern all along. The three edges are embossed from the belly all along to the foot, with the embossment in thin and white glaze, consciously exposing its white body. This is a special and demanding technique of Longquan Kiln used to highlight the fresh green glaze and the pure white body.

Southern Song Official Kilns

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “In the waning years of the Northern Song, Jin dynasty armies attacked the capital of Bianjing (modern Kaifeng City, Henan Province) and captured Emperor Emeritus Huizong and Emperor Qinzong, marking the end of the Northern Song. Remnants of the court, however, managed to escape south, later establishing a capital they called Lin'an ("Temporary Peace," modern Hangzhou) in what is known in history as the Southern Song. To reestablish legitimacy and authority, the Southern Song court followed the example of Northern Song institutions, one of which was to establish kilns to fire porcelains. At Xiuneisi, the porcelains were "modeled in refined clay and exceptionally exquisite, their glaze colors translucently lustrous and prized throughout the land." As for those from the Jiatanxia kilns, they were "no match compared to the wares of old." These official porcelains are today called "Southern Song Guan wares." [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Archaeological excavations in Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province, led to the discovery of the Jiaotanxia kilns, and the Laohudong kilns were also found in the vicinity of Phoenix Mountain. Following analysis of pieces recovered from the kiln openings at these two sites, one of them probably corresponds to the Jiaotanxia official kiln recorded in texts, while the other is perhaps the Xiuneisi official kiln. These two kilns began operation at different times, but their period for firing porcelains overlapped. Among surviving porcelains from the former Qing court collection now in the National Palace Museum, some indeed accurately reflect the product types seen from pieces recovered at those two kiln sites. However, there are still some examples that defy comparison and are even more refined in terms of quality, suggesting the possibility of another as yet undiscovered Southern Song official kiln site.” \=/

Southern Song (1127-1279) Black- and Green Glaze Ceramics

celddon bowl from Yaozhou kiln

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “When taking tea, the Song people would customarily crush the tea cakes into tiny tea powder, place the powder in the tea bowl and add water; after some stirring the tea would be ready for drinking. Therefore a layer of white foam would often float to the surface of the tea, which would have suited well the black glaze of this tea bowl. The Song people had developed the practice of "tea competitions", and the coloring and foam appearing after stirring of the tea were both important criteria considered by the judges. Black glaze on tea bowls set off the white tea particularly well, and for this reason these tea bowls became extremely popular during the Song Dynasty. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of a Black-glazed bowl with leaf pattern, Jizhou ware Southern Song dynasty: “This black glaze bowl with leaf-pattern has a wide rim and small base, the side of the bowl slanted and deep like a bamboo hat. The rim is set with a line of metal, and black glaze covers both the outside and inside of the bowl. One can see a yellow leaf floating in the black glaze, its veins vaguely visible, its edges curling up unevenly, the arrangement displaying a natural beauty. The leaf-pattern on this black glaze bowl is a decorative technique unique to the Jizhou Kiln of Jiangxi. One can imagine how the leaf in the bowl might have appeared to gently float up in the tea as the ancients drank from the bowl. This would certainly have added to the joys of tea tasting. \=/

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of kundika with green glaze, Cizao ware of Quanzhou, Southern Song to Yuan dynasties, 13th-14th century: “"Kundika" is a Sanskrit word that means a cleansing water bottle, which is used for carrying water and for washing one's hands. This kundika is long and straight at the neck, the center section angled; the tube-shaped spout is also long and thin, the surface decorated with simple horizontal lines. The lead green glaze was fired in low temperature. This is a product of the Cizau ware of Fujian. \=/

“The Cizau ware was located in the vicinity of Jinjiang in southern Fujian, near Quanzhou, and had been making ceramics and porcelain since the 5th century. During the Song and Yuan Dynasties Quanzhou had established a "Bureau of Foreign Trade" to manage the foreign trade market, and by virtue of its diversity of products and convenience of location, Cizau ware had successfully exported many of its ceramic and porcelain products to the South Pacific region. Income from foreign trade was an important resource for the national treasury during the Southern Song Period, and fabric, coins, lacquer ware and porcelain were all major export items. Large and small kilns could be found in Fujian and Guangdong along the southeastern coast, and besides supplying the daily needs of the domestic market, they also produced many items to meet the special needs of foreign markets. This green glaze kundika was one such product created for the overseas market, and is testimony to the lively trading activities between China and Southeast Asia at the time. \=/

Southern Song (1127-1279) Ritual Items

wine container

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “When the Southern Song Dynasty moved its capital and political center south, the court declared its legitimate mandate and continuity of rule through solemn ritual ceremonies offered to Heaven, Earth and ancestors. With most of their ritual wares of jade and bronze having been either lost or dispersed in great upheaval, the government had to make do with articles made of other materials such as ceramics, wood, and bamboo instead. So they commissioned from the Official Kiln celadon wares modeled on bronzes in shape, and on the glazes of Ru Ware in color. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The Song people were very serious about proper rituals. The Xuanhe Catalogue of Antiques, a major, comprehensive antiquarian compilation by Emperor Huizong of the Northern Song and his officials, became the guiding reference for the Southern Song in its effort to reinstate the ritual ware system. After verification and correction, new updated diagrams were made and issued nationwide, for all local Confucian shrine temples to consult and follow. The revival of the past and emphasis on rituals are also reflected in contemporary bronzes and jade articles.

“Following the Jingkang Crisis towards the end of the Northern Song Period, the Jin Army conquered northern China and the Song emperor hurriedly traveled southwards, shifting the political center of the country to the south. It was highly necessary for the emperor to hold religious rituals and announce to the people the authenticity of the emperor's political powers. During such war-battered times when so much lay in waste, however, it was difficult to obtain well-made bronze or jade ware to serve as ceremonial vessels. The imperial administration therefore ordered that ceramic, porcelain and wooden wares be used temporarily and be mass produced. The initial kilns for making of imperial porcelain were located in Huiji, Suzhou and Hangzhou, with Hangzhou being the main location. Under imperial supervision, the earliest Southern Song imperial kiln porcelain all had standard forms. As these ceramic and porcelain wares were intended to replace bronze ritualistic vessels, some of the early Southern Song imperial kiln porcelain closely resembled ancient bronze vessels. This particular celadon vessel was made to imitate the shape of ancient bronze "Zun vessels".

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of Celadon-glazed zun vessel, Guan ware Southern Song dynasty: “This celadon zun vessel has a flared mouth, compressed round center and solid foot. Its surface is covered in thick and even celadon glaze, the glaze bright and warm. Its outer wall displays four vertical ridgelines, and due to the slightly thinner layer of glaze bordering the ridgelines, one can see the original dark brown color of the clay below. Due to differences in the speed of heat expansion and cold contraction by the glaze and the clay during the firing process, irregular light-colored crack lines appear on the surface of the zun vessel. This is referred to as "cracks" and is a particular characteristic of porcelain made by imperial kilns. The zun vessel is elegant and solemn. \=/

Southern Song (1127-1279) Laquerware, Wooden Sculpture and Crafts

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Technical sophistication during the Southern Song period pioneered a number of distinctive arts and crafts which exerted far-reaching influence on later times, including the graceful black lacquer ware, as well as the tixi technique that features "layered incision" of cursive cloud patterns carved through the depth of multi-coated lacquer.The substitution of ceramics for bronzes was initially a thrifty measure but it eventually grew and developed into a unique line of Guan ware ware boasting beautiful crazes. For the same reason, glassware was used in place of genuine jade. Their bright colors coupled with gold or silver rimming were apparently cherished dearly. The Shoushan stone was another replacement material for jade ritual wares. Stone figurines unearthed from the Song tombs also allow us a glimpse into how Song artisans dealt with this medium. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

The most exquisite sculpture from the Song Dynasty are wood Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Robert Jacobsen, curator of Asian art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts said: “[M]any historians agree that the last great moment in Chinese Buddhist sculpture occurred in the late Sung period, in the 12th and 13th centuries. Wooden sculpture at that time is perhaps the best we’ve ever seen.” A fine example of Song wood sculpture at that museum is The Bodhisattva Guanyin (Kuan-yin) made of wood, gesso, and mineral pigments, and gold.

Porcelain, laquerware and stoneware

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of red tixi lacquer box, three-tiered floral rim Southern Song dynasty, 1235, excavated from Chayuan Mountain, Collection of Fuzhou City Museum: “This lacquer tixi box was unearthed from a Fuzhou grave burial dated 1235, and is the earliest lacquer ware with certainty of dating to be excavated so far. Lacquer tixi box were generally used as containers for bronze mirrors, powder boxes, combs and other toiletries. This particular tixi box comprises of three boxes stacked one over another, is lidded, has a flat base, and the outer rim is in the gentle shape of six flower petals. The base and inlay are painted with black lacquer, while the outside is painted with layers of yellow and red lacquer, the overlapping layers clearly visible. The entire case is carved in the ruyi-cloud pattern, divided into two concentric circles on the lid, each containing four and eight ruyi-cloud patterns respectively. The pattern combination appears calm and unhurried, the lines rounded and even, the lacquer color warm and full. \=/

“Lacquer carving is a decorative technique particular to Chinese lacquer ware; patterns are carved into overlapping layers of lacquer, showcasing the beauty of layers and texture. "Tixi" is one of the earlier types of lacquer carving, and refers to overlapping two or three layers of lacquer in different colors and then using a slanting knife to carve out the patterns; the surface would then display the different color layers. The patterning usually involves arrangements of such geometric shapes as ruyi-clouds or vanilla patterns, emphasizing the beauty of flowing lines. This lacquer tixi box is a classic, representative example of Southern Song carved lacquer ware. \=/

Los Angeles County Museum of Art description of Lacquer Tray with Phoenixes, Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), Red, yellow, and black lacquer on wood: In China, objects made from lacquer—a seemingly humble material produced from tree sap—were, in fact, highly prized luxury goods. Carved lacquers such as this finely detailed tray, for example, could require the application of hundreds of layers of lacquer, and take over a year to complete. The tray's motif of paired phoenixes, arranged in a circular configuration, became a common theme under the Chinese Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) and in Ilkhanid Iran in a variety of media, including ceramics. The opposed phoenixes in flight are set among flowers representing each of the four seasons: 1) winter, plum blossoms; 2) spring, peonies; 3) summer, lotuses; 4) autumn, chrysanthemums. This piece belongs to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. [Source: “The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256-1353", Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2003 exhibition ^\^]

On a 4.48 inches in diameter, 2.12 inches high base of a Song Dynasty qingbai-glazed molded box A.D., dated to 1162 to 1278 and found on a shipwreck in the Java Sea, Indonesia, Archaeology magazine reported: “Qingbai glazing produces a bluish-white tint, and molded ceramic boxes made with this technique were used to hold cosmetics, jewelry, small mirrors, medicine, incense, or ink cakes. They were one of the most commonly exported kinds of ceramics during China’s Song Dynasty (A.D. 960–1279). According to Lisa Niziolek of the Field Museum in Chicago, who studies artifacts recovered from this Java Sea shipwreck, the box, with a peony on the top and an inscription on the bottom, is characteristic of these exports — but with an important exception. The inscription on this box is much longer than is usual and holds one of the keys to redating the wreck. “Typically, if there is an inscription, it’s short and provides the name of the family workshop where the piece was produced,” says Niziolek. This particular inscription provides not only a surname (Ji), but also a place name, Jianning Fu (present-day Jian’ou in Fujian Province in China), an administrative designation it was given by the Song government. After A.D. 1278, the Yuan Dynasty (A.D. 1271–1368) changed the name to Jianning Lu. This, along with comparative ceramics and new radiocarbon dates, suggests the ship sank about 100 years earlier than initially thought. “Maritime trade had begun to increase at that time,” says Niziolek, “and shift from what had previously been a network of tributary missions to China by various Southeast Asian rulers and envoys to one more focused on open economic trade. This new data begins to help us define the roots of broad-scale, cross-cultural globalization in East Asia.” [Source: Jarrett A. Lobell, Archaeology magazine, September-October 2018]

Song Dynasty Household Objects

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Southern Song enjoyed great economic prosperity. Their bustling, flourishing towns provided comfort and convenience; their everyday life was full of elegant delights. Incense burning, flower arranging, tea brewing, and paintings hanging — the so-called Four Arts of Life were practiced by all walks of life. A Southern Song lady's vanity cases, wardrobe, and jewelry spoke of ultimate fashion and fine workmanship. Either large banquets or family gatherings were served in fine table services of gold and silver with exquisite carvings and elaborate motifs. Articles at once utilitarian and creative graced gentlemen's studies and appealed to their aesthetic taste. As jade was scarce, miniature carvings made of smallest available pieces as thin as fingertips exhibited marvelous form and innate essence. The Southern Song connoisseur did not seek conspicuous exaggeration; rather he appreciated sudden realization, after attentive contemplation, of subtle beauty that was in the details. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of a jade water dish in the shape of a lotus leaf with turtle décor, Southern Song to Yuan dynasties: “The texture of this water dish vessel is clear and transparent, and an entire piece of jade is used to carve out a large lotus leaf and the small lotus leaf by it. The edge of the lotus leaves curl up slightly, and the veins are finely carved out in intaglio. At center of each lotus leaf stands a turtle, gazing at each other. Legend has it that thousand-year-old turtles would stand on lotus leaves, and therefore symbolize longevity of life. The interlinked water plants under the lotus leaf are not only delicately carved decorations but also serve the functions of supporting and enabling lifting of the vessel, further enriching and enlivening the overall design. Another jade brush wash vessel with a lotus leaf theme that is unearthed from the Southern Song ancestral grave of Shi Sheng in Quzhou. \=/

ding ware, white glazed bowl with incised swimming goose

“Water dish vessels are used by the literati to hold water for dampening or washing of writing brushes. These vessels are usually placed by the ink stone and are a necessary piece of desk stationery. Intellectual pursuits being so popular during the Song Dynasty, brush wash vessels were naturally fashionable items at the time, not only a practical writing implement but also a work of art for appreciation. Just imagine: as the literati fill this vessel with water, the two turtles would appear as if swimming in the water, playing amongst the lotus leaves; when the brush is washed in the vessel, the ink would flow between the lotus leaves, the black ink perfectly counter-balancing the delicate, green-white jade leaves, adding to the natural interest of the piece.

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of a silver-gilt cup and saucer with a story scene, Southern Song dynasty, 1127-1279, Excavated from the cache of Gu County, collection of Shaowu Museum, Fujian: “This octagonal cup has a matching tray. The silver cup is gold-plated, the combination of silver and gold giving the impression of extravagance. Silver and gold wine-drinking vessels were important to the Southern Song people, whether in large banquets or just a couple of friends having a drink. On the inner base of this silver cup is etched the lyrics to "Ta Sha Xing", which mentioned that being awarded top position in an imperial examination is like climbing a long ladder or a magical cinnamon tree, taking one right to the clouds; not only would one gain the admiration of others, one might also win an excellent marriage. The lyrics to this song vividly portray the scene and joyous atmosphere of a person receiving the top position in an imperial examination. \=/

“The spaces separated by the eight sides of the cup also depict in turn the examination results notice, the messenger, climbing the long ladder, climbing the cinnamon branches, and riding a horse across town – all scenes from the song. The tray depicts well-dressed characters in a garden; there is a pond in the center, and a dragon and phoenix soar in the sky, earnestly depicting the longing of the Southern Song people to win an official position and begin a governmental career through the imperial examination system. \=/

Song Dynasty Inkstones and Brushrests

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Sedimented mud ink stones, tuan ink stones, xi ink stones and yaohe ink stones are referred to as the "Four Famous Ink Stones". The sedimented mud ink stone is special in that it is not polished from an entire piece of natureal rock, but is instead baked from fine mud. One would throw a silk pouch into the river, and the fine mud washed down in the river would gradually sediment in the pouch. The pouch is then removed two or three years later, hung to air-dry, and the tightly packed fine mud in the pouch is then carved into an ink stone. Its fine, exquisite texture enables ink to be ground out easily, the ink would not dry quickly, nor would the stone hurt the brush. It is therefore well loved by the literati. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of a refined clay inkstone for copying Buddist texts, use attribute to Zhang Chih, Southern Song dynasty, 12th-13th century: “The coloring of this ink stone is light yellow, referred to as "eel mud yellow", and is the best kind amongst sedimented mud ink stones. Light and exquisite, it is made from excellent sedimented mud. The fore of the stone is slightly concave, while the sides open out gently from the fore to the back, resembling the Chinese character for "wind"; it is therefore a product of the "wind-character ink stone" tradition from Northern Song Period. The underside of the ink stone is dug out to enable the hand to reach in and pick up the stone; therefore it is also referred to as a "hand-reach ink stone", the most classical type of ink stone from the Song Dynasty. \=/

“On the right side of the ink stone is carved the phrase "Writing Ink Stone of Old Man Nan-Xuan". "Old Man Nan-Xuan" is the alias of the Southern Song neo-Confucianist, Zhang Chih, in his later years; therefore this ink stone was probably a part of the stationery set on his writing desk in his later years. Politically Zhang Chih had strongly opposed the Jin invasion, refused to befriend Qin Kuai, and had also taught at the Yue Lu College and Chen Nan College. He was respectfully referred to as one of "Three Wise Men of South East", along with Lui Zu-Qian and Zhu Xi. \=/

National Palace Museum, Taipei description of a stone brush rest, 1201, excavated from the tomb of Dong Kangsi, collection of Zhuji City Museum, Zhejiang: The stone brush mountain is designed to resemble small and large mountain ranges that rise and fall gradually. Unevenly arranged from front to back, with the tallest mountains in the center and lower mountains on the sides, one sees a rhythmic beauty in the well-defined layers, connecting mountains and composition of gentle, resounding continuity. The concave valleys between the mountains are just right for placement of writing brushes, the design natural yet ingenuous. \=/

“This brush mountain was unearthed from an ancient burial site from Southern Song Period (1201) in the Zhejiang region. Also unearthed from the site are the stone carved rhinoceros paperweight, the turtle-shaped water vessel and an ink stone, which are unusually shaped and delicately carved, fully demonstrating the refined tastes of the Southern Song literati. The Southern Song literati enjoyed appreciation of ancient calligraphy, renowned paintings, collected ancient zithers and ink stones, and might light up incense sticks in a tidy, brightly lit study and try out some excellent tea with a couple of close friends. Stationery on writing desks that accompanied the literati everyday was naturally also an essential element of the whole atmosphere of elegance and leisure. While we cannot see with our own eyes the Southern Song literati in their study environment, nonetheless we can imagine the free and natural attitude of these literati through the design and craftsmanship of this stationery set – the brush mountain, paperweight and water vessel. \=/

Image Sources: Song porcelain, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua;; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated August 2021

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