The Song Imperial kilns were in two main locations: at the former capital city of Bianjing (present day Kaifeng city) during the Northern Song Dynasty, and later at the city of Hangzhou in the Southern Song Dynasty after the regime moved southward. The Northern Song Imperial kilns produced celadon, but with various shades and lustre in the glaze. The glaze colours included light greenish-blue, moon white, glossy grey and yellow-green. Though the colours were different, they all contained the common element of green or blue-green, and their beauty was heightened by the different coloured bodies. The bodies can be blackish grey, dark grey, light grey or earth yellow, and when coated in glaze, produced different greens and blues. Since the body colours were quite deep, it conveyed a sense of sophistication.
One of the “Five Great Kilns,” Jun stonewares with their thick, lavender-blue glaze and areas of purple and violet were formerly known in the West as “Clair de Lune” and came from the Henan province. As of today, over a hundred kiln sites have been discovered. Some specialised in producing porcelain ware for the Imperial courts, with a history dating back to the Tang Dynasty. According to tradition they were mainly manufactured under the Northern Song Dynasty at Yangzhe which under the Jin Dynasty was renamed Junzhou. The name “Junuao” only appears in Chinese texts in the Ming period; for this reason some experts have reservations about the dating. However, the excavations at Jungzhou in 1964 have established that Jun ware appeared in the Song period with increased manufacture during the Jin period.
‘Swatow’, derived from the place-name Shantou, is in fact a misnomer. These ceramics were neither manufactured nor exported from Shantou, which was a small fishing village during the heyday of Swatow ware in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
Modern-era archaeological excavations have confirmed that Swatow ware was actually produced in the Zhangzhou prefecture in the southeast of China, with nearby Yuegang acting as the main port of export. In the light of this improved knowledge, these ceramics are now often referred to as Zhangzhou wares.
Famed for their black, shiny porcelain ware, the Deqing kilns can be considered complementary to the more popular Yue ware. Dating back to the East Jin Dynasty (317 – 420 A.D.) and ending during the early Southern Dynasties (420 – 589 A.D.) the wares were only actively produced for about a century, after which they faded into obscurity. As a result, porcelain wares of the Deqing kilns preserved to present day are extremely rare.
As well as glazed black porcelain, the Deqing kilns produced their own celadon. Its ancient sites were located within Deqing County in Zhejiang Province, where as many as a dozen kiln sites have been found. This is one of the earliest production areas of black porcelain in Zhejiang.
Heralded during the Song Dynasty, the Ding kilns were celebrated as one of the “Five Great Kilns” producing porcelain in ancient China. The site of the kilns was found in present day Quyang County, Hebei Province. At the time of the Song Dynasty, Quyang County was within the Dingzhou region, hence the name Ding kilns. The excavated artefacts found at the site reveal the history of the kilns.
White porcelain was produced in Dingzhou as early as the Tang Dynasty; by the Five Dynasties Period, the Ding kiln business was already booming. After the Northern Song Dynasty, Ding wares were famous for their off-white glazes and exquisite decoration. Porcelain kilns in other areas all strived to imitate Ding porcelain, which became the golden standard of white porcelain in China. Aside from white porcelain, the Ding wares also produced black, crimson and green-glazed porcelains. The variety of glaze colours and production technology was truly astounding for its time.
One of the most historically significant examples of Chinese porcelain was Yue ware, first produced in the Chinese province of Zhejiang in 2nd Century CE. Yue ware is characterized by the glazed celadon finish and grey to olive green hues. Early vessels were typically minimally decorated but curvy and elegant in appearance. Yue ware can be attributed with developing and influencing virtually all of South Chinese ceramics varieties.
The wares get their name from the Yue kilns in Northern Zhejiang, these kilns were the fastest developing of all celadon kilns – having the most sites, largest area of coverage and the best quality of products. These kilns led the production and development of celadon in China. The name ‘Yue’ comes from the Tang Dynasty, which referred to the names of products by the locations of their kilns, in this case “Yue” was short for the city of “Yuezhou”.
China is famous for its long history in producing ceramics, porcelain and other wares. One of the most celebrated is the Imperial Ru Ware which was made exclusively for the Chinese Imperial use.
Wucai, which has its origins in the earlier Doucai ceramics, first appeared during the reign of the Ming dynasty Emperor Jiajing who ruled the Chinese empire between 1521 and 1567. Its manufacture continued through the Ming dynasty until its demise in 1644, and into the succeeding Qing dynasty.
Jingdezhen, often called the Porcelain City and is still producing fine ceramics today, was the main site of production for Wucai ceramics. Although Wucai can be translated as ‘five-colour’ the colours were not strictly limited to that number and the term is best understood as simply multicoloured.