Qingbai (or Yingqing) is a type of white porcelain known for its greenish/bluish tint and fine quality. Although it was produced during the Song Dynasty, it is not part of the five classic wares (wu wei-ci) of the Song period. Qingbai began appearing in the Northern Song period around 960-1127 and quickly became popular on the Chinese market. Their popularity can be attributed to the fact that although they were produced in Jingdezhen, they were not restricted to only Imperial use. The peak of Qingbai popularity was between 1127-1279, when they were widely exported to China’s neighbouring countries, and duplicated across China’s various kilns.
Tenkei or Tianqi wares refer to underglaze blue porcelain made in the unofficial kilns of Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, China during the reign of Emperor Tianqi in 17th century China. These wares were produced primarily for the purpose of export to Japan.
Tenkei wares were highly imaginative with decorations inspired by the contemporary paintings of the period. In particular, the master landscape painter, Dong Qichang as evidenced by the use of strong light and dark shade contrast of the blue.
The Wuzhou kiln was situated in central Jinhua region of present day Zhejiang Province. Porcelain kilns spread throughout the area. Archaeological research has revealed a total of more than 600 ancient kiln sites, dating from Han to Ming Dynasties. This discovery revealed unusually numerous kilns that have been in service for very long periods, and held a relatively significant position in the history of ceramics.
Early specimens of Wuzhou kiln porcelain had light-gray glazes and were rather rough in texture. It had poorly tempered and under-vitrified clay with irregularities on the surface. Speckles often formed on the glaze of Wuzhou porcelain; they were green, sometimes with yellow mixed in. The many crackles on the surface, which often contained protruding yellow crystallized matters, were a unique feature of Wuzhou porcelain. By the middle phase of the development of Wuzhou kiln porcelain, porcelain clay resources in the area had become scattered and depleted, making it difficult to mine so the craftspeople used local red clay, which was easily mined, to model the bodies of the vessels. But since red clay contained high iron oxide and titanium oxide levels, it became dark purple after being fired, undermining the quality of the greenish glaze. A layer of fine white slip clay was, therefore, used to cover the body. With the cosmetic clay underneath, the glaze appeared smooth and soft, showing a little brown in green or yellow-green. However, the crackling and crystallization in the glaze was even more apparent when compared to porcelain wares that had porcelain clay for the bodies.
The Longquan kilns are considered among the most characteristic kilns of the Song Dynasty, located also in Zhejiang Province, with kilns at Longquan, Dayao, Jincun and elsewhere. It was established during the Five Dynasties Period and inherited the traditions of the Yue kilns, mainly in the discipline of celadon production.
By the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 AD), the Longquan kilns had reached the peak of their achievement. Longquan celadon excelled in the texture and colour of its glaze. Thick and smooth, the glaze was as beautiful as jade, and came in many colours, including moon-white, pea green, light blue, crab shell red, and cream. The most attractive were the Fenqing and plum green glazes. Glazed Fenqing Longquan porcelain appeared slightly cloudy, light milky-green in colour, and easy on the eye. Plum green glaze was deeper and lustrous in comparison; it was jade green with spots of transparency, much like a fresh sour plum. The creation of these two glaze colours was made possible by improvements in firing technology and porcelain crafts.
The Yaozhou kilns were established during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD); their product line included celadon, black, and white porcelain. From the Five Dynasties Period to the early Song Dynasty, these kilns were influenced by the Yu, Yao, and Yue kilns, and developed celadon with engraved designs. The surviving Yaozhou kiln site was found at Huangbao Town, Tongchuan City in Shannxi Province. In the old days, this area belonged to the Yaozhou government. Its products are distinguished by the three development stages.
Celadon ceramics are a type of pottery produced in ancient China. This unique porcelain required relatively high firing temperatures, which called for kilns with sophisticated designs and excellent temperature-retaining characteristics, as well as suitable fuel to generate sufficient heat. Secondly, mastery of selection of porcelain-quality clay and the production and application of high temperature glaze was required.
One cannot discuss Celadon without mentioning the special ‘dragon kilns’ in which Celadon wares were produced. According to archaeological findings, this type of kiln first appeared during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) in the city of Zeng in the Guangdong Province. Later, there was the East Han Dynasty dragon kiln in the Shanglu area of Zhejiang Province, which is better known today.
Kinrande (meaning “gold brocade”) is a style of porcelain popularised in China during the middle years of the Ming Dynasty. This style became a popular export to Japan and was distinct for its dazzling, intricate and colourful decoration. It was called “gold brocade” in reference to textiles woven through with gold thread to produce a luxurious gold pattern on a coloured ground. This technique however, did not originate in the Ming period, rare porcelains from the Ding kilns of the earlier Song Dynasty already featured golden decorations.
The Eight Immortals (Ba Xian)
One of the most popular Chinese decoration subjects are the Eight Immortals of the Dao religion. The Immortals (either separately or as a group) are legendary figures in Chinese mythology, equivalent of saints in western religion. The term ‘Eight Immortals’ is used to signify or represent happiness, and the number 8 is considered lucky by association, therefore objects or persons in that number are graced accordingly.