The story appears on

Page B7

December 11, 2015

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » City specials » Hangzhou

Exhibition celebrates Zhejiang’s pottery history

FOR millennia, the area around what is now Hangzhou, in east China’s Zhejiang Province, has been at the center of the regional pottery and ceramics industry. As early as the Shang (c.16th century-11th century BC) and Zhou (c.11th century-221 BC) dynasties, patterned pottery items were churned out in large scale for both daily use and ritual purposes. According to experts, the production practices of that time paved the way for the creation of high-quality porcelains in later centuries.

The breakthrough finally came during the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220), when the world’s first porcelain kiln was built in what is now Zhejiang Province. Thereafter, several noted imperial and folk kilns were established across the province, turning Zhejiang into an important production center of sought-after porcelain commodities.

A new exhibition tracing the origins and development of pottery in the region is now underway at the Gushan Pavilion of Zhejiang Province through June 6, 2016.

The first area of the exhibition focuses on the earliest Neolithic pottery artifacts excavated from the Shangshan Cultural Relic Site, which dates to 8,400 to 11,400 years before present. Eight such ancient relic sites have been discovered in Zhejiang, most of them along the Qiantang River, which runs through Hangzhou and is one of the area’s most significant waterways.

Though these early artifacts lack the smoothness and refinement seen in later pottery examples, chaff found in these pieces indicate that residents of the area were cultivating rice more than 8 millennia ago.

Other notable sites of primitive pottery production include Kuahu Bridge (8000-7000 BC) in Hangzhou, Humudu (7000-6000 BC) in Ningbo and Majiabang (7000-6000 BC) in Jiaxing.

With time, local pottery evolved to reflect the aesthetic tastes of changing cultures. During the Shang and Zhou dynasties, for instance, artisans began to paint black patterns on the surface of pottery objects. Around the same period, people along the Tiaoxi River started to experiment with primitive porcelains, which were later to be discovered among grave goods alongside other pottery vessels.

Over the next several centuries, pottery continued to develop with new technological breakthroughs. But it was with the creation of celadon pottery in Xiaoxiantan that the proto industry really started to boom.

Shortly after this development, kilns — which constitute the second focal point of the new exhibition — started popping up across the area. Among the kilns covered at the Gushan Pavilion are those from Yue, Longquan and the Southern Song (1127-1279).

Traditionally, Yue Kiln has been synonymous with the porcelain making tradition of Cixi County. The kiln reached peak productivity during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-979) period. Historians consider the celadon wares made during this period to be among the best ever produced.

Visitors to the exhibit can see examples of these wares for themselves in the form of celadon vessels excavated from a Southern and Northern Dynasties (AD 420-589) tomb in Hangzhou. During that period, artisans began to use floral and geometric patterns to ornament their pieces. They also began to manufacture animal-shaped celadon objects with exaggerated designs.

In addition to the Yue Kiln, craftspeople at the Longquan Kiln integrated the techniques of northern and southern China’s ceramic industries to develop multiple shades of green glazing. Longquan porcelains, particularly those made in imitation of ancient bronze containers, were popular among members of the upper class and the royal court. One of these pieces is now on display at Gushan Pavilion, in the shape of a jade-colored ceramic container modeled after a Shang Dynasty ritual vessel.

With the development of the ancient Silk Road which linked China with the West, many of these items also spread abroad, where they found favor with foreign customers.

Nonetheless, historians believe the small-scale Southern Song Imperial Kiln symbolizes the pinnacle of celadon craftsmanship despite the Yue and Longquan kilns dominating the market of the time.

Blue-and-white porcelain eventually stole celadon’s thunder in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). A series of variants, like white-glazed and monochrome porcelains, also came into being during that period, which is the focus of the third part of the exhibition.

The Buddhist and Taoist white-glazed sculptures generally typified the highest levels of porcelain craftsmanship in the Yuan. The monochrome porcelains of the time usually featured minimalist designs. Other common colors included red, blue, yellow, black and green. Usually yellow was used exclusively for the imperial court.

The area’s eventual waning as a ceramics superpower started midway through the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), as production shifted to Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province.


Date: Through June 6, 2016 (closed on Mondays)

Address: 25 Gushan Rd


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend