Pottery and Porcelain
Bronze, Pottery and Porcelain Ware and Ancient Chinese Culture.
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The periods of Shang and Zhou were famous for their production of bronze vessels, so they are called "the bronze era."
Bronze came after the discovery of copper. Copper, a natural mineral ore without any processing, has some metallic luster and the property of extension. It was discovered by the primitive man when he sought stone material to make stone articles. In the late stage of the Neolithic Age, people could produce small tools and ornaments with copper. The discovery and use of copper had contributed to the accumulation of skills and experiences for the creation of bronze, laying a foundation for the transition from the stage of using copper together with stone to the stage of using bronze.
Bronze is a green-gray alloy of copper and tin. It has a lower melting point than copper, but it is harder. The earliest bronze articles found in China are the small knives of the Majiayao Culture unearthed in Gansu Province, dating back to 4,000 and 6,000 years. In the later Qijia Culture tombs, some bronze farm tools and ornaments were also found. The way of production included cool foundry and metallurgy which showed a primitive bronze industry had appeared at the time.
A few bronze products including jue (wine vessel), jia (wine container), halberds, barbed arrowheads, awls, and small knives were unearthed in the tombs of Erlitou Culture in Yanshi, Henan Province. They might have been produced in the Xia Dynasty (c. late 22nd century to early 17th century BC) and the production had developed to become the Culture of the early stage of the Shang period discovered in Erligang in Zhengzhou and the Yin ruins of the later stage of the Shang period found in Anyang. All these have clearly shown the development of bronze production from lower to higher levels in China.
The Shang and Zhou periods are known as the prime stage of bronze Culture in China. At that time, large workshops for bronze production had appeared. Some of them covered an area of about 1,000 to 10,000 square meters, or even up to 120,000 square meters. People had learned how to promote the hardness and tenacity of bronze products, by changing the percentage of contents of copper and tin in the composition. The products of the time involved farm tools, weapons, sacrificial vessels and musical instruments, of which the last two represented the highest level of craftsmanship of the time.
Bronze products were first used by ordinary people in their daily life During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods. The style of the products also became simple and the pattern ingenious with shallow and simple engravings. The decorations varied, and such decorations as fighting and banquets also appeared. During that time, iron products began to be used in daily life instead of bronze products. The latter was no longer a significant mark of the era.
What is the culture presented by bronze vessels?
First we may See religious and ancestral worship reflected in bronze vessels. The Shang tribe regarded that "large birds", had been ordered by Heaven to become their original ancestors. Consequently, ancestors, Heaven, constellation, winds, rains, thunder and lightning, spirits and ghosts became the objects of worship. The rulers of the Shang Dynasty put great deal of bronze vessels in their ancestral temple - the most sacred place - for worship and sacrificial ceremonies. After they died, these vessels were bured with the dead for them to use in the nether world. Types and patterns of the bronze vessels were also designed to show the idea of religious worship. Looking at the motifs of taotie (a mythical ferocious animal), people of today may have a mysterious and terrific feeling. Other designs like the so - called kuilong (a kind of dragon), kuifeng (a kind of phoenix) and cbixiao (a kind of owl), as a certain symbol, reflected idea of some superpower of the nature in people's minds.
During the Western Zhou Dynasty, there were also mythical tales about the origin of its clan. A complete system for sacrificial ceremonies for worshipping gods had been established at the time, with a set of strict rules on where they should be held and what kind of bronze vessels to be used. However,as uncertainty about the Heaven grew and virtue began to be held in esteem, the mythical witchery and deterrent force of these bronze vessels mainly used in sacrificial ceremonies began to decline at the end of the Western Zhou. Since then, the religious flavor of bronze vessels has been greatly reduced.
Secondly, let’s make a review of the ritual functions of bronze vessels.
From the bronze vessels unearthed from tombs, we find that the number of wine vessels to be buried with a dead member of the Shang nobility shows his or her status and position. Since the mid - period of Zhou, the number of cooking vessels and food-containers gradually increased. Ding (a cooking vessel) became the principal symbol of one's status and position. And a strict system of the use of ding was introduced. For instance, nine ding were required to be used in the ritual ceremony for a Son of Heaven, seven for a vassal state ruler, five for a senior official, and three for a senior serviceman. At the same time, ding were used together with a certain number of gui (food container) in a ritual ceremony; for example, four gui and five ding, six gui and seven ding, and so on by analogy. There were other rules on the number of plates and pots to be used. Still other bronze ritual vessels were regarded as a symbol of state power. Whoever came by such a vessel was considered the ruler. It can thus be Seen that bronze vessels represented and symbolized the rigid hierarchy of stares and positions and the idea of maintaining such hierarchy in the periods of Shang and Zhou.
Finally, the artistic value of bronze vessels should be taken into consideration.
Exquisiteness of the modeling of bronze vessels was one of the basic requirements in the making of the products. The bronze products made During the Shang and Zhou periods had refined and cxquisiteshapes. All the parts were well-treated, perfectly balanced and in line with standards. As an integral whole, they were natural and full without roughness.
Magnificence was another requirement. The Si Mu Wu rectangular ding made in the Shang period weighs 875 kg. Two large ding of the Western Zhou, the Da Yu and Da Ke, weigh 153.5 kg and 201 kg respectively. The weight of a number of musical instruments is also surprisingly heavy.
The patterns of bronze vessels are bizarre and vivid. Apart from the mythical and beautiful taotie, chixiao and kuilong designs, there are many other designs full of human interest. After the Warring States Period, the patterns brimmed with a deep love for life. The inscriptions on bronze vessels are honored as the "art of lines." Inscriptions of the Shang period are vigorously carved in a plump style. The starting or ending strokes are usually sharply cut, while some of the inscriptions have thin, but vigorous shapes, bearing evident marks of oracle bone inscription influence. The inscription styles of the late Shang period were inherited by the early, Western Zhou, with natural and varied presentations suggestive of a sense of elegance. During the mid-period of the Western Zhou, long inscriptions stressed the art of composition and the long-shaped or round-shaped characters were cut with a mellow style, suggestive of a sense of solemnity and elegance, having a comparatively high aesthetic value. As one of the major carriers of ancient Chinese culture, Chinese bronze vessels contained decorations, shapes and inscriptions that represented the inflexible pursuit of beauty by the people of the time, which have produced a significant impact on the later arts of sculpture and calligraphy and become an important part of the history of ancient Chinese culture.
The Humanistic Ethos of Pottery and Porcelain Products Pottery and Porcelain products were the most common articles used by ancient Chinese in their daily life. Pottery articles were made of clay together with sand and charcoal cinders baked by fire. The materials, such as Kaolin, used to make Porcelain articles are better and finer in quality than those used for making Pottery articles. The baking temperatures are much higher, usually over 1,200 degrees Celsius. The rate of water absorption is also lower. Pottery article production has a longer history than that of Porcelain products, dating from 9,100-8,200 years ago. But the earliest Porcelain shards that have been so far found were probably produced about 4,000 years ago.
The Pottery products of the Neolithic Age vary in kind. The most particular one is the painted potteries. For instance, a Pottery basin with an exquisitely painted human face and fish patterns has two groups of black-colored designs around the inside of the basin. Each group contains two patterns set in symmetry. In addition, the unearthed painted Pottery artifacts such as those with dance patterns, stork and stone axe designs are all outstanding products of the Neolithic Age. There are also many other Pottery products, such as the eggshell black Pottery products of Longshan Culture in Shandong, shining and bright as lacquer with even thickness. Some are as thin an eggshell, but are as hard as a stone.
Some of the Pottery artifacts of the Neolithic Age are produced in the shape of animals, such as owl-shaped ding (cooking vessel), dog-shaped gui (cooking vessel), and rooster-shaped yi (wine vessel). Some are made in the shape of a human being such as a human-shaped painted Pottery flask on which, as well as color patterns, there is a nude figure. Some jars are designed with a mouth in the shape of a human head and a round and pot belly in the middle like a pregnant woman. Both animal and plant patterns are used in the designs. Some variations include triangles, trellises, waves and billows, circles, nets, zigzags, strings, stars, and petals. Craftsmen were so skillful in the composition of a point, a line or a surface and highly "conscious of the aesthetics of the swivel patterns and curve lines that the) already had a certain understanding of nature and human beings. Their imaginations and beautification of and worship for nature were also presented in the designs. A vague idea of "man" being the subject in the perception of the world in the struggle against nature began to emerge at the time. This is the dawn of the Chinese culture of humanism.
The Shang and Zhou periods were historical stages marked by bronze vessels. During these periods, potter) " production adopted some strong points from the production of bronze vessels and made much headway in subsequent development. The success in the making of white Pottery clay articles with carved patterns was a landmark of Pottery production. The combination of white and plain models and beautiful patterns is very pleasant and charming.
During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, pottery products were mainly used in building and in sacrificial ceremonies for the dead. At that time, when large-scale construction was being carried out in the various vassal states, a great demand for materials made of Pottery was needed. A section of Pottery pipe unearthed from the ruins of the State of Yan was shaped like a tiger’s head in front with an upturned nose, wide-open eves and erect ears. It represents the state-of-the-art of that time in the building sector. In the Qin and Han dynasties, potter) ' production boomed, being known as a stage of "the bricks of Qin and the tiles of Han,"
As Pottery vessels, gradually replaced immolated humans and animals buried with the dead, pottery making improved greatly. The life-sized terracotta warriors and horses unearthed around the mausoleum of Emperor Qinshihuang present a vivid and lively picture of the mighty legion of the Qin Empire. The mood and expressions of the soldiers are also skillfully expressed according to their status and age. Some appear to be in deep meditation, others express worry, sadness, uneasiness or resolution. The designs of funerary potteries in the Han period cover a wide range involving daily-use articles, houses, pavilions, wells, cooking ranges, even soldiers, officials, slaves and musicians in various postures. A Pottery entertainer unearthed from a tomb ruin of the Eastern Han in Sichuan is typical of those figurines of musicians. With his naked bust and plump and full muscles, a typical and lively musician figurine was thus produced. The tri-colored glazed potter) ', the glazed Pottery warrior, and the Tianwang (heavenly king) glazed Pottery of the Sui and Tang periods are also treasured products. The tri-colored glazed potteries are made of white clay and coated with yellow, green and blue glazes fired at low temperatures of 750-850 degrees Celsius. With gorgeous-colored patterns they are produced through traditional skills such as printing, applique, engraving, and sculpturing. After the Tang period, pottery production began to decline, being gradually replaced by the growing Porcelain production. However, there have remained many exquisite funerary Pottery artifacts in various ages.
The shapes of Pottery products made in the period from the Shang and Zhou to the Han and Tang were mostly derived from images of humans and things in society, the former being the main theme of modeling and design. The terracotta warriors mentioned above reflected the might of the State of Qin and the gallantry and bravery of its soldiers. Various models of other Pottery products unearthed from the ruins of Han tombs reflected the various aspects of social life of the Han period. The figurines of officials, musicians, dancers, acrobats and many...0thers art: also fine art works reflecting the cultural and economic development of the Tang period. Moreover, many colored glazed potter), works modeled in the shape of horses and camels in the Han and "Fang peri ods showed the use of animals at that time, profoundly reflecting people's understanding of nature and humankind and the humoristic spirit in the periods under review.
Although Porcelain production dates back to the Shang and Zhou dynasties, it did not come to maturity until the Eastern Han period. A celadon sheep, unearthed from the ruins of a tomb of the Three Kingdoms period in Nanjing, was glazed all over with pale blue color, even and flawless. It looks calm and in a casual mood. And the patterns on it are smooth and beautiful, quite distinct from Porcelain products made before the period of the Three Kingdoms. A celadon pot with a dish-shaped mouth unearthed from the ruins of a tomb of the State of Wu (222-280) in Nanjing adopted the then new technique of using underglaze color, an evidence of the earliest painting skill being applied to utensils, combining Porcelain production and painting art which laid a foundation for the formation of the underglaze color techniques for the blue-and-white porcelains of later runes.
The appearance of white Porcelain broke the dominance of celadon. Techniques of white Porcelain production made further improvements in the Sui period. In the Tang period, a distinct division in Porcelain production appeared, with celadon in the south and white Porcelain in the north. White Porcelain production reached its peak During the Tang period. White Porcelain produced by the Xing kiln was the most famous of all at the time, honored as "white as snow." The Yue "kiln was famous for its celadon and it built an extensive system to compete with the Xing kiln products. The special mi se (olive green) porcelain produced by the Yue kiln was exclusively used for imperial ware.
During the Five Dynasties (907- 060), in the stable environment under the regime of Wuyue, the production of the Yue kiln made much headway. A comprehensive skill of deck) ration was developed including carving, underglaze color, and gilding, later, the celadon produced by the Cai kiln won great popularity for "its color blue as the azure sky, bright as a mirror, thin as a piece of paper, and resounding as a chime stone."
Porcelain production skills further developed During the periods of the Song and Yuan. Celadons were exquisitely produced in the Song Dynasty, especially by the Longquan kiln in the south and the Ruzhou kiln in the north. The official kiln in Kaifeng, Henan Province imitated the products of the Ruzhou kiln and improved on its techniques. The Jun liln later became a new and outstanding producer. In the Song period, celadon production reached its prime stage of production with perfect skills. White Porcelain reached its prime stage of production was also further developing and spreading into the south with the Ding kiln in Hebei as the most famous producer. During the Southern Song, Jingdezhen became the principal maker of white porcelain. Its products with a high degree of whiteness and translucence were regarded as one of the representative products of the Song period. In the Yuan Dynasty, Jingdezhen became the center of Porcelain production. Based on the white Porcelain production skills of the Song period, skills were developed into a technique for producing colored porcelain. The well-known blue-and-white Porcelain of the Yuan Dynasty was produced with blue paintings made on white porcelain.
Porcelain production reached its acme During the periods of the Ming and Qing. During the period of Yongle (1403-1424) of the reign of Emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty, the body of white Porcelain products was as thin as a piece of paper and as clean as jade and its glaze was ao transparent that it seemed there was no body. It was also known as tiao bai (sweet white) porcelain. During the period of Xuande of the reign of Emperor Xuanzong (1426-1435) of the Ming Dynasty, the quality of the blue-and-white Porcelain reached perfection. Great achievements were also made in producing singer-color glaze under high temperatures. During this period, the exquisitely produced blue color was very well known. During and after the middle period of the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) of the Qing Dynasty, porcelain production steadily developed and fine-ground blue color pigment and bright glaze material were used. Western-style paintings were also applied to Porcelain products. A blue-and-white Porcelain pot whit cover, produced During this time and stored in the Beijing Plalace Museum, depicts two old men roaming along a mountain path. Heavy and light tone colors present a distinct perspective, contrasting far and near. During the reign of the emperors Yongzhen and Qianlong (1723-1795), color glazed Porcelain developed rapidly. Many imitations of ancient Porcelain are regarded as lively as their originals in pattern, shape, and style.
Porcelain articles are important Chinese cultural artifacts, a unique creation of Chinese people. China is well known by the world partly due to its Porcelain products. In English, china means porcelain. With its unique cultural characteristics, porcelain products can represent China's age-old civilization. The shapes and decorations of Porcelain products typically present a panorama of
Chinese culture, as follows:
The thought of humanity is best shown in the unity and harmony between man and nature since the ancient times. Land-scapes and flowers and birds and other animals can be Seen in the designs of Porcelain products together with human figures, and an unwavering pursuit for the unity and harmon) ' between nature and man can also be discerned. For example, a blue-and-white prunus vase was produced with a beautiful plum flower design in the Yongle period of the reign of Emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty. The plum flowers in the design remind the admirers of a sense of solemnity and elegance as if a communication of feelings between them and man occurred.
A sincere feeling and gallant demeanor of human figures in the design make man the genuine image of beauty. All the Porcelain products produced in various historical stages give a strong presentation of the beauty of life, reflecting the ardent love and strong conviction of Chinese people toward life. A typical tangible product is a Porcelain bottle produced in the Kangxi reign period with the design of "colorfully painted ploughing and weaving pattern," in which there arc musical instruments, chess, calligraphic works and paintings in addition to farming and weaving workers. It is a picture skillfully and harmoniously composed of the presentation of various aspects of human life. A careful enjoyment of the product can make people feel the happiness and sweetness of lift, rather than a burden of labor. These patterns particularly convey the traditional Chinese spirit of "joining in the worldly life," indicating that the pursuit for a happy life in the world is possible.
Respect for history is embodied in products. Many historical stories are depicted on Porcelain products. An historical event or historical stage may be reflected artistically through the products, producing a profound sense of history. A bottle with "a single-color design of human figures" tells a story of Liu Bei, the ruler of the Shu Kingdom During the period of the Three Kingdoms, who married a wife from the Wu Kingdom. Through the picture in which houses and pavilions combine the historical figures, people find history and reality are closely linked.
The spirits of humanity shown in Porcelain products reflect the Chinese people's pursuit for a happy life and good things in art and it is really a typical representative of Chinese culture.
More about Traditional Chinese Art and Crafts
- Bronze Mirrors
The development of bronze mirrors occurred much later than other bronze articles and jadeware.
- Carved Marks
and the Invention of Chinese Characters.
- Chinese Painting
and Traditional Chinese Culture.
- Gold and Silver
Connotation of Articles.
- Jade Articles
Cultural Characteristics of .
- Pottery and Jade
China - A World of .
- Pottery and Porcelain
Bronze, Ware and Ancient Chinese Culture.