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Cizhou Wares 


In 1918 A.D, some villagers from Julu (巨鹿)in Hebei discovered some ancient ceramics while digging a well during a drought spell.  Antique dealers in Beijing got wind of the findings and the ceramics were subsequently brought to Beijing.  It did not attract the interest of Chinese collectors as they were deemed to be unrefined and coarse folk kiln wares.  The pieces were however snapped up eagerly by foreign antique dealers . Over the period from 1918 to 1919, many more pieces were recovered in Julu and sent to Beijing antique market.  It was estimated at least half of them were now in Japan.  In 1920, Tianjin Museum sent a team to Julu to carry out investigation.  They recovered a stone tablet entitled '三明寺妙音殿记" which mentioned a davastating flood that engulfed Julu in the second year of Northern Song Daguan (大观).  The artifacts recovered were all buried during this 1108 A.D flood.  In fact, the team also discovered some residential sites which showed how some of those artifacts were actually displayed then.  The artifacts recovered by the team were subsequently published in a book called "巨鹿宋器丛录, ie a record of Julu Song wares.  Among the vessels, there were some with inscription in ink such as a white glaze washer and a brown glaze box, both with a date of Daguan second year, and  a carved/incised motif pillow with date of Chongning "崇宁  seventh year (1092 A.D).   

The earliest ancient text which commented about Cizhou wares was Ming period (曹昭) Cao Zhao's Ge Gu Yaolun ( 格古要论).  He wrote that the good ones are similar to Ding ware but without tear marks. There were also those with incised or iron rust colour painted motifs.   The ancient texts were vague and did not give a clear picture of the types of Cizhou wares which were made before Ming period.   Hobson was the first to identify those wares found in Julu as wares made in ancient Cizhou and suggested the term Cizhou type wares to classify wares that share common key features.  The typical cizhou ware has a milky white glaze.  It utilises one of the following decorative techniques:  incised, incised/combed motif , sgraffito motif which involved shaving away the slip outside the incised motif to create an embossed or paper-cut effect and thirdly  iron black/brown painted or overglazed enamelled red/green/yellow motifs.  Some of the wares were covered with a green or torquoise colour glaze.  There is also the sancai type which utilised low fired lead glaze white, green and yellow colour.

Since the 1950s, Chinese archaeologists have carried out surveys in Cixian and discovered important Cizhou wares production sites in Guantai (覌台) , Yezhi Cun (冶子村)and Dong Aikou (东艾口)which were located near the Zhang river (漳河).   Guantai kilns started production from the 5 Dynasties and ceased by end of Yuan period as a result of constant flooding in that area.  The site were were subsequently used as farm lands.  The kilns were therefore more well-preserved and facilitated subsequent excavations.  Guantai was excavated scientifically and detailed records of the 3rd excavation in 1987 was published.  Most of our understanding of the chronological stages of production of Cizhou wares was based on that particular archaeological report.  

Zhang river near Guantai

Pengcheng (彭城) in present day Fengfeng Kuangqu (峰峰矿区) is identified as another important Cizhou wares production site.  Pencheng was davastated by a major earthquake in 1830 A.D and was rebuilt after the quake.   As a result, ancients kilns were buried below subsequently rebuilt  buildings which made excavations very difficult.  However, in 1999 a small scale archaeological excavation was carried out in conjunction with repair to Fuxi road.  From the excavation, it showed that Pencheng kilns was also in operation from Northern Song period.  But the excavation also revealed that its production during the Yuan period was hugh as compared with the earlier period.  Pengcheng became the most important production site in Northern China  from the Ming period onward and has continued to produce ceramics till today.  Products from Pengcheng could be transported by the Fuyang river to Tianjin and exported overseas.  Some of the Pengcheng Cizhou products could be found in the National Museum in Indonesia.

Pengcheng cizhou wares in  Indonesia National Museum in Jakarta

Recent redevelopment programs in the Fengfeng Kuangqu region have exposed many of the ancient kilns.  Although scientific excavations were not carried out, the archaeologists were able to carry out some studies of the sites and collected some of the sherds and kiln furnitures.   It further confirmed that Linshui (临水) which is separated by Pengcheng by the Fuyang river (滏阳河) was another very important Cizhou ware production site.  The findings suggested that it could have started production from the Norhern Dynasties period and continued till Ming period.  

Both Guantai situated near Zhang river and Pengcheng near Fuyang river were within the ancient Cizhou territory.  Those are two important kiln centre but there are also many other cizhou kilns in this region situated near the two rivers mentioned.


View of Pencheng kiln during the 1940s.

Cizhou wares is a distinctive group of ceramics vessels (in the west they are usually termed stoneware)  introduced during Northern Song period.  It gained immense popularity during the Song/Yuan period and was a mainstream utilitarian wares for common folks in Northern China.  It continued to be produced during the Ming/Qing period despite stiff competition from the Jingdezhen kilns.  It is indeed amazing how the potters had overcome the inferiority of the raw materials and came out with so many imaginative decorative techniques to produce so many aesthetically beautiful and undeniably artworks.   

Besides, kilns in Hebei, there are numerous other kilns located in Henan (some famous ones such as Xiuwu Dangyangyu [修武当阳峪), Tangyin Hebiji (汤阴鹤壁集), Yuzhou Pacun (禹州扒村), Dengfeng (登封)], Shanxi (陕西) [(Yaozhou (耀洲)], Ningxia (宁夏)[Lingwu (灵武窑)],Inner Mongolia [chifeng (赤峰)], Shanxi (山西)[Jiexiu (介休窑), Pingding (平定窑)], Shandong, Anhui, Jiangxi [Jizhou (吉洲)] and Guandong which produced similar wares.   Despite some local differences in terms of decorative style and materials used to form the vessels,  they share unmistakable distinct common features to be classified under the generic term, Cizhou type wares.   For more on ceramics from Henan, please read Henan Ceramics.


Cizhou Wares' Decorative techniques


Incised/combed /shaved (sgraffito) motif

Duing the Northern song phase, the cizhou potters utilised a variety of decorative techniques such as incising, carving,shaving, combing and stamping.  Combing was introduced later during the late Northern Song period.

Northern Song incense burner using carving and incised technques. Excavated from Guangai KIln

The most popular and earliest type consisted of incised motif with stamped pearls-like ground.  It could be traced back to those produced by Henan Xinmi Xiguan (新密西关窑) kiln probably as early as the late Tang period.  During the Early Northern Song, the motifs consisted of mainly simple and sketchy floral motif.

By Mid Northern Song, more varieties and sophisticated wares using such decorative technique were made.  There were those with incised characters and human figures such as ladies.  Very few with pearls-stamped ground were found after the end of Northern Song period.

Besides kilns in Hebei Cizhou, a number of kilns Hebei, Henan and even Shanxi.  The most famous were those made at Henan  Dengfeng Quhe kiln (登封曲阳窑).

Northern Song Sherds for the Henan Dengfeng Kiln

Another popular Northern Song technique is what is sometime termed sgraffito.  From the 1987 Guantai excavation, it appeared that this technique was introduced later than those with pearls-stamp ground.   In its simple form, the motif is first incised.  After which, the white/black/brown slip outside the outline of the motif is shaved away to reveal the gray body.  It creates an embossed or paper-cut visual effect.  The vessel is then glazed and fired.    Those with a lead green glaze appeared during the late Northern Song period and was particularly popular during the Jin period.



Another version of the Cizhou type sgraffito wares utilised what is sometime termed the cut-glazed method. The vessel is first glazed and the motif incised.  The glazed area outside the outline of the  motif is then shaved away to reveal the biscuit.  Main kilns producing such products were in Shanxi (山西) and Lingwu in Ningxia province (宁夏灵武).  


The most technically sophisticated method involved vessel covered with two layer of slips: a black iron oxide black slip over the white slip.   A striking and contrasting effect is created by shaving away the top layer slip which is outside the outline of the motif.  It demanded greater skill from the potter as over shaving would expose the biscuit.  It made its first appearance during the late Northern Song period ie during the reign of emperor Huizhong. 


Some of the vessels utilised a combination of incised, stamped pearl-based and sgraffito techniques.  Some even utilised molded parts such as the molded floral scrolls for the walls of the pillow in the below example with green lead glaze.



During the Late Northern Song period,  another type that utilised incised/combed technique was introduced.  The grayish white linear motif is first created by incising through the white slip.  The background is covered with striations created using a comb-like tool.   This particular decorative style was most commonly found in products from kilns in Hebei Cizhou and Henan Hebiji during the Late Northern Song to Jin period.  Those with lead-green glaze was particularly popular during the Jin period.



During the Jin Dynasty, there was also those vessels decorated with simple abstract motif using mainly the comb-like tool.  This method enabled decoration to be completed more expeditiously.  Another variation found in Henan Pachun and Huangdao kilns used a combination of carved and combing technique.  


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