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An overview of Fujian trade Ceramics  

Fujian was a major ancient trade ceramics production centre in China.   During the pre-Song period, it produced mainly green glaze (celadon) wares of the famous Zhejiang Yue celadon tradition.  Most of the kiln sites were located in Northern Fujian (Minbei [闽北]) and a scattering few in Southern Fujian (Minnan [闽南]).    

During the Southern Song period, Minnan emerged as a major exporter of trade ceramics.  This development was the result of the Southern Song court's strategy to promote Fujian Quanzhou (泉州) as the main gateway for foreign trade with South East and West Asia.  Quanzhou retained its prominent status of international port till Yuan period.  During this period, the bulk of the trade ceramics consisted of green wares (celadon), white/qingbai  and black wares.  Besides the famous Longquan celadon and Jingdezhen Qingbai, many were products of coastal kilns in Fujian.  It owed it's good fortune to the abundance of local raw material required for ceramics production and it's proximity to Quanzhou.  As a result of the competitive advantage,  Fujian emerged as a major producer of Chinese ceramics.  In reality, they were poorer quality copies of Longquan celadon and Jingdezhen qingbai wares.  However they were able to compete successfully with its cheap price strategy and dominated the lower end overseas consumer market. 

According to Song period Zhao Rushi's work "zhufanzhi" (赵汝适《诸番志)(1225),  46 countries (including Annam, Cambodia, Srivijaya, malay peninsula, borneo, java, eastern Indies, the Philippines and even Zanzibar) were listed as  China's trading partners and the Yuan period "Daoyi zhilue" by Wang Dayan ( 汪大淵 岛夷志略) listed at least 58 countries.   

 

During the early Ming period,  ceramics production dropped drastically due to the imperial ban on export of ceramics. However when the ban was lifted in 1567 A.D,  it heralded another peak in Fujian ceramics production.  Yuegang was designated as an international trading port.   Zhangzhou capitalised on its proximity to Yuegang and produced blue and white/overglaze enamelled wares, commonly termed Swatow wares.  This was a special category of Ming blue and white which attracted strong demand from Southeast Asia consumers.

In Dehua, the potters continued to improve on its white glaze wares and finally introduced the ivory white glaze wares, termed blanc de chine wares in the West.  They were much treasured by the European consumers, with the best produced during the late Ming to Early Qing period (17th to early 18th century).

The chaotic transition from Ming to Qing period resulted in the decline and finally demise of Zhangzhou wares.  However, kilns in Dehua and neighbouring Yongchun/Anxi expanded further.  Besides blanc de chine wares, Dehua potters also started to produce blue and white wares.  The early Dehua blue and white wares essentially imitated their Jingdezhen counterpart.  However, by Qing Qianlong period the Dehua blue and white developed its unique decorative features.  Besides Jingdezhen, Dehua became another major supplier of blue and white wares.  The rise of Dehua kilns is still not well understood as it is located inland and the transportation route involved a stretch which the cargo would need to be carried over the mountain before it reached the river system linked to Xiamen, which has emerged as an international port. The abundance of high quality porcelainous material for production of blue and white and blanc de chine wares may have been a major reason for its success.  A parallel example would be Jingdezhen.

 

Song/Yuan Fujian Ceramics

Two Southern Song wrecks, Nanhai 1 wreck near Haining Island in Guangdong and Jepara wreck near Java in Indonesia, provides useful information on the Southern Song export ceramics cargo mix.  Typical Southern Song Fujian ceramics constituted an important part of the cargo.

Greenware (celadon)

During the late Northern Song/Southern Song period,  Fujian produced a typical type of green glazed bowls with carved and combed/dotted decorations. The outer wall is decorated with carved vertical striations.  The colour tone ranges from olive green, grayish green to different degree of yellow. It is commonly termed as Tongan type or Juko (shuko seiji) green ware, name after a Japanese monk tea ceremony master Juko [shuko].  In fact, this type of ware  was a continuation of the Longquan tradition.   Longquan kilns started producing such wares around late Northern Song period.  In comparison, the quality of the Fujian version is more rough with more crudely formed foot and the outer lower portion of the bowls  left unglazed.  The Longquan version is more finely potted and has better quality smooth glaze.  The outer wall and outer foot wall of the bowl is fully glazed.  The Northern Fujian kilns, which were located near Longquan, probably also produced such type by late Northern Song.  By early Southern Song, many kilns in Fujian were producing them.  

Most produced in Minbei (Northern Fujian) were probably intended for domestic consumption.  However those produced in kilns near Quanzhou were targeted at overseas market. The centre of production was Nan an (南安) which boasted more than 47 kilns. Together with nearby kilns such as Tong an (同安), Anxi (安溪), Xiamen (厦门)and further away such Minhou (闽侯), Fuqing (福清), Putian (莆田) and Lianjiang (连江), this group of kilns produced similar  green products for overseas market. 

Example with carved and combed motif from the sea around Xisha Islands  

Example of carved/combed motif from Jepara wreck

Another common type of bowls has carved floral/cloud or abstract motif on the interior.  Again, Longquan potters were the first to introduce them.  This type was first introduced earliest by late Northern Song and gained immense popularity by the early Southern Song period.  The earlier ones have carved vertical striations on external wall.  Those which were produced during the Southern Song period have plain external wall. 

 Jepara wreck celadon, top 3 from Fujian kiln and bottom left from Longquan

Green glaze wares continued to be produced during the Yuan period.  But there is a noticeable drop in the quality and export volume.  Longquan and Jingdezhen became formidable competitors and dominated the overseas market with better quality celadon and white/qingbai/shufu/blue and white wares respectively.

In Fujian, Putian kilns emerged as an important exporter of celadon wares during the Yuan period.  The bowls and plates usually have an unglazed ring on the inner base and decorated with impressed floral motif.   

White/qingbai wares

Dehua was the main production centre for Qingbai/white wares.  Other important production kiln sites which catered to overseas market included Nan an, Tong an and Quanzhou.   

The oldest Dehua kiln at Wanpinglun (盖德碗坪崙)possibly dated to the late Northern Song period.  Those kilns at Qudougong  (屈斗宫)started production during the late Southern Song period  The most common export Dehua products were dishes ,boxes, vases and kendis.   The early Southern Song Nanhai 1 shipwreck carried a substantial quantity of Qingbai/white wares from Dehua.

Dehua Qingbai/white wares from Nanhai 1 shipwreck

Jepara wreck Qingbai ewer from Minnan kiln

The colour tone of some of the Fujian wares is rather hard to classify.  Strictly speaking they should still be classified as white ware despite showing varying degree of yellow or gray tinge. There are some which may even be confused as light yellowish greenwares.  The varying colour was the result of the unstable firing atmosphere in the dragon kilns rather than difference in glaze formula.  .  

 

Within the usual classification of Fujian Qingbai, there is an interesting group of thinly potted bowls with more elaborate carved/combed floral or waves motif. They usually have a straw colour or grayish white glaze and characterised by pooling of glaze near the inner and outer rim and sometime even the inner and outer wall.  I believe their classification as qingbai is mainly based on the reason that similar motifs were found in Jingdezhen Qingbai bowls.  But it is puzzling why the glaze is different from the more even pale greenish colour found on other types of Fujian Qingbai wares.  Personally, I think the glaze is intended to imitate the ivory Ding glaze with the typical pooling of teardrop-like glaze effect.  It is more like a hybrid of Qingbai and Ding ware.  Minqing Yi kiln (闽清义窑) has been identified as one of the major kiln that produced such bowls. 

A  Mingqing Yi kiln greyish straw colour bowl with carved motif from the Nanhai 1 wreck

 

 

Black (Temmoku) wares

Archaeological evidence clearly showed that Fujian black glazed temmoku wares were introduced later than the green glazed wares.   

The most famous black temmoku wares were produced in the Jianyang kiln.  Jian temmoku were highly praised and treasured by the tea connoisseurs from both China and overseas, especially Japan.  Due to the strong overseas demand,  coastal kilns especially those in Fuqing and Minhou emerged as major exporters.  Visually they are different from Jian temmoku bowls.  Majority have a light grayish paste and the glaze is not as thick/glossy and the hares' fur effects are not as distinct and attractive.   For more on Jian and Jian type temmoku wares, please read this

Black/Brown and Lead-glaze wares

Cizao kilns in Jinjiang was a major producer of black/brown glaze wares.  The kilns also produced low fired lead green/yellow glazes which were applied onto kendi, censers, basins, plates, jars, ewers.  The kendis were specifically made for the Southeast Asian markets.   Another unique Cizao product is black glaze wares with deeply carved motif left unglazed.

Most lead glaze wares were monochrome, but there were also examples with multi-colour glazes, similar to those sancai of the Tang period. I came across an interesting and beautiful piece which the Indonesian collector said was excavated from Trowulan.  

Late Song/Yuan Cizao sancai 

 

Ming Fujian Ceramics

Swatow (Zhangzhou) blue and white

Following a lull in Fujian ceramics production from late Yuan to Mid Ming, a distinctive group of Blue and whites and overglaze enamelled wares were produced in the Zhangzhou region.  They were characterised by grits adhesion on the outer base.  The main market was Southeast Asia but smaller quantity were also found in west asia and East coast of Africa.   For more details on the rise of Zhangzhou kilns and the products produced, please read : A General survey of Swatow (Zhangzhou) wares .

The early Zhangzhou wares were produced during the Jiajing period.  The motifs were executed using calligraphic strokes.  Such examples could be found in the Nan ao 1 shipwreck near Chaozhou in China and the San Isidro wreck near Philippines. 

Ming Jiajing Zhangzhou wares from Nan ao wreck

Those from the Wanli period onwards have motif executed mainly using the outline and wash method and kraak style panelled composition.  Such examples were found in the 1600 A.D Ming Wanli San Diego wreck in Philippines and Binh Thuan wreck in Central  Vietnam.

 

 

 

 

 

Dehua Blanc de chine wares

During the late Ming period, Dehua exported many varieties of blanc de chine wares: cups, censers, gu-vases, ewers, bowls, large plates, lamp, seated lions, figurines. Blanc de chine wares have a silky ivory white tone and the porcelain is translucent.  In this aspect, they were different from the early Dehua wares with the white/bluish white/yellowish white glaze.  Dehua potters introduced the blanc de chine wares during the 16th century firstly mainly for the Southeast Asian market.  During the 17th/18th century, many Dehua blanc de chine were exported to Europe.  Dehua ivory colour tone blanc de chine attracted considerable favourable responses in Europe and were widely collected by royal families and nobles.  

Those from the Early Qing period still retained the ivory tinge glaze but the later Qing pieces became a less attractive more grayish white tone.

 

Qing Fujian Ceramics

Dehua blue and white

According to archeological findings, Dehua started  production of blue and white since late Ming  Period.  However, blue and white ceramics produced were probably very small compared with the blanc de chine wares. But from Qing Kangxi the production of blue and white increased.  During the 18th/19th century, Dehua blue and white became major export items.  In fact, so far, more than 200 kilnsites producing blue and white have been discovered.  The neighouring kilns in Yongchung and Anxi also produced similar types.  Generally, those from the Dehua kilns are of better quality. For more, please read : Dehua blue and white.

In 1999, Tek Sing cargo which consisted of more than 350,000 mainly Qing Daoguang Dehua/Yongchung/Anxi blue and whites were recovered.  The size of the blue and white is an indication of the popularity of the wares.  For more on Tek Sing cargo and information on Dehua blue and white, please read:  Tek Sing shipwreck (Dehua) blue and white.

 

Written by NK Koh (22 Jun 2008), updated 5 Nov 2013

 

References:

1. The Jepara Wreck by Atma Djuana and Edmund Edwards Mckinnon

2. Chronology of Longquan Wares of the Song and Yuan Period by Kamei Meitoku.  Article published in the book "New Light on Chinese Yue and Longquan wares" edited by Chumei Ho.

3. 福建陶瓷考古概论 (曾凡著)

4. 德化窑 published by Dehua Museum

 

 

 

 

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