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Mature porcelain was finally produced in the Zhejiang province near the end of Eastern Han Dynasty after about 2000 years from the appearance of proto-porcelain in Shang Dynasty. The potters were able to achieved a good grayish green and smooth glaze.  It showed good control of kiln firing. The production began to flourish during the 3 Kingdoms to the 6 dynasties period.   The production was at its lowest level during the Sui to Early Tang period.  The production picked up again during the mid Tang period and reached its peak and greatest fame during the Late Tang to Early Northern Song dynasty.   


Eastern Han Celadon Pot in Shanghai Museum

3 Kingdom to Western Jin

During the first peak of Yue ware production from the 3 Kingdoms to Western Jin, the centre of production is Shangyu in Zhejiang.  The utilitarian vessels most frequently associated with this period are in animal-form: such as sheep and lion shape candle stands, lamps which looked like bears,  frog-shaped water-droppers and bird shape cups,.  They are  both artistic and functional.


Western Jin Celadon Incense burner in Shanghai Museum

Another development was the large number of funerary wares such as model granaries , stoves, wells, mills were produced.  During this duration, the people placed great importance on providing for the death.  The most impressive of all the modeld wares was granary vase with elaborate building and human/animals.

Three Kingdom Celadon Granary (Wuzhou)  in Shanghai Museum


Eastern Jin to Southern Dynasty

Towards the end of the Western Jin Dynasty, the so-called "Insurrection of the Eight Princes" broke out and ushering in a period of tussles for military dominance.  The Eastern Jin regime that ruled areas south of the Yang zijiang (ie yangzi river) also became embroiled in internal conflicts.  The upheavals depressed the economy of Zhejiang and the surrounding regions.  The ceramic industry was adversely affected.  Shangyu was reduced from a booming production centre to an area with few scattered small kilns.  The kilns produced mainly bowls, dishes, cups with ears, cup stands, alms bowls, jars, ewers, inkstones, chicken head ewers and other wares for daily use. 

Simple burial was also advocated and few funerary wares were produced. By the mid Eastern Jin, modeled wares were no longer produced for burial purpose. 

The decorative motifs include circular bands and iron brown painted spots.  Those impressed diamond bands were hardly used by mid Eastern Jin.

By Southern Dynasty, the form of the vessels were generally elongated and appeared taller.  Vessels decorated with lotus motif were in demand due to the popularity of Buddhism .

Of all the vessels of Eastern Jin to Southern Dynasty, the most distinctive and representative is the chicken-head ewer.  The basic form is a jar with a dished mouth.  A chicken-head spout is attached at the shoulder and a  handle across curving from the mouth rim to the shoulder. There are small lugs on the shoulder.  The earliest version in Western Jin only had a chicken head on the shoulder of the dish mouth jar. There is no handle.

Decorative elements 

The decorative elements on the wares during the Three Kingdoms included the circular bands ,ripples and impressed geometric pattern.  During the late 3 Kingdoms period to early Eastern JIn, diamond bands were impressed on the shoulders  of basins, jars, ewers and spittoons.  There are also those type with bands of small circles were added above and below the diamond diaper.   By mid East Jin the diamond diaper is rarely used and simple circular line became commonly used.

Molded relief motifs are also popular during the 6 dynasties.  It included animal mask, dragons, tigers, Buddhist figures are luted on the shoulder or bellies of the vessels. 

Eastern Jin to Southern Dynasty

The wares of Three kingdom to 6 Dynasties share several  common features. The body material is pale grey and it generally burns a light reddish brown where exposed in the firing. Small lumps of clay were used as spurs to prevent the vessels from sticking to the floor during firing.  As a result, there are many pieces showing pale patches haloed in reddish brown on the base. But one should bear in mind that there are also those that do not have this characteristics. 


Copyright: NK Koh (20 Mar 2008)



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