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Gourd-shaped porcelain canteen and the Yue’s Troops

July 23rd, 2012 No comments
Artisans of Cizhouyao Kiln presented porcelain canteen to Yue Fei.

Artisans of Cizhouyao Kiln presented porcelain canteen to Yue Fei.

At the end of the Southern Song Dynasty, there was a kiln artisan named Hulu at the Cizhouyao Kiln. He was clever and skillful. Once he made a kind of porcelain canteen, thick at both ends but thin in the center, convenient to carry. As it looked exactly like the gourd used by immortals in the legend, people called it porcelain gourd, also known as the canteen of the Yue’s troops. The legend goes that for recovering the occupied territory in the north, Marshal Yue Fei fought with his army from the Yangtze River all the way to the Mt. Taihang. The kiln artisans of the Cizhouyao Kiln were very excited and tried to present the Yue’s troops with a kind of porcelain canteen in kidney shape for them to carry conveniently on the march. The kiln artisan Hulu thought he should send Marshal Yue and his troops a precious canteen just like that used by Taishang Laojun (the Very High Lord in the legend) to hold elixir vitae as Marshal Yuehad rendered outstanding service to the Song Dynasty.

It was said that the water used to blend the clay for making the treasured canteen of he Very High Lord was taken from nine rivers and eighteen lakes. So he sent someone to take the spring water from nine springs, such as the Black Dragon Spring, the Yellow Dragon Spring, the Dark-green Dragon Spring, the Old Dragon Spring, the Jade Dragon Spring, etc. In the clay to make the canteen, he added costly medicines, such as musk, glossy ganoderma, bezoar, peppermint, etc. Finally, when the canteen was done to hold water or wine, not only could it quench thirst and relieve summer heat but also cure all diseases.

The officers and men of the Yue’s troops went on with the march with the porcelain canteen, sweeping northward from victory to victory. Afterwards due to the collusion between Qin Hui and the Jin troops, the Yue’s troops were besieged on the top of the Mt. Jiushi. Before long all the water bottled in the ordinary porcelain canteen was drunk up but the officers and men found to the surprise that the water and wine in Marshal Yuan’s porcelain canteen would never go empty. They found some big Chinese characters “Porcelain Canteen with Water from Nine Spring” and some small Chinese characters “Cizhouyao Kiln” inscribed at the bottom of the canteen. The officers and men drank freely with great joviality. After drinking the wine to their heart’s content, they rushed down the mountain. Afterwards, the Yue’s troops recovered a large stretch of territory.

The legend of Brother Kilns

July 23rd, 2011 No comments
Brother Kilns- the two brothers, Zhang Shengyi and Zhang Sheng'er, worked hard to improve celadon technology

Brother Kilns- the two brothers, Zhang Shengyi and Zhang Sheng’er, worked hard to improve celadon technology

The longquan celadon is one of the notable varieties of the traditional ceramics of China. This legend was about how two brothers, Zhang Shengyi and Zhang Sheng’er, of Longquan County, Zhejiang, in the Southern Song Dynasty improved celadon. The legend has it that the Zhang family was engaged in porcelain-making from generation to generation. According to their father’s last wish, the two brothers ran their respective kiln and tried hard to make innovation.

Beginning with colors, Zhang Sheng’er analyzed seriously all the colors man could see in the sky and on the earth and came to the conclusion that cyan was the basis of all colors, the essence of all colors and the most beautiful color, as it pleased both the eye and the mind. After discussion, the two brothers decided to take cyan as the fixed color of the Zhang family to make porcelain. When he happened to see a green plum tree standing gracefully erect by the kiln shed, Zhang Sheng’er thought the cyan of plums, he had them simmered into thick juice, blended it into glaze and applied it onto the porcelain base. Finally celadon, which was bluish, came into being and caused a great sensation. After seeing it, Emperor Gaozong (1127-1131) of the Southern Song Dynasty was so delighted with it that he could hardly bear to put it down on seeing it and issued the imperial decree to change the porcelain kiln of Zhang Sheng’er into a government-run porcelain industry and conferred the title of the “Diyao Kiln” (The Younger Brother’s Kiln) upon it.

Zhang Shengyi also cherished high ambitions in his life, trying to burn out a kind of crackle porcelain, which had always been believed to be something bestowed by deities, as an artifact. In order to be disclose the secret of porcelain crackling, he kept to himself and never got married. After serious studies and investigations, he found that for gaining a few pieces of crackle porcelain the people of his time often threw a living person into the blazing kiln. The blood and moisture of the living person caused the crackling of the porcelain. When blood congealed, the color was purple. That is why the color o crackle porcelain was always of a little blood red. Besides, when the porcelain base came across moisture, there was no time for it to shrink and hence crackling in polygonal shape. As Longquan was available with a special kind of clay with the color of a little blood red, the key issue was moisture and the right amoun of water injection. Zhang Shengyi persisted in doing contrast test but failed again and again.
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Qiu Changchun, the forefather of Jade Carving in Beijing

July 23rd, 2010 No comments
Qiu Changchun studied intensively how to perfect jade-carving technology

Qiu Changchun studied intensively how to perfect jade-carving technology

Qiu Chuji, also known as Taoist Changchun, was the earliest ancestor of jade trade in Beijing and was called Ancestor Qiu by artisans. As the end of the Southern Song Dynasty, Ancestor Qiu was born in a town in Shangdong and his family financial situation was poverty-stricken. Not far away from his home, there was a small jade workshop, where he acknowledged somebody as his master and learned the skills of jade carving. Due to this father’s early death of illness, Ancestor Qiu discontinued his apprenticeship. Later, during the chaos caused by war, he could live on nothing but to make a living on carrying people across the river on his back.

At the riverside he happened to meet a Taoist priest. On seeing that the young man was intelligent by natural endowments, the Taoist priest accepted him as a disciple and let him roam everywhere to study jadeware as his main job so that he could learn skills and help the distressed. Afterwards, Ancestor Qiu had the opportunity to tour around China to those places rich in jade, such as Xinjiang. He learned the skills of how to look at a piece of jade and judge its worth. Besides, he also studied hard to master various kinds of workmanship for artisans.

After the Yuan Dynasty founded its capital in Beijing, Ancestor Qiu came all the way to Beijing through the northwest and settled down at the Baiyun Guan (The White Cloud Taoist Temple) to devote himself to jadeware fabrication. His nationwide touring widened his field of vision. By drawing on other people’s merits and making use of the knowledge passed on to him by the Taoist priest, every piece of jadeware he fabricated was exquisite. Not only was Ancestor Qiu proficient in jadeware himself, he also passed on his jade carving skills to others in accordance with their aptitude. With his advocate and support, the jadeware trade came into being in Beijing and the Baiyun Guan became an institute for Ancestor Qiu to pass on his skills.

Yanshi and His Puppets

July 9th, 2008 No comments
The miraculous puppet made by artisan Yanshi greatly surprised King Mu of Zhou Dynasty

The miraculous puppet made by artisan Yanshi greatly surprised King Mu of Zhou Dynasty

In the Western Zhou Dynasty when King Mu was on the throne there was an artisan named Yanshi. The puppet he made bore strong resemblance to a living person. At first, King Mu thought the puppet was only Yanshi’s attendant. When Yanshi gave orders for him to advance, retreat, bend forward or backward, it responded with no difference from a being. When opening its jaws, it could drawl out a song; and when moving its arms, it could sway and move about as in a dance. When the performance came to an end, the puppet cast seductive eyes to King Mu’s concubine in high favor. King Mu flew into a great rage, firmly believing the puppet, dexterous and quick in action, must be a real being instead of a puppet and wanted to put Yanshi to death on the spot. Yanshi immediately disassembled the puppet to show that the puppet was made of no more than leather, wood, gum and lacquer, and black, white, red an blue pigments. King Mu hastened forward and examined carefully, finding the puppet had all visceral organs available while for the exterior, muscles and bones, joints, skin, hair, and teeth were also all available with nothing missing. However, they were all man-made things. When they were assembled together, it became a lving puppet again. King Mu gasped in admiration of Yanshi’s superb skill, very pleased and sincerely convinced.

The Legend of Ganjiang and Moye

October 21st, 2005 No comments
The couple of Ganjiang and Moye, masters of sword casting, tempered double-edged swords in blazing fire day and night.

The couple of Ganjiang and Moye, masters of sword casting, tempered double-edged swords in blazing fire day and night.

During the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States, the iron abounding in the Yue State was the best in quality and sword-making masters emerged in large numbers, of whom Ganjiang was a man of great reputation. Afterwards, Ganjiang went to the Wu State and was tied in wedlock with Moye. As He Lv, the king of the Wu State, was fond of double-edged sword, the two of them were appointed to an official position. For casting an excellent sword, the king of the Wu State sent someone to acquire the best iron from the Yue State and ordered Ganjiang to work out a unique sword within three months or he would be beheaded for disobeying the order.

Ganjiang and Moye went on working hard night and day for two months, but the iron was still not melted in the furnace. The deadline for the sword was due soon but they were at their wits’ end. Ganjiang brought up the story about how his master worker and his wife jumped into the furnace so that the iron was melted and a good sword was worked out within the deadline set by the king of the Yue State. After hearing the story, Moye decide to sacrifice her life for the sword. After turning the issue over in his mind for a long time, Ganjiang said as hair and nails of human beings were parents’ essence, maybe they could melt the iron. So Moye cut off her long hair and nails and threw them into the blazing fire. Simultaneously, three hundred young boys and girls did all they could to air-blast the furnace with more carbon added in the balzing fire. In an instant the iron melted and a couple of unique “male and female swords” in the world was finally wrought. The male sword, covering with lines in tortoise-shell pattern on the surface, was named Ganjiang while the female sword, covering with lines in water-wave pattern on the surface, was named Moye.
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