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.

Bamboo carving

July 16th, 2012 No comments
Ming Dynasty brush pot, housed in Nanjing Museum.

Ming Dynasty brush pot, housed in Nanjing Museum.

Bamboo carving means to carve various ornamental patterns or characters on bamboo items, or make ornaments from bamboo roots by carving. China is the first country in the world using bamboo articles. The extant bamboo carving item early in age is the painted lacquer bamboo ladle unearthed from the Western Han Tombs No. 1 in Mawangdui of Changsha. Decorated with dragon and braids designs using bas-relief and fretwork techniques, it is a highly finished rarity.
Since the mid-Ming Dynasty, bamboo carving developed into a special art. At the very beginning, there were only a few well-educated artisans working for bamboo carving. As bamboo was easily available, more and more people started to join in this craft, some by learning from others privately, until bamboo carving became a special line with a great quantity of works left over to posterity. Bamboo joint carving is the representative variety in bamboo carving in which bamboo joints are shaped into brush pots, incense tubes, tea caddies, etc. and then its surface pierced out to make relief sculpture to produce an artistic effect.

The techniques of bamboo carving mainly include keeping green-covering, pasting yellow chips, round carving and inlaying.
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Arts and Crafts during the Qin and Han Dynasty

May 10th, 2012 No comments
Terracotta warriors of Qin Dynasty, unearthed from the  tomb of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty in Lintong, Shaanxi

Terracotta warriors of Qin Dynasty, unearthed from the tomb of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty in Lintong, Shaanxi

The period of the Qing Dynasty and the Han Dynasty was a period to establish and consolidated a centralized feudal monarch with multi nationalities united in China. The political system of centralization of the state power required the technologic production under a single command and a grand scale. A segment of a whole can be seen from the world-famous architectures and statues of the Qing Dynasty such as the Great Wall, the tomb of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty and his terracotta warriors and horses.

There were two kinds of operation for the arts and crafts in the period of the Qin Dynasty and the Han Dynasty: run by the government and by self-employed artisans. The former was mainly to meet the demands of imperial household and the nobility, the yamen (government office in feudal China) at all levels and the army. So the scale was grand, the trades were numerous, the division of labor was elaborate, the management was perfect, and the funds were abundant. As for the latter, the natural economy of the self-supporting and self-sufficient agricultural society was its important content, i.e. men tilling the farm and women weaving.

The government-run handicrafts of the Qin Dynasty included mining, smelting and casting, arms and weapons, carriages and chariots, tools and implements, lacquer ware and earthenware. The government, from the central to the local, set up large-scale handicraft administrations. During the Qin and Han period, iron-smelting industry had a great development. With the emergence of the technology of well-tempered steel forged for several times, the quality of ironware like weapons and farm tools was improved and social production promoted. In the early stage of the Qin Dynasty, ministerial government was honest and upright, the people were simple and honest, and arts and crafts laid stress on practical use with simple and unadorned shapes. As the rule of the Qin Dynasty lasted for only fifteen years, not too many handicraft articles have been handed down and what was left is mainly bronze ware, lacquer work and earthenware.
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Arts and Crafts during the Sui, Tang and Five Dynasties

August 12th, 2011 No comments
Musicians on camelback, Tang0dynasty tri-color figurines

Musicians on camelback, Tang0dynasty Tri-color figurines

The period of the Sui Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty was a stage of great prosperity in the ancient society of China. As the reunified multi-national country was further developed and consolidated, the social economy and culture became unprecedentedly prosperous.

During the period of the Sui Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty, the government still controlled the main handicraft departments and the administrative setups were more perfect. Te government-run handicraft played a leading role in the respects of scale, organization, division of labor and technology. Many products were sold abroad through tributes, grants and trading and they were also sold at home through the form of monopolized sale. The division of labor was even more elaborate. Artisans of different profession had to receive technical training and study from nine months to four years, for instance, metalsmith for four years; artisan to make musical instrument and chariot, three years; and bamboo artisan, carpenter and lacquerer, one year.
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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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