Ceramic Art of Japanese Culture





Ceramic Art of Japanese Culture

Ancient Chinese ceramic industry has made a huge contribution to the evolution of ceramics and it has influenced cultures within and outside China. Chinese porters for thousand of years have been the leaders in the ceramic industry. It is the place where the porcelain, glazes, and many other forming techniques originated. During the Xia and Shang dynasties in china, discovery of kaolin clay in Gaoling attracted Chinese into ceramics. Soon after, plant ash glazing and better means of generating higher temperatures let to the birth of porcelain. By the end of Han’s dynasty, artisans started mixing the highly cohesive clay with baidunzi stone powder to create vessels that could be modeled and fired. The hardy blue, yellow or green vessels were then decorated through paintings and engravings. Through these vessels, the Chinese potters can claim that they were the first people create a perfect porcelain. During Song’s dynasty, porcelain art entered an unprecedented era of success because of the classical aestheticism that was rapidly getting recognition in China. Porcelain kilns were constructed all over China with each producing a unique product. For example, the imperial kiln produced the purple mouth and iron base celadon while Ru kiln produced sky-blue glaze and ice crackle patterns celadon. During Ming and Qing dynasties, the demand for colored porcelain by imperial courts and oversees markets drastically increased. Most of the Porcelain was exported to Europe and America.

Clay used in Chinese ceramics is known as kaolin. It is mined in the Gaoling Mountains of Southern China. Kaolin clay, also known as China clay, was extracted from a mineral known as Kaolinite. The clay, usually white in color, is formed by the weathering of aluminous minerals. China Clay has been used to make porcelain since Ming’s dynasty. Ancient Chinese potters mixed this clay with a powder that was extracted by grounding the baidunzi stone. This stone contained a glassy mineral known as feldspar. The stone melts after strong heating making the pottery porcelains hard and shinny like a glass. Modern Chinese potters have included other raw material such as ball clay, bone ash, steatite, petuntse, glass, and quartz. These materials are used to make kaolin clay to be harder and more cohesive.

Several forming techniques were used by ancient Chinese porters and are still being used by the modern porters. The first forming technique to be introduced was hand building. This involved methods such as coil construction, soft slab, hard slab, and pinching. Ceramic artworks that were created using this technique were rough and formless. Later, the technology of potter’s wheel was introduced. This involved the use of a spinning rim to create ceramic objects such as pots, plates and cups. The potter’s wheel, also known as potter’s lathe, was helpful creating perfect shapes especially on antiques such as vases and pots. Finally, slip casting was the third forming technique used in ancient Chinese ceramics. It was mainly used to create shapes that cannot be made easily on wheels. Solid cast moulds or hollow cast moulds were used to produce pottery with complex shapes such as ‘shisa’.

Ancient Chinese porcelain did not need glazing to make them resistant to liquid. This is because after heating, China clay became very strong and water proof. However, glazing was done on certain artifacts to prevent them from being dirty or stained and for decorative purposes. Firing of ancient Chinese ceramics involved heating them in kilns at very high temperatures. The aims of firing ceramics were to make them harder, non-porous and to set their permanent shape. Before the invention of kilns, ancient Chinese ceramics were fired in bonfire. This method was time consuming and often damaged some objects in the process. Much later, potters learned a better method of firing pottery objects. They surrounded the ceramics with firewood and covered it with a layer of dirt before advancing to the firing process. The dirt prevented quick burning by blocking ventilation holes. Immediately after firing, the earthenware was covered with wood ash to maintain the ceramics’ temperatures and avoid rapid cooling that might result to cracking of the objects. This method produced red or brown pottery because of high temperatures from firing. The wood ash used in cooling left white and gray patches on the pottery objects.

Several factors influenced the ceramic artwork in China. Buddhism religionwas one of these factors. The widespread belief in Buddhism across China saw the construction of temples and ‘gods’ of which most of them were made from clay. In addition, monks used cups and pots made of clay to drink tea during spiritual meditation. Furthermore, ceramics such as ‘shisa’ were placed on the rooftops to scare away evil spirits. Shisa, also known as ‘lion dog’ or ‘komainu,’ were also placed to guard the entrance of shrines and private residences. The development of ceramics was also attributed to the culture within and outside China. Many clay pots were created and be used in ceremonial occasions. Pottery objects such as tea ceremony vessels, burial urns and alter pots were among several objects that were made using clay. According to Hearn, different imperial dynasties made the greatest contribution to the ancient ceramics industry in China (52). From the Xia and Shang dynasties to Qing’s dynasty, the imperial courts used ceramic artworks to create instruments of power. For example, ceramic cups and plate with dragon painting were issued to emperors during Qing’s dynasty. These objects were instruments of power and were only to be used by the emperors. In some dynasties, the komainu was placed on the rooftops of government officials to portray their rank in government. Other materials such as the imperial seals were made from clay. Ceramics were also used to guard burials of top government officials. Archeologist discovered 8,000 clay warriors in Xi’an China that were supposedly constructed after Emperor Qui Shi Huang’s orders (Man 6). The army, which also had 6,000 clay horses, is known as the Terra Cotta Army. They used to be placed around the burial sites of senior government officials to offer protection in the after life. Well-decorated porcelain was also issued as gifts by ordinary people or imperial courts as an award or a form of appreciation.

Studying Chinese ceramic artworks is very interesting. Even though the dates when the ancient ceramics of China cannot be traced, the level of perfection of these artifacts is very impressive. Other potters from Britain and America tried and failed to create porcelain that resembled the ones imported from China. It is evident that the ancient Chinese artworks are deeply rooted in China’s cultural, religious and political history. Massive support from the imperial dynasties and the commitment from skilled porters led to the tremendous developments in the ceramic industry being benefited by modern potters.


Work Cited:

Hearn, Maxwell . Splendors of Imperial China: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996. Print.

Man, John. The Terra Cotta Army: China’s First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2008. Print.

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