Revisit the glory days of celadon porcelain

Wu Huixin
Celadon ceramics flourished during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), a time of refinement and appreciation of art. A new exhibition showcases some of the best pieces from across China.
Wu Huixin

Editor's note:

The Song Dynasty (960-1279) is divided into two distinct periods, Northern and Southern. During the Northern Song (960-1127), the royal court built its capital in present-day Kaifeng City, Henan Province. It then retreated to the south of the Yangtze River and established the Southern Song (1127-1279), founding its capital at modern-day Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province.

Zhejiang government initiated the Song Dynasty Cultural Legacy Project in August 2021, aiming to build Song culture into a paramount icon of Zhejiang Province, featuring Zhejiang elements and distinguishing it from other dynasties by its booming economy and invigorated art.

This year, Hangzhou will host a series of Southern Song-themed activities and exhibitions to help residents explore citywide cultural heritages and popularize historic knowledge among young generations.

Revisit the glory days of celadon porcelain

Showcased are wine vessels made in the Song Dynasty but mimicked the Shang Dynasty designs, endowing the ritual potteries with pragmatism.

Song Dynasty (960-1279) culture is synonymous with celadon pottery. As the political and economic center of the period, as well as the cradle of celadon works, Zhejiang Province was dotted with porcelain kilns and fires burned.

An exhibition at the Wulin Pavilion of Zhejiang Museum showcases Song Dynasty celadon pieces unearthed in Zhejiang and other provinces, highlighting the heyday of celadon production.

Apart from potteries excavated in Zhejiang, the exhibition also shows 20 high-quality celadon pieces unearthed from Jinyu Village in southwestern Sichuan Province.

Revisit the glory days of celadon porcelain

A calabash flagon unearthed from Jinyu Village, Sichuan Province

In 1991, villagers unearthed some potteries when they were digging a grave, and archeologists were called in. A total of 1,197 porcelain works were found after being buried for over 700 years – 29 are now listed as national treasures.

It is believed to be the largest find of the Song Dynasty ceramics ever in China.

According to archives, wealthy local merchants and the upper class buried them to save the pieces from the wars during the transition from the Song Dynasty to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

The Song Dynasty royal court placed great values on the humanities and art – often minimalist – and crafts.

Muted shades and quiet simplicity are the main features of ceramics from the period, evident in many of the celadon works on display in the exhibition.

Artists of the time developed several classic designs, which continued for centuries across the country.

A calabash flagon found in Jinyu Village is considered a classic design of that era.

Calabash is called hulu (葫芦) in Chinese, sounding like fulu (福禄), meaning fortune and happiness. In ancient China, calabash-shaped porcelain was often used to decorate living rooms in the hope of a bright future.

Revisit the glory days of celadon porcelain

A pinkish-green plate is on display.

The displayed teapots, containers and vases reflect the Song people's lifestyle and aesthetics. Scholars lived an artistic and refined life, which included tea drinking, incense burning, flower arranging and wine tasting.

The exhibits give people an idea of how these scholars lived, created and worked.

The literati sought poetic meaning in utensils. Unlike previous dynasties, where luxury vessels were made of gold or silver, the Song Dynasty turned to simple ceramics.

During the Song Dynasty, when China had one of the world's most prosperous and advanced economies, people enjoyed going to washegoulan (瓦舍勾栏), a place providing entertainment performances.

Believed to be the origin of Chinese theater, the washegoulan thrived in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). Drinking wine while watching performances was a common practice during the period.

But the unrestrained drinking of previous dynasties was replaced by refined manners. The exhibits show people used a set of vessels to drink wine, following fixed etiquette.

Song people admired the ritual vessels of the Shang Dynasty (c. 16th century-11th century BC) and produced many vessels copying the Shang designs, making ritual vessels more pragmatic.

People also absorbed elements from Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism and applied them to the design of ceramic vessels. The integration of religions and pragmatism gave a boost to the development of celadon porcelain in Zhejiang.

Ancient craftsmen in Zhejiang integrated the techniques of China's different varieties of ceramics and adjusted clay composition and glazing techniques to invent whitish, bluish, yellowish and pinkish-green colors. Their elegant shapes and jade-like texture are the hallmark of the celadon technique.

In modern times, a group of top-notch craftspeople emerged in Zhejiang. They handed down the intangible cultural heritage to their children and apprentices, who in turn kept the skills alive and thriving.

The exhibition also displays some works from these artisans, showing the comparison between ancient and present-day celadon art.

Revisit the glory days of celadon porcelain

A vessel made by modern artist Liu Jie

The Ancient and Modern Celadon Art Exhibition

Date: Through August 18 (closed on Mondays)

Venue: Wulin Pavilion of Zhejiang Museum

Address: Zone E, West Lake Culture Square, 581 Zhongshan Rd N


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