Ancient porcelain gives insight into Song Dynasty lifestyle

Wu Huixin
Items on display at the Southern Song Dynasty Guan Kiln Museum reflect the ancient Hangzhou people's lifestyle and aesthetics, giving visitors an idea of how ancient people lived.
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.

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

Hangzhou is to host a series of Southern Song-themed activities and exhibitions to help residents explore citywide cultural heritage and popularize historic knowledge among young generations.

Ancient porcelain gives insight into Song Dynasty lifestyle

A large censer on display at the exhibition.

Qingbai porcelain, literally green and white ceramics, fuse the characteristics of celadon in southern China and white porcelain in northern China and have been compared to jade because of the similar texture and finish.

The muted shades and quiet simplicity made it popular in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and an exhibition of 165 pieces of Qingbai porcelain and fragments is at the Southern Song Dynasty Guan Kiln Museum until July 14.

The Song Dynasty is believed to be the prime time for Chinese porcelain with a myriad of varieties born during that era.

Qingbai porcelain was developed in what is now Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province. Dating back a thousand years, vessels with a greenish-white glaze were produced by lucky accident and then began to be fired in large quantities, finding favor by virtue of its simplicity.

When the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) made Hangzhou the capital, it became a new market because of its prosperity and booming commerce. The exhibition organizers use archives and pieces unearthed from Hangzhou to testify to the popularity of Qingbai porcelain in the ancient capital.

Organizers categorized the exhibits into four sections, which correspond to the Song Dynasty's four popular pastimes, namely tea drinking, flower arranging, burning incense and paintings.

The displayed containers and vases reflected the ancient Hangzhou people's lifestyle and aesthetics. The exhibits give visitors an idea of how ancient people lived, created, and sought poetic meaning from utensils.

For instance, incense burning has long been thought to be beneficial in creating a tranquil environment and refreshing the mind. The practice reached its apex during the Song Dynasty, when it became a way of life for the literati. They lit incense while reading, playing music, and writing calligraphy.

Ancient porcelain gives insight into Song Dynasty lifestyle

Fragments of mythical creatures unearthed.

Mythical creatures have always appeared on Qingbai censers as a symbol of protection, which could be verified by the suanni-shaped censers at the exhibition. Suanni is a lion-like monster and one of the dragon's sons. It is seen on censers since it likes the smoke.

Burning incense is also a Buddhist ritual and is used as a way to connect with Buddha. Believers often pray in front of Buddha statues as incense burns. The censers unearthed from temples were used for such purposes.

Censers used by imperial courts were larger than others. They featured three to six legs and were gilded with floral patterns. The exhibition shows a simple piece, which has an elegance and a sense of pureness that is different from metallic censers that tend to be more aristocratic.

During that dynasty, craftspeople fired daily-use vessels and containers for flowers because scholars and literatis practiced flower arranging and bonsai planting. Several classic designs were created by ancient artists and have persisted in art for centuries.

In the Song Dynasty, people pioneered a new method of consuming tea known as diancha – the preparation of finely ground powder from processed green tea. The preparation and consumption of powdered tea complete with a series of performances, procedures and specific criteria for vessels. The exhibits are testimony.

Venue: Southern Song Dynasty Guan Kiln Museum

Address: 60 Nanfu Rd

Date: Through July 14, closed on Tuesdays

Admission: Free

Ancient porcelain gives insight into Song Dynasty lifestyle

A simple container.

Ancient porcelain gives insight into Song Dynasty lifestyle

A range of ancient drinking vessels.

Special Reports