The Chinese Imperial Ceramic Artwork Found In Indonesia ( Continiu )






Dr Iwan Suwandy , MHA

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Motif symbolic type and meaning

Type dan Arti Motif Simbolik


The Evolution Of Chinese Ceramic



Most often when thinking about Asian ceramics, fine porcelain commonly known in the West as “china” comes to mind.  Where did porcelain come from?  How did the Chinese manage to perfect its manufacturing so many hundreds of years before the West?  These questions can be answered by realizing that porcelain is only one of many types of ceramics that the Chinese developed throughout their history.  In fact, porcelain came quite late in China’s history, but its effect on the West is what makes it special.  Ceramics in China can be traced back to the earliest known culture, the Yangshao.  Every culture or dynasty that followed the Yangshao had its own unique earthenware or stoneware that helped define that particular time period.  This paper will examine the evolution of Chinese ceramics, in both their components and glazes, beginning with the Yangshao culture thru the Qing dynasty in order to better understand how the Chinese became so proficient in making the finest ceramics in the world. 

Historical Background

The history of Chinese ceramics truly begins with the first known Chinese civilization, and the art form rapidly flourished for several reasons.  The quickness with which the Chinese discovered the many types of ceramics and glazes is due in part to the vastly rich clay soil that had the perfect combination of loess, kaolin, and albite to create both earthenwares and stonewares very easily.  Another factor in the creative force behind the development of ceramics in China was the knowledge gained from working in bronze.  Oftentimes clay molds were made for bronze vessels, and the artisans learned to manipulate both mediums at the same time.

Research Report

Chinese ceramics began with the people of the Yangshao culture in about the year 5000 B.C. near the Wei River.  Two major types of pottery were made at this time.  The first was gray everyday earthenware that often was minimally decorated with “cord, mat, or basket impressions” (Blunden 53).  The second type of pottery is more intricate as well as beautiful.  These earthenware pots have a “lightly burnished surface decorated with painted designs in black, red, maroon, and brown” (53).  The decorations are generally simple geometric patterns such as swirls, but they can be more ornate and include stylized fish, birds, and human faces (Gernet 39).  As the culture spread westward, the pottery “from the Kansu sites…displays more elaborate designs” (39).  This type of highly decorated pottery seems to have been used primarily for funerary practices. From a more mechanical and less aesthetic viewpoint, the Yangshao potters began the long tradition of combining function, form, and painting into their ceramics.  The Yangshao had a small repertoire of shapes that included bowls and jars.  The usual baking temperature was 1000-1500°C (39). Both the coarser gray ware and the highly burnished pottery were hand built.  The gray ware was built “with coils of clay, and smoothed over to conceal the joins” (Blunden 53).  The burnished pottery was built up in a similar fashion but was of a higher quality of workmanship.  Much of the decoration on the burnished pottery was painted on with slips, which are solutions of metals.  The Yangshao used “colours deriving from iron and manganese producing black, dark brown, and maroon.  A later addition was the white slip which heightened the decoration in a striking manner” (Hook, 387).  From these discoveries, decoration blossomed, and even in this early time of Chinese culture embellishment upon the pottery was “highly stylized, yet it exhibits the vitality and rhythm which is to characterize all Chinese art” (Morton 12).

Types of pottery are the central division among Chinese Neolithic cultures.  The Yangshao, as described above, had two main types, with the burnished, highly decorated pottery being the hallmark style.  Following the Yangshao is the Longshan culture, beginning in approximately 4500 B.C. and overlapping with the Yangshao for 1500 years.  The Longshan were generally farther east compared to the Yangshao, but some excavation sites have the Longshan directly succeeding the Yangshao.  Like their predecessors, the Longshan had two types of pottery, but only one is studied with great care.  The Longshan share the more functional gray wares with their predecessors.  The key difference between the cultures is the Longshan blackware.  There are some immediate differences from the highly decorated Yangshao pieces.  First, the Longshan wares are significantly thinner due to the fact that the vessels were thrown on a potter’s wheel rather than built by hand.  This may have been a consequence of being farther east and having more contact with the Koreans.  Second, Longshan pottery is has no decoration.  These blackwares were made by firing the iron poor clays initially and then exposing them to smoke.  The smoke could be “penetrated deep into the hot porous ceramics, turning them a fine black colour- a process known as carbonizing.  If the ceramics had been burnished before firing the result was a deep and glossy black” (Wood 14).  Another major difference in the Longshan pottery is its form, which is “angular in outline and extremely elegant…Some shapes are already close to those vessels of the Bronze Age”(Gernet 39).  Although the Longshan culture ends around 2500 B.C., there are no new defining styles of pottery until the Shang dynasty of 1766 B.C.

The Shang dynasty is considered a part of the Chinese Bronze Age and therefore ceramics during this time period are generally not spectacular.  Nigel Wood, an expert of Chinese ceramics, states, “Ceramics from China’s early Bronze Age are generally considered inferior, both in design and finish, to the Neolithic ceramics” (14).  Wood suggests that the quality decreased because of the increased use of bronze vessels in rituals and mortuary practices.  Instead of showcasing a particular style of pottery, the coarse gray ware with cord markings continued to dominate, and much of the ceramic wares found from the Shang are molds for bronzes.

Very much like the Shang dynasty, the Zhou dynasty (1027-221 B.C.) did not put great emphasis on their ceramics.  Once again the simple, coarse gray wares were the main type of pottery produced.  The Zhou dynasty did craft some unique wares including glazed stoneware that was decorated by both painting and dipping.  The wares of the Eastern Zhou (771-221 B.C.) tend to follow the fads of the bronzes because they were an inexpensive alternative to the bronze vessels used in rituals.  These “bargain” funeral wares of the Warring States period were often made from “fine siliceous stoneware clays with yellowish, greeny-gray, or dark brown glazes” (Wood 20).  The end of the Zhou dynasty marked an important change in China’s history because the dynasty to follow was the first to unite all of China, so technically the first truly “Chinese” ceramics were produced during the Qin.

The Qin dynasty was extremely short, only fifteen years, lasting between 221 and 206B.C.  Obviously this short amount of time was not enough to create a unique style of ceramics or glaze, but the Qin dynasty is noteworthy because of the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China.  Qin Shi Huangdi’s tomb is outfitted with an entire division of infantry and cavalry that consists of over “7,000 life-size earthenware soldiers equipped with real weapons, real chariots, and pottery horses” (Huang 37).  The tomb is an awesome archeological find due not only to its size, but also its accuracy.  Each soldier has a unique facial expression, hairdo, armor, and stance.  Qin Shi Huangdi’s tomb represents a breakthrough in production of earthenwares and showcases the creative capability of thousands of anonymous artisans. 

The Han dynasty (202 B.C.-220 A.D.), which follows the Qin, exhibits an intriguing dichotomy because great unity and peace was brought to China with the establishment of the new dynasty, yet the Han’s most important contribution to the history of China’s ceramics is the fact that this time period brings about the first noticeable difference in Northern and Southern wares.   According to The Cambridge Encyclopedia of China, “In the north lead-glazed ceramics tended to be simply cheap substitutes for bronzes and intended for tombs, but in the south ceramics were developed more in their own right”(Hook 404).  The common wares were often red or gray with high-fired glazes.  Wares used for funerary purposes often used glazes that were “reminiscent of bronze in its various states of patination and early Han lead-glazed vessels often followed the shapes of Han bronzes” (Wood 191).  Han discoveries were the early prototypes for glazes used during the Tang and Song dynasties in sancai wares.

The Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D.) is arguably the most significant time period in the evolution of Chinese ceramics because porcelain, the epitome of Chinese stoneware, was discovered during this dynasty.  Even more astounding, porcelain is not the only development that occurred during the Tang dynasty.  Sancai, also known as “three-colour” wares, were also developed using new high-lead glazes that produced a plethora of color combinations (Hook 409).  Another addition was marbled pottery, which used different colored clays to create a swirled look that was painted with a transparent glaze (409).  The  final development was expanding the repertoire of shapes of vessels, many of which were influenced by contacts with the West.  During this time, vases and bowls became quite novel and popular.  The interest in different clay colors used in the marbled pottery helped bring about the discovery of porcelain, which “evolved out of the conscious attempts to produce a pure white clay body” (Tharp). 

There are three major types of Tang porcelain designated by the region in which the producing kilns were located.  The first type is early whiteware created in Gongxian in the northern part of the Henan province.  Gongxian porcelains had good translucency, and their glazes had good resistance to dullness and crazing (Wood 97).  The porcelains made in Gongxian included plain whitewares as well as blue and whites, which are porcelains with a cobalt blue underglaze.  Xing porcelain is the most famous Tang porcelain because it was the whitest produced in the north.  A combination of extremely pure clay and high firing temperatures, as high as white-blue heat or 1350°C, was needed to produce such white porcelain (99).  The final type of Tang porcelain is known as Ding ware.  During the Tang, Ding ware was considered inferior to the Xing because of its creamy color.  This opinion of Ding inferiority changed during the Song dynasty.

The artisans of the Song dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) perfected what those in the Tang had begun.  The hallmark of Song ceramics is monochrome porcelain with exquisite form.  Ding ware, formally considered second rate, developed into “plain and beautiful cream-coloured, oxidised porcelain with austere and refined forms that showed a superb balance of inner and outer space” (100-1).  Decorations changed significantly from the vibrant colors used in the Tang to the more subdued monochrome glazes and incised designs.  The evolution of Ding ware came to a point when it was declared the “official palace ware of the Northern Song emperors” (Hook 411).  Unfortunately, the notoriety of Ding ware did not last very long for the royal family and was replaced with Ru ware, “a fine, undecorated ware with a pale grey-green glaze usually with a faint crackle” (411).  The Song had managed to perfect the creation of vessels to the point where “most of the pots are fully glazed (including foot and base), because in the kiln the vessels were placed on tiny supports called spurs that left only minute “sesame-seed” marks on the glaze” (“Northern Song”).  It is said that the Song dynasty was the time of perfection for Chinese ceramics, and that nothing could ever compare with it again.

The Yuan dynasty (1260-1368 A.D.) unfortunately did not keep up to the standards set by the Song.  Although the forms of Yuan and Song pottery are similar, the excellence in balanced form of the Song was not to be met by the Yuan.  Wares became “heavier and cruder, with new shapes such as large dishes and bowls” (Hook 413).  Even though Yuan wares are disappointing in aspects such as style and form, decoration is the Yuan’s saving grace.  Images became much more dramatic, naturalistic, and dynamic.  Glazes became less pure, but underglazing with qingbai, a “thicker and more opaque glaze,” brought about the unquestionably Chinese blue and white porcelain (413). 

Although the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.) is best known for its blue and white porcelain, many types of unique ceramics were developed at this time.  The kilns that produced the best quality and quantity of wares were concentrated at Jingdezhen in the Jiangzi province because of the deposits of kaolin and petuntse, the most important elements for porcelain making (416).  The kaolin is the key to making very thin vessels because when heated to high temperatures, upwards of 1,300-1,500°C, the kaolin becomes extremely hard and strong without too much clay so the vessels could be made to be almost translucent (Morton 129).  These kilns produced blue and white porcelain along with “red monochromes, and ‘bodiless’  imperial wares…[with] anhua, incised in the body under the glaze, visible only when held up to the light” (Hook 416).  Another type of ware produced at the imperial kilns was doucai, porcelain vessels enameled with many colors.  The effect of doucai is a “true polychrome effect, combining red, yellow, green, brown, and aubergine overglaze enamels with underglaze blue” (Wood 233).  The popularity of Ming wares could not be stopped, and large-scale production continued into the Qing dynasty.

The hallmark of the wares of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.) was production over aesthetics or form.  Eventually the imperial kilns exchanged the blue and white wares for the polychrome enamelwares.  Two main types of enamelwares were  produced.  The first was famille noire.  These wares have a characteristic blackish-green background.  The second type is known as famille rose, which usually have a white background and the decorations consist of flowers or birds in yellows and pinks.  Although the Qing developed extraordinary kilns and production systems, the secret of porcelain making reached Europe and export immediately decreased.  The need to produce large amounts of porcelain was essentially eliminated.

This paper represents over 7,000 years of ceramic history from the Yangshao’s simple burnished vessels to the Qing’s technical perfection of production of porcelain.  Although each dynasty certainly has its own unique features, every style is undeniably Chinese.  Aesthetics and function meld together seamlessly in every object to allow for pleasing yet useful objects that continue to astound people around the world. 

Historical Significance

The importance of the art of ceramics cannot be overlooked because it is such an essential part of people’s lives.  Each dynasty had everyday wares that the commoners and elite alike could use, but there was always a special type vessel that served a ritual or social function.  These wares often served a primary role in mortuary practices, or in the case of Qin Shi Huangdi, to protect the spirit as it traveled to the other world.  Chinese ceramics always seem to pull together the aesthetic and functional parts of life and mould them into a perfectly harmonious union that is unequal elsewhere.    In the long term, ceramics cannot only help define the influence the West had China, but vice versa.  Depending on the size, shape, and decoration on a particular piece, archaeologists can determine how Sinicized or Westernized an era or dynasty was.  In the West, reign marks can give a definite age to many of the pieces that traveled to Europe during the Ming and Qing dynasties.  The Ming dynasty really began the massive export of ceramics.  At the end of the Ming, “at least three million porcelains were being shipped to Europe each year” (Selvage).  Ceramics were just one more type of wares the West wanted from China when it demanded that ports be opened. 

Motif symbolic type and meaning

Type dan Arti Motif Simbolik


Overview of Folk Kiln (Minyao) Ming Blue and White


Early Ming Period [Hungwu (洪武) to Tianshun (天顺), 1368 To 1464 ]

During the  early Ming period, the court imposed a relatively high degree of  control on  political and cultural development.   For eg. during the reign of Hongwu, a decree was issued in the year 1371 which forbid certain subjects such as previous emperors, queens, sages or saints, dragon, phoenix, lion and chilin on porcelains.  Another instance was the  decree  issued in the year 1447 by emperor Zhengtong (正统) which prohibited the production of color glaze such as yellow, purple, red or blue glazes including those with underglazed blue design.

Such restrictions significantly impacted the type of decorations found on folk kiln blue and white wares.  Only a relatively limited range of motifs were available.  Usually the motifs are highly stylised and simplified and executed in calligraphic style.  It was dictated by economic considerations as such mode of production facilitated quick execution  and increased production volume. The calligraphic  lines of the motif  is spontaneous and highly rhythmic.  This carefree style without depiction of details has a charm and character of its own.

Recent scientific tests seem to indicate that Yuan blue and white used solely imported cobalt.  During the reign of Hongwu, he issued decrees prohibiting foreign contact and trade.  Hence, the source of imported cobalt would have been cut off.  It is likely that remaining imported cobalt during the period were used for imperial blue and white.  Hence, very few, if any, folk kiln blue and white had been produced during Hongwu or even Yongle (永乐) period.  This is not far-fetched.   For those Hongwu imperial blue and white, we can still see stylistic continuity from the Yuan period.  However, for motifs on folk kiln blue and white attributed to Hongwu, they generally lack stylistic similarity to those from Yuan period.  This logically should not be the case in the evolvement of artistic styles.  Another issue which need to be explored is when the potters started using local cobalt if only imported cobalt was used during the Yuan period.  For more discussion, please read : Early Ming Folk kiln blue and white revisit.

During the early Ming period, the typical motifs depicted included:  interlacing floral scroll with sanksrit character , rolling clouds, 3 friends of  winter (represented by pine, plum and bamboo), ornamental balls with silk knots, characters fu ()  (fortune) and shou (寿) (longevity), rolling clouds with human figures which resemble dreamland and hermit in countryside setting.   The influence of Tibetan Buddhism is shown in elements such as sanskrit/tibetan characters and Buddhist 8 precious objects (conch shell, wheel, umbrella, canopy, lotus, vase, fish, endless knot). 


Interlacing floral scrolls with Sanskrit characters. It shows  typical calligraphic style of execution of the motif


Cloud motif

rolling clouds with human figures

Majority of the wares produced during the Early Ming period were functional in nature, such as bowl, plate, covered jar and incense burner.  Vases only constituted a small quantity of the production.

In 1964, Wang Zhimin (王志敏) of Nanjing museum pioneered a project on identification of early Ming blue and white.   He collected tens of thousands ceramic shards from the Yudai  river where the old Nanjing palace was located.  Based on stylistic comparison, he was able to form some meaningful deductions on characteristics associated with each dynastic Ming period.  With the guidelines formulated, one could more confidently separate  Xuande (宣德) or earlier  blue and white from those dated to the Interregnum period [Zhengtong (正统), Jingtai (景泰) and Tianshun (天顺), with a duration of 29 years spanning 1436 to 1465].

To a  significant extent, his findings was a big step forward for the study of Ming folk kilns blue and white.  But there is still the difficulty in determining the end-date for a particular style of motif.   It is not unjustifiable to assume  a transitional phase during which an old style and an emerging new style co-existed.  The old style will ultimately be abandoned but there is still difficulty in determining the end point of a particular style. 

Two examples illustrate this problem.  The calligraphic chilin and lion plates are known to have been produced during the Xuande/Interregnum period.  A small quantity of Chinese ceramics including some dishes with the chilin motif, were salvaged from the Pandanan shipwreck in Philippines and dated to the Interregnum period.  However, the Lena shoal junk  (found near the Lena Shoal of Busuanga Island in the Philippines in 1997) with its well preserved cargo of typical Hongzhi blue and white wares, sprung up a few surprises.  There were a number of chilin plates and some bowls with abstract cloud and floral motifs executed in calligraphic style usually attributed to Early Ming  Interregnum period.  

The second case concerned a Guangdong Dongguan  family graveyard of Zhong Songxue.   The earliest burial was in second year of Zhengde .  Five jars with typical Hongzhi style scholar in garden setting were found.  in the adjacent  burial site of one of Zhong Songxue’s son, two big late Zhengde/early Jiajing jars, one with floral and the other with fish motif were recovered.  Also found together was a lion plate and a bowl executed in interregnum period calligraphic style.  Based on the Dongguan chronicle,  one of Zhong Songxue’s sons died in the 7th year of Jiajing. 


Similar Qilin plate found in Lena and Pandanan wreck.  This one is most probably dated to Hongzhi period.  Those from the Interregnum period are better drawn especially the cloud’ Plate with lion motif are mostly from the Chenghua/Hongzhi period.  Some were found after Hongzhi period but the drawing appears more sketchy and poorly drawn.

During the interregnum period  there were numerous laws restricting or banning production of blue and white wares.   Coupled with a declining tribute system of trade and ban on illegal private trade, the amount of porcelain that reached the overseas market would have been small.  This appears to have been the case based on shipwrecks findings.  So far, shipwrecks, such as  Pandanan and the Royal Nanhai wreck in South China sea, which are dated to Interregnum period carried only small quantity of Chinese ceramics.  However by the Hongzhi period, a thriving illegal private trade has developed.  The Hongzhi period Lina cargo is clear reflection of the situation.  It carried a  relatively large quantity of good quality blue and white wares.   Another contributing factor which prompted this development was the situation during the Hongzhi period.  During the reign of Chenghua, the imperial kiln produced large quantity of porcelains as can be seen from the excavations in Jingdezhen.  When Hongzhi took over, he recognised that it was a big drain on the state finance.  He ordered imperial porcealin production to be drastically reduced.  As a result, the redundant potters would have to find other means to support their livelihood.  They turned to production of wares to meet oversea demand.

A significant volume of blue and white excavated in Southeast Asia were usually attributed to the  interregnum period.  The political situation in China highlighted above suggested that the dating could be wrong. They may have been produced later,  most probably during the Chenghua to Hongzhi period instead.  

Almost all the known folk kiln sites in Jingdezhen region were badly disturbed and destroyed.  Hence, scientific excavation is almost impossible.   Currently, a good source for dating is artifacts recovered from datable tombs.  Regrettably, the information is limited and not widely circulated.  Such excavation information together with those from shipwrecks will enable more detailed studies and accurate dating.  We will also be able to ascertain how a particular motif evolved over time and the duration which a particular style of the motif persisted.  Hopefully, we can also better dentify the minor stylistic changes associated with a style as they evolved over time. It is a worthwhile project but it would require patience and co-operation from different sources to build up a comprehensive database.  


Mid Ming Period (Chenghua (成化) to Zhengde (正德), 1465 to 1521)

By the Mid Ming period ,  production and demands for porcelain increased considerably due to demand from illegal private trade.   Officially the tribute system of foreign trade implemented since Hongwu period only came to an end in 1567 (Jiajing) with the opening of Yuegang (月港)  in Fujian for legal foreign trade.   The tribute system of trade reached its peak during the Yongle/Xuande period epitomised by  Admiral Zhenghe’s trips on large fleet of treasure ships which reached as far as East coast of Africa.  Subsequently, the tribute system could not be implemented effectively after the decline of the power of the empire.  Some contributing factors included internal problem such as the capture of Zhengtong (正统) emperor by the Mongols and official corruption.   To meet overseas demand, illegal foreign trade became increasingly more prevalent.  By the Chenghua period, the 3 coastal province of  Zhejiang, Fujian and Guongdong had flourishing private trade.    Such illicit arrangement involved powerful rich families and facilitated by tacit assistance of  corrupt provincial officials.

The pigmented-wash method of decoration which was experimented most probably during the Tianshun period gained greater popularity and used on bulk of the blue and white wares from late Chenghua onward.  The wash was applied over some part of the drawn motif such as the flower or dress of human figure. Generally you can distinguish two tonal blue in the wash area   Most actually utilised a combination of calligraphic and pigmented-wash method to execute the motif.   Those that utilised fully calligraphic style or with motif completely cover with pigment wash constitute a smaller portion of the production. 


The above ink grinder is dated to 9th year of Hongzhi period.  The flower is completed using the pigmented wash while the leaves still used the typical calligraphic strokes 
Hongzhi warmer bowl

Example showing  motif completely covered with wash of blue

The Lena cargo is a very interesting and important find.   The varied styles of motif indicated that Hongzhi is a watershed period.  The majority can be positively identified with the Chenghua/Hongzhi period.  There is a small number with typical interregnum calligraphic style.  It indicated the dying interest in the style. Lastly, there was a small number such as the floral scrolls with Buddhist precious objects and lingzhi fungus scrolls, which shows emerging elements  typical of Jiajing period.

During the Zhengde period, some blue and white porcelains with Islamic influence such as Arabic scripts were produced.  Some speculated that it was because emperor Zhengde was converted to Muslim faith.  However, the more probable  reason could be the influence of the powerful eunuchs , many of whom were Muslims. 

Ming Hongzhi period also witnessed a change in the design composition.   Many bowls and plates have  more densely and fully decorated inner wall.  This is a rather unique phase as those before and after this period generally  have plain or more sparsely decorated inner wall.  The exception was the kraak style motifs of Wanli/Chongzhen period.


More densely decorated interior of bowls and plates

Mark  such as “Fu ()” , “Da Ming Nianzao (大明年造)”, “Tian ()” and “Tai ping (太平)” , on the outer base also appeared in wares during Chenghua/Hongzhi  period.  

Bowl with fu mark on outer base


Late Ming Period (Jiajing (嘉靖) to Chongzhen (崇祯), 1522 to 1644)

Jiajing period heralded the implementation of the Guan da min shao (官搭民烧) system.  Under this system, imperial porcelain production was contracted out to private kiln operators.  The high quality requirement forced the potters to improve quality of their products.  The penalty for failure to meet quantity and quality requirements was stiff.  Besides paying a fine, they had to buy in pieces from the officials to meet any shortfall in government order.  

Emperor Jiajing who succeeded Zhengde was a devout Taoist.   Taoist symbolism became a common decorative element during the late Ming period.   Taoist motifs such as the Eight immortals, eight Taoist Emblems, the Pakua (eight diagrams) , the cranes, auspicious character shou (often formed by twisted peach tree as above picture) were frequently used.



Jiajing bowl with cranes and deers motif.  They are all Taoist symbols of longevity


Jiajing jar with floral scrolls and Taoist 8 diagrams

A unique feature for Jiajing/wanli period is the use of Hui qing (回青) , a form of imported cobalt which is purplish in colour tone.  Hui qing  needs to be mixed with local cobalt as too high an amount of it will conceal the details of the lines under the wash.  A well proportioned mixture of hui-qing and local cobalt will create a brilliant clear purplish motif.  From Jiajing onward, the outline and wash method became the mainstream style of decoration.  The outline is thin and of even thickness, which the Chinese calls iron thread.  The good quality pieces also have clear even one tone wash.  

A typical late Jiajing/early wanli bowl with outline and wash floral  motif.  It also has the purplish tone of Hui qing. Tianqi bowl which shown the initial phase of shading of the rock which became a typical feature on Qing Kangxi pieces.
Wanli bowl with infants motif Jiajing/Wanli jar with bird/floral motif

Many of the Jiajing/Tianqi bowls/plates also carried auspicious phrase consisting of 4 chinese characters on the outer base.  Some common phrases include Wan Fu you tong (万福攸同), Fu gui Jiaqing (富贵佳器), Chang Ming Fugui (长命富贵)and etc.

The Jiajing period also saw the emergence of blue and white wares manufactured in Zhangzhou region.  This category of wares was termed swatow wares in the past.  It is usually associated with wares with grits adhering to the footring and outer base.  For a more detailed discussion, please view the article: A general survey of Zhangzhou (swatow) wares.

The Portuguese  maritime explorers made their way to China around 1514.   The high quality of the Chinese porcelains generated great interest and demand from the European elite class and the wares became a form of status symbol.  Some of the earliest typical blue and white wares exported to Europe are similar to those found in the  Fort Sebastian Wreck.  A unique form of wares termed the kraak wares made to meet the specifications  of European clients were produced from the Wanli period.   Kraak derived from “carrack”, a type of  Portuguese ship captured by the Dutch in 1603 inside which carried a large quantities of these wares.   The typical Kraak ware has a central theme on the inside of a bowl or plate and  paneled motifs on the interior walls.  The walls of the bowls and plates are generally thin.   One common defect of the kraak wares is flaking of the glaze along the rim.  The Japanese called it mushikui, ie. “insect nibbles”.  Some examples of Wanli kraak wares could be seen in the San Diego Shipwreck.


Jiajing/Wanli Kraak style plate

Wanli Kraak ware

During the Chongzhen period, a type of porcelain, commonly called transitional wares were produced.  One common feature of these wares is the thick construction.  The quality of the porcelain is comparable to those found on imperial wares.  The glaze is excellent and the standard of blue and white painting is superb.  The subjects covered  are varied: including flowers, landscapes and scenes taken from Chinese plays or historical episodes.  Many of the pieces also incorporated supplementary foreign decoration, such as the tulip.   Also commonly found is a band of incised pattern near the rim of the ware such as incense burners, brush pots, and sleeve vases.  The fish scale-like representation of grasses, the curling shaded clouds and mountains/stones with fine shadings were common features during Chongzhen period.

Chongzhen brush pot with fish scale grasses and fine shading of the rocks

Chongzhen vase with tulip motif on the neck


compare with The reasecher Dr Iwan Collections found in Indonesia from jing De Zhen Kiln export production

Pameran Keramik Langka Kerajaan Tiongkok  Produksi  Jing De Zhen


Pameran Keramik Langka Kerajaan Tiongkok  Produksi  Jing De Zhen

Frame Pertama : 

Dr Iwan’s  Jing De Zhen private Collections Found In Indonesia

I.Yuan Dinasty

1.The Red Inglaze

2.The Qinh-pai glaze

3. The White Sufu

4.The Tobi Seji

5a The Mohamedan Blue

5 Celadon

II.Ming Dinasty.

1.Spiritual Animal

1) Dragon

2a) rare unusual decoration Fish flying to the gate of heaven and incarnationatuio to Dragon



4) Ming kui_xing,the god of literatur

compare with NH KOH collectiona “Kuixing”


The demon-faced like figure in the below picture is the God of Literature/Examiniation, Kui Xing.  He is usually depicted holding in one hand a brush and the other, a cake of ink.  He is widely worshipped by those who are seeking office or success in public examination.



The demon-faced like figure in the below picture is the God of Literature/Examiniation, Kui Xing.  He is usually depicted holding in one hand a brush and the other, a cake of ink.  He is widely worshipped by those who are seeking office or success in public examination.


In below figurine, he is depicted with one foot on the head of  a big turtle.  This is related to the auspicious message on imperial examination success: du zhan ao tou (独占螯头), literally  it can be translated as (du zhan) standing alone, (ao tou) on the head of the turtle. 

In ancient China, the top 3 candidates in the metroplitan examination are given an audience with the emperor.   During the audience, the top candidate would stand alone on one of the steps leading to the throne.  On that step is curved a turtle-like creature.  That is how the phrase “du zhan ao tou” originated.

2. Lucky Fengsui long life  Animal

3. Lucky Fengsui Flower Chrysanthenum  and lotus  etc

4.Lucky Shou loglife and happ1ness calligraphy

5. The Eight Type of Buddhis  Emblem

6.Monochrome blue king

7.Polichrome santsai

8. insect

III.Transisi Ming-Qing


IV.Qing Dinasty

1) The early Qing (Kang Hsi)

2) The Lates Qing

Motif symbolic type and meaning

Type dan Arti Motif Simbolik


Motif Of Chinese Symbols


Bat Bat: Called bianfu in Chinese, the second character, fu, is a homophone for good fortune (also pronounced fu); it also symbolized longevity and happiness. Red bats mean “widespread good fortune” and five bats are a wish for the Five Blessings: longevity, wealth, good health, virtue, and a peaceful death. Bats and the swastika mean “ten thousand-fold wishes for good fortune and happiness.”

Chrysanthemum Chrysanthemum: Symbolic of autumn, chrysanthemum also symbolizes longevity. With orchids, plum blossoms and bamboo they form si junzi (meaning the “Four Gentleman” or “Four Noble Qualities”) to represent the integrity and humility of the scholar.

Clouds Clouds:Omens of peace and symbol of the heavens.

Crane Crane:Believed to be immortal, the crane is a symbol of immortality and wisdom.

Deer Deer: Pronounced “lu” in Chinese, it is homophonous with a character meaning “wealth” and “official promotion.” It is the symbol of Luxing, the God of Rank and Remuneration (payment).

Double Gourd Double Gourd: Its many seeds make the gourd a symbol of fertility. The double gourd is also associated with deities and immortals.

Douniu Douniu: Closely resembling a dragon, the douniu has two large curved horns and a fish-like tail. In the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) badges with the douniu were worn by noblemen equal to a marquise and were also awards of imperial favor.

Dragon Dragon: The mythical dragon can control the weather, thus assuring a bountiful harvest and protection against evil. It is a symbol of wit, intelligence, power, vitality, ambition and good fortune, making it an appropriate symbol for the emperor.

Eight Buddhist Emblems: Originally rooted in Buddhism, in the Ming and Qing dynasties they were often combined with the Eight Precious Objects and the Eight Immortals’ Implements as general auspicious symbols for decorative purposes. They are the Lotus (purity), Wheel of the Law (Buddhist doctrine), Canopy or Parasol (protection and spiritual power), Paired Fish (freedom from restraint), Conch Shell (far-reaching sound of the Buddha’s teaching), Victory Standard (victory of the Buddha’s teachings and victory over all hindrances), Endless Knot (infinite wisdom and compassion of the Buddha), and Vase (elixir of life and container of treasures representing the granting of all wishes).
Lotus Wheel of Law Canopy or Parasol (protection and spiritual power) Paired Fish
Lotus Wheel of Law Canopy or Parasol Paired Fish
Conch Shell Victory Standard Endless Knot Vase
Conch Shell Victory Standard Endless Knot Vase

Eight Immortals’ Attributes: Each attribute is associated with one of the Eight Daoist Immortals and together signify their omnipresent power. The attributes are the fan of Zhong Liquan, the sword of Lu Dongbin, the bamboo musical instrument of Zhang Guolao, the castanets of Cao Guojiu, the double gourd of Li Tieguai, the flute of Han Xiangzi, the flower basket of Lan Caihe, and the lotus of He Xiangu.
Fan Sword Bamboo Musical Instrument Castanets
Fan Sword Bamboo Instrument Castanets
Double Gourd Flute Flower Basket Lotus
Double Gourd Flute Flower Basket Lotus

Eight Treasures: Emblems of success, status and wealth, originating in the implements used in the scholar’s studio, they therefore symbolize success in studies and officialdom. The most common Eight Treasures are double lozenges (victory), the wish-granting pearl, stone chimes (celebration; illustrated), a pair of scrolls (culture), an Artemisia leaf (protection), two books (wisdom), interlocked copper coins (wealth) and a pair of rhinoceros horns (victory). Additional emblems include the coral branch (longevity and official promotion), a silver ingot (wealth) and the wish-granting scepter (ruyi).
Double Lozenges Wish-Granting Pearls Stone Chimes Pair of Scrolls
Double Lozenges Wish-Granting Pearls Stone Chimes Pair of Scrolls
Artemisia Leaf Two Books Interlocked Copper Coins Rhinoceros Horns
Artemisia Leaf Two Books Interlocked Copper Coins Rhinoceros Horns

Feiyu Feiyu: A mythical creature with a dragon’s head, carp’s body and two horns; because it can fly it was called feiyu or “flying fish.” As an insignia of imperial favor in the Ming dynasty it was bestowed by the emperor on eunuchs and other officials.

Toad Lizard Centipede Snake
Toad Lizard Centipede Snake

Five Poisons: The toad, lizard, centipede, snake, and scorpion are the most common combination. They are believed to be most potent around the summer solstice and symbolize that annual astronomical event.


Hundred Antiques Hundred Antiques: A compilation over the centuries of miscellaneous objects, from which the Eight Treasures are drawn, they symbolize refinement and sophistication. Usually fewer than one hundred are actually shown.

Lantern Lantern: Made of paper or bamboo, lanterns were lit and hung everywhere for the Yuanxiao festival which falls on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Lanterns could be called qingfengshou, meaning good harvest and peace for all.

Lingzhi Lingzhi: A sacred fungus used in immortality elixirs. Resembling the shape of a ruyi scepter (wish-granting wand), the lingzhi symbolized immortality and shares the meaning of ruyi, “as you wish.”

Peach Peach: Associated with Shoulao, the God of Longevity, the peach is therefore a symbol of long life. Peach blossoms are symbols of spring and happiness.

Peony Peony: The most popular flower in Chinese art, the peony is called the “king of flowers.” It is closely associated with royalty because it was grown in the imperial gardens of the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-906) dynasties. It is also called “flower of rank and honor,” in which “honor” means attaining high rank, an official position or high social status.

Phoenix Phoenix: A mythical bird with the breast of a wild swan, throat of a swallow, bill of a rooster, forehead of a Manchurian crane, crest of a mandarin duck, the neck of a snake and the tail of a fish. The male phoenix is feng and the female huang; a pair symbolizes marital happiness. The five colors of the phoenix’s tail feathers represent benevolence, righteousness, propriety, knowledge and sincerity. It is also the emblem of the empress of China. The phoenix is popularly believed to appear only in times of peace and prosperity.

Plum Blossom Plum Blossom: A symbol of winter because it blossoms in the cold. Along with bamboo and pine, the plum is one of the “Three Friends of Winter,” a popular motif symbolizing longevity and resistance to the elements-the pine and bamboo are evergreens and pine and plum trees are long-lived.

Qilin Qilin: A mythical composite animal with a scaly body, hooves, a cow’s tail, and a single, fleshy horn (sometimes depicted with two horns). The qilin is a symbol of virtue and perfection. In the Qing dynasty it was the emblem of a first rank military officer.

Shou Character Shou Character: This character often appears in medallion form in Chinese art. The character means longevity and has become a decorative symbol for longevity as well.

Sun Disk Sun Disk: Said to represent the emperor. All creatures faced or turned toward the sun on rank badges as a symbol of loyalty to the throne. The sun disk was introduced on civil rank badges in the late seventeenth century; much later on military badges.

Swastika Swastika: A good luck symbol introduced into China from India with Buddhism. In 693 the Empress Wu declared the swastika as the source of all good fortune and called it wan, which is the same sound as the Chinese word for “ten thousand” or “infinity.” The addition of the swastika to a symbolic wish multiplies that wish 10,000 times.

Taihu rock Taihu Rock: Limestone rocks dredged from Lake Tai (Taihu) in Jiangsu province near Hangzhou and Suzhou were especially popular landscape elements in scholar’s gardens, although ordinary rocks were also carved with cavities in imitation of Taihu rocks. They are often referred to as “Scholar’s Rocks” and are a symbol of longevity.

Twelve Imperial Symbols: A group of twelve emblems symbolizing the emperor”s power and authority. Found on ritual attire since the later Han dynasty (23-220), they are often claimed to date from the third millennium bce. Only in the Ming and Qing dynasties do all twelve symbols appear on the daily court robes of the emperor.
Axe Constellation Flames Fu symbol
Axe Constellation Flames Fu symbol
Libation cups Millet Moon Mountains
Libation cups Millet Moon Mountains
Pair of Dragons Pheasant Sun Water Weed
Pair of Dragons Pheasant Sun Water Weed

Waves, Mountains, Rocks Waves, Mountains, Rocks: Stylized elements usually shown at the cuffs and/or hem of robes and on rank badges. Generally symbolizing the oceans, land and mountains, the combination suggests peace and harmony in the country (and by extension, the universe), presided over by the emperor. Diagonal lines representing water first appeared on robes in the early Qing period and were incorporated into rank badge design around the middle of the nineteenth century.

Xiezhi Xiezhi: A deer-like mythical creature with a single horn (sometimes with two horns) believed to be able to tell good from evil and use its horn to prod dishonest persons into changing their behavior. Consequently, the xiezhi became the insignia of the court censors who were charged with discovering corrupt officials.

Drawn from Asian Civilisations Museum, Power Dressing: Textiles for Rulers and Priests from the Chris Hall Collection, 2006; Terese T. Bartholomew, Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, 2006; C.A.S. Williams, Outlines of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives, 3rd revised edition, Shanghai, 1941 (Taiwan, 1972); John E. Vollmer, Ruling from the Dragon Throne, 2002. All images courtesy Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore.




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