Explore key developments in the history and culture of China, from the arts and crafts of the Song Dynasty up to the present day.
High-fired ceramics with hard glazes have been made in China for more than 3000 years. Tang dynasty examples have white, black or green glazes. These glazes contain iron oxide, with the black being fired in a cleaner and more oxygen-rich atmosphere and the green in a smokier kiln with less oxygen.
The 9th-century greenwares from the Yue kilns in northern Zhejiang province on the east coast are amongst the most prestigious ceramics in China’s history. They were used by the emperor in Buddhist ceremonies, and are the subject of several Tang poems.
Greenware from Zhejiang province
White wares from north China
Black wares from north China
Dragon kiln, southern and eastern China
Dragon kilns measured up to 137 metres long and were built up hillsides, looking like the body of a dragon. The fuel was wood, placed in the firebox at the lower end and added through stokeholes along the sides. The best pots were those fired in the upper chambers, where the temperature and atmosphere were most even.
Sherds of Yue ware ceramics
The dense dark grey body is typical of wares from the Yue kiln sites, around the shores of Shanglin Lake in Zhejiang province. The decoration has been incised onto the clay before being covered in green glaze. The kings of the Wu Yue state had very fine pieces in their burials but the wares were also traded to northern China, the Middle East and Africa.
Modern test strips of iron-coloured glazes
The strip on the left shows lime glazes fired at 1220 degrees celsius. The strip on the right shows lime-alkali glazes fires at 1250 degrees, which were favoured after the Tang dynasty.
The green glazes have been fired in a kiln less rich in oxygen. The precise shade depends on the kiln atmosphere and the titanium content of the glaze. The rate at which the pots cool down after firing affects the glaze texture.