Explore key developments in the history and culture of China, from the arts and crafts of the Song Dynasty up to the present day.
With the expansion of industry and agriculture between AD 1000 and 1200, kilns were established all over China. The centres of innovation were in the north. At the Yaozhou kilns, moulds were used for forming and decorating green-glazed wares. The nearby Jun kilns produced distinctive purple and light blue wares. In the east, the Longquan kilns initially copied the Tang dynasty Yue ware styles and then developed a smooth bluish green glaze admired for its likeness to jade. Most new shapes and glazes were imitated at smaller kiln complexes, often hundreds of kilometres away.
Mantou is a bread bun eaten in northern China, and describes the shape of northern kilns. They are narrow because they were fuelled with coal, which has a short flame length, and high to allow firing larger quantities in one batch. A complete firing cycle, including cooling, could last almost two weeks.
Mould for a bowl, Yaozhou ware
Moulds speeded up the production of ceramics. Previously, decoration had been incised on plain hand-thrown or moulded pots but pressing the clay over a decorated mould was a much quicker process. Moulds were first used at northern kilns but examples very similar to this piece have been found at kiln sites near Guangzhou on the south coast, showing the movement of technology around China. Coastal kilns routinely made copies of well-known types for exporting overseas.
Bowl stuck in its firing saggar, Jun ware
Saggars (boxes of rough clay) protected pots from dirt and ash inside the kiln during firing. In the north they were shaped to stack one on top of another, maximising the kiln capacity. This bowl has stuck to the saggar because the glaze flowed onto it and fired hard.