Explore key developments in the history and culture of China, from the arts and crafts of the Song Dynasty up to the present day.
White ceramics, first made in northern China, were widely imitated. The northern wares are creamy-white with the warm tones that come from an oxygen-rich kiln atmosphere. The cooler tones from the reduction-firing wood-burning southern kilns gave a bluish-white glaze known as ‘qingbai’. Ding wares from northern China were highly valued during the Song, and later became one of the most coveted antiques of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The southern kilns at Jingdezhen became the centre of porcelain production, supplying China and the rest of the world.
Wall painting from a Song tomb at Baisha
Tombs in north China often have elaborate paintings on the brick walls, depicting the occupant in auspicious surroundings. This picture shows the tomb occupant and wife seated at a table set with ceramics. In the Song dynasty, objects that had been used in daily life were placed in tombs.
The economy expanded in the Song dynasty, and many villages grew into market towns. Merchants traded goods throughout the country and formed local guilds in faraway cities. Strings of cash were a unit of currency. The coins displayed here were issued during various reigns of the Northern Song dynasty (AD 960-1127).
Chinese ship carving at Angkor Thom, Cambodia, around 1185
Song dynasty innovations in ship design and the invention of the compass meant that ships could travel further, more safely. Maritime trade increased, and cargoes of ceramics were taken across Asia and as far as Iran, Iraq, and Egypt.
Sherd from Fustat, Egypt
Merchants traded Song dynasty ceramics around South-east Asia, to the Middle East and as far as Africa. No single vessel made the entire journey westwards but wares passed through intermediate ports, as well as along overland routes. Local kilns in many places produced imitations of the Chinese wares.