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Chien Yao And Related Wares

[General Considerations]  [Historical Review]  [Chinese Grave Customs]  [Pottery Of The Chou, Han And Other Pre-T'ang Dynasties]  [Wares Of The Tang Dynasty]  [Ju Yao And Some Related Wares]  [Kuan Yao]  [Chun Yao]  [Ting Yao And Related Wares]  [Lung-Chuan Yao And Related Celadons]  [Tz'u Chou Yao]  [Chien Yao And Related Wares]  [More Articles Related To Chinese Ceramics] 

( Originally Published 1922 )

THE family now to be discussed is a large and important one, which has not perhaps been given sufficient attention hitherto, and collectors will not find much difficulty in meeting representative members. Though the class does not contain the highest forms of Sung art, there is a great fascination about the bowls and cups, which form the major part of the ware.

Chien yao derives its name from the original place of manufacture, which was Chien-an in the province of Fukien. The same province contains Te-hua which produced the well-known white porcelain, resembling milk-jelly in its colour and translucency. The factory was started at least as early as the Sung dynasty, but was moved before long to the town of Chien-yang hard by. It is known to have been operating in the Yiian dynasty and it probably preserved a fitful existence in early Ming days; but the greater importance of the neighbouring centre at Te-hua and the overshadowing development of Ching-t8 Chen probably led to its extinction by the middle of the Ming dynasty.

The Chinese literary references to the ware are not very complimentary; the Ko-ku yao-lun describes the bowls and cups as having expanded mouths, with a rich black glaze which has " hare's fur " markings and which terminates in large drops. But the ware is spoken of as thick and coarse and on the whole as not worthy of high esteem. More regard is paid to the thin specimens " which were highly prized," but of these we know little or nothing.

Typical Chien yao has a thick, heavy body of black porcellanous stoneware, which assumes a very dark red colour where exposed to the heat of the kiln. The Wu-ni yao, or black clay ware, which is referred to in the Ko-ku yao-lun in connexion with the Kuan ware, is no doubt this Chien yao and was probably included in the description of Kuan yao by mistake; this is borne out by a seventeenth-century work 1 which admits the wrong inclusion of Wu-ni yao among the Kuan wares.

The glaze is thick and luscious; in colour it is blue-black with the characteristic streaks and mottling of golden-brown which have given rise to the terms " hare's fur " or " partridge markings." If a typical Chien bowl is examined, the glaze is generally found to have receded slightly at the mouth, and to have flowed down in increasing volume to end in a pool at the bottom. It would seem as if the flow had been arrested in mid-course and that if the potter had been unskilful, the whole bulk of the glaze would have slid down into the centre of the cup. Many examples show that in fact this did take place to a considerable extent, and the raw rim is often hidden by a collar of silver or copper. On the outside the glaze is seen to have run down in similar sluggish fashion to end in a thick roll and terminal drops, which are often of considerable size. The pool of glaze in the bottom of the cup or bowl has a wonderful lustrous quality, the dark blue or purplish tones of which give it great beauty. The " hare's fur " markings vary greatly in their extent, sometimes the blue-black glaze is almost obscured by their presence; while in other cases-and these are the most desirable specimens-the flecking is more widely spaced. The markings may assume quite a different appearance and silvery spots or " oil spots " may take the place of the golden-brown streaks. Examples of this form of marking are much rarer and are usually found on the Honan body described later. Collectors will be fortunate if they acquire an example of the " oil-spot " effect at a moderate price, as they are greatly prized in Japan.

It is hardly appropriate to describe at length the chemistry of these glaze effects. Suffice it to say that they are achieved by the judicious use of varying amounts of ferric oxide in the glaze. When the ferric oxide is in slight excess it comes out on cooling as " hare's fur " or splashes of red-brown; when in greater excess, the redbrown is more prominent and more widely disposed over the black glaze lying below. The " oil-spot " effect is caused by the aggregation of the excess of ferric oxide in a micro-crystalline structure. The effect of the markings is striking, and an interesting series may be built up, showing the various forms which they may take.

The use to which these cups and bowls were put is entertaining. The Chinese have always been fond of contests, and these bowls were used in the tea contests which had a great vogue in China during the Sung dynasty and perhaps even more in Japan in later days. This accounts for the fact that the Japanese are eager buyers of these bowls and explains why first-class specimens are scarce in Europe.

The tea contest consisted in pitting the cup owned by one person against that owned by another to decide which would retain moisture longest. The person whose cup was the last to dry completely won the game (and the stakes). The thickness of the body and the colour of the glaze lent themselves admirably to the purpose: the thick paste retained the heat and the black glaze made it easy for the judge to determine when the last atom of infused tea had disappeared. The game seems a curious one to Western minds, but, after all, roulette has no more claim as a sensible method of gambling.

These bowls were also used in the Japanese tea ceremonies which are called the Cha no yu. Tea was introduced into Japan from China first in 805 by a Japanese Buddhist priest, but apparently it did not find continuous favour, since it was reintroduced by another Buddhist priest in 1191. The tea ceremonies are first mentioned about two hundred years later, when the wellknown tea-clubs and societies are referred to. The rules governing these ceremonies are quaint, but their description is perhaps out of place here : the tea was kept in a finely powdered condition, in artistic jars, two or three inches high, made of brown earthenware. The powdered tea was ladled out into a tea-bowl and boiling water was added; the concoction was stirred until it resembled a thin mixture of spinach and water and was drunk without the addition of milk or sugar. The bowl was handed round and each guest in turn sipped from it and passed it on. When empty the bowl was again passed round for examination while the host expatiated on its history, rarity and beauty. These tea-bowls are called temmoku bowls in Japan, and the name is probably derived from the fact that a bowl, of Fukien origin (i.e. from Chien-yang), was brought to Japan during the Sung period by a Zen priest from the Zen temple on the T'ien-mu Shan or the " Eye of Heaven " mountain, which is situated in the north-west of Chekiang. In Japanese T'ien-mu Shan becomes Temmoku-zan. The name temmoku is now applied to all tea-bowls with " hare's fur " marking, whether made at Chien-yang or not.

Before passing on to the extensive list of relatives of the Chien family, the imitations of the ware must be mentioned. As already stated, the Japanese set great store by these temmoku bowls, and copies made in Japan are far from rare. The body of these is of a finer texture than the Chinese product, which is coarsegrained; the colour of the body is of a less deep red-brown tint where exposed to view. In short, the Japanese article is a daintier thing and has a Japanese " atmosphere." The reader will think this a flimsy kind of distinction, but the difference is extremely hard to detect even by an experienced eye, so good are the imitations. Collectors will meet a considerable number of early specimens with a Chien type of glaze on a light buff body of finer texture than the coarse, black body of Chien-yang, and lighter both in colour and in weight. To those who hanker after tracing specimens to their source of manufacture, the study of the early Chinese wares is as vexing as it is interesting. On the one hand we have splendid accounts from the brush of Chinese writers of wares which we have never seen; on the other we have specimens which cannot be assigned to any particular factory. To those who care not who made the bowl or pot, provided it is artistically pleasing, these perplexities mean nothing and they go on their way rejoicing in the possession of a thing of beauty whatever the source of origin.

The wares now to be described apparently come from the province of Honan, but from what particular factory or factories we cannot say at present. Many of them have been excavated in that province, but that is the most that can be said. Some have been found at Kiiluhsien.

The variety of shapes is greater than in the case of the Chien yao, which was apparently confined to cups and bowls; fair-sized globular pots with lids are not uncommon, and wine jars and vases of different types may be found. The paste is a buff-coloured stoneware.

The glaze is very similar to the Chien glaze but, as a rule, not so thick and treacly; and, like it, is laid on the body without an underlying slip. The golden-brown markings are larger and resemble splashes rather than fleckings; sometimes these red-brown, oval patches are arranged in symmetrical fashion on the vessel and show that the potter exercised control in their incidence.

Occasionally bowls of the Honan type are found with the white slip technique; the mouthrims are dressed in this way while the rest of the bowls show the usual black glaze, with or without " hare's fur " marking. The same body is found in vases and, in the graceful example shown on Plate XXIX, the glaze has been sufficiently saturated with ferric oxide for the whole surface to appear as a red-brown. The Japanese call this glaze colour kaki.

Quite a different family of temmoku ware is represented by bowls said to have been made at Yung-ho Chen in Chi-an Fu in the province of Kiangsi, and the factory is associated by report with the Shu family mentioned. The body is different from either of the two types described above. It is a buff stoneware with a yellowish tinge and the foot-finishes are roughly executed.

The glaze effects are often elaborate. Figures of birds and insects or geometric patterns are drawn in a glaze of different composition from the surrounding glaze; so that the figuring stands out in black against a reddish or flocculent grey background. The flocculent appearance is probably produced by adding clay to the glaze mixture. The same agency is employed to produce a tortoise-shell appearance which is a feature of the exterior of most of these Kiangsi products. A bowl of the type showing this tortoise-shell effect. Occasionally bowls belonging to this family have a stencilled leaf design executed in a greyish-yellow glaze.

Lastly there are the bowls which have sometimes been called " red Ting " or " brown Ting." These have a light buff body like the Honan ware, and do not appear to have either the whiteness or fineness of the Ting paste. The glaze is a reddish-brown, brought about, as described above, by the use of a glaze with excess of ferric oxide. It is identical with the Japanese kaki glaze. In the T'ao Shuo we find reference to Ting Chou " hare's fur " mottled cups and to Ting ware like "'carved red jade." It is no doubt these references which have caused collectors to search for red Ting, and in their strivings to have wondered whether these red-brown Honan bowls can be assigned to Ting Chou potters. The specimens seen to date do not convince; they have not the refinement or delicacy one associates with the art of the Ting Chou potter or of his sons who worked in Southern Sung days at Ching-te Chen. One of the daintiest of the type.

From Corea also have come specimens of the Chien type which are practically indistinguishable from the Honan specimens, and these are assigned to the Korai dynasty (924-1392) or earlier." It is, however, doubtful whether these wares are indigenous; probably they were imported from China and in course of time came to be regarded as examples of the art of early Corean potters.

While tea drinking was unknown in ancient Corea, there is no reason to suppose that other vices were not practised and that a mild gamble on the lines of the Chinese and Japanese tea contests might not have occupied the leisure moments of Corean society.

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