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Ting 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 )



SPECIMENS of Ting yao are justly regarded by Chinese and European connoisseurs alike as typical examples of the best Sung art. In this case, unlike that of the Chun yao, contemporary opinion was as emphatic on the subject as that of posterity.

The ware derives its name from the town of Ting Chou in the province of Chihli, and seems to have been made there as early as the beginning of the Sung dynasty. It is probable that ware of a less refined nature was made earlier still; for Hirth 1 quotesthe Tang pharmacopoeia, compiled about A.D. 650, as proving the early use of kaolin for ceramic purposes : the T'ang compilation recommends a powder prepared from " White ware of Ting Chou " as a remedy for certain ailments : the same T'ang work in referring to the porcelain earth or kaolin (pai o) says that " It is now used for painter's work and rarely enters into medical prescriptions; during recent generations it has been prepared from white ware." Moreover, Mrs. Williams 2 tells us that locally the Ting ware is reputed to have been famous under the Sung dynasty and before, and that tradition places the factory site at Pai-t'u Ts'un or the " Village of White Clay " somewhere to the west of the town. It is to be hoped that the precise spot may be located and that scientific excavation will show us precisely what was the ware made in the early days, before the Ting Chou potters moved South at the time of the exodus of the Sung court in 1127.

Literary records pay high encomiums to this Northern Ting yao, which is said to have reached its highest degree of excellence in the C'zeng Ho and Hsiian Ho periods, i.e. 1111-1125. After the flight from Honan and Chihli in 1127, the Ting Chou potters set up kilns south of the Yang-tze, but where exactly was the main centre of production is not clear. Mrs. Williams says the place was Ch'ang-nan, or the ceramic metropolis of Ching-te Chen. As we have already noted,' the name Ch'ang-nan Chen was changed to Ching-te Chen about twenty years before the Southern Sung dynasty was formed.Mr.Hobson is less definite and indicates that the potters re-established themselves in the neighbourhood of Ching-te Chen.Mr. Hippisley 3 states that the new centre was at Hang Chou, the Southern Sung capital. Probably the Imperial factory of Ching-te Chen, which during the Sung dynasty was already becoming important, was the place to which most of the Ting Chou potters gravitated; but it is also probable that, when the school of potters broke up in Chihli, some drifted to other pottery centres to help in the production of the nan ting, as the Southern Ting yao is called in contradistinction to the pei ting or Northern Ting yao.

Chu Yen, the author of the T'ao Shuo, tells us for our comfort that " Lovers of ancient art work who can distinguish Southern from Northern Ting and are not taken in by these later imitations, have no reason for shame, and may be reckoned connoisseurs." If this was the opinion of a distinguished Chinese expert in the eighteenth century, the " foreign devil " of the twentieth may rest content in the possession of one or two fine examples of Ting yao, whether they are specimens of the potter's craft in the Sung dynasty proper or in the Southern Sung epoch. At all events we will not attempt the impossible by trying to define differences between the two, but will content ourselves by setting out the chief features exhibited by Ting yao as a whole.

The body is white with a tendency towards a yellow tone in the less fine examples; the paste has a fine grain and a quality not dissimilar from that of the later porcelains. Specimens of the ware ring on being struck, and many examples are potted thin enough to transmit light. . The light transmitted is always of a yellow colour. The body where it has been exposed to the direct heat of the kiln does not exhibit any brownness, and there is no "brown mouth and iron foot." There is another characteristic feature about the potting. The bowls, plates and saucers, which form a substantial section of the specimens we see, were baked upside down on their mouth-rims and not on their foot-rims.In consequence, the former have no glaze, while the base and foot-rim are usually covered with it. To hide the unglazed mouth-rim, pieces were often bound in copper. The unglazed mouth-rims, whether bound with copper or not, are considered to be evidence of a Sung origin, for it has been stated that the Ching-te Chen potters in the Ming dynasty did not imitate this feature. This is not improbable, for the technical skill of the later potters was greater, even if their artistry was of a lower order; and they certainly had sufficient pride in their craftsmanship to avoid slavish copying of what is a potting weakness. While, however, all salmon are fish, all fish are not salmon; so, although a specimen with a glazed mouth-rim is unlikely to date from Sung times, the reverse is not necessarily the case. As we shall see presently, the modern imitations of Ting yao, which are intentional copies of Sung specimens, are always bound with copper.

The glaze is lustrous and resembles ivory in texture and colour; on the outside of the vessels are usually found " tear-drops." These are small collections of glaze, which are of a strawyellow colour, due to incomplete mastery of the technique of glaze application.But while these marks are technical imperfections, they have come to be regarded as indispensable signs of genuine Ting yao of the Sung dynasty. " Those which have tear-drops outside are genuine," and " when the glaze has drops upon it like tears it is highly valued " are comments quoted in the T'ao Shuo as made by ancient connoisseurs, and the presence or absence of these characteristics is the first point which a collector looks for in a specimen of Ting. The modern copies which I have seen have the tear-marks all right, but they are in the wrong place.They are on the inside of the bowls instead of the outside. This is a convenient piece of thoughtlessness on the part of the forger which he will no doubt rectify for our discomfiture. But unless he has artistic powers of a very high order, he will be hard put to it to achieve the perfection of drawing which so distinguished the Ting potter.

Ting yao is grouped under three categories which are known as pai ting, f en ting, and t'u ting. Pai ting, or white Ting, includes the finer quality pieces and, as the name implies, a brilliant whiteness is its feature. Fen ting, or rice flour Ting, is difficult to distinguish from pai ting : a slightly greyer tone may characterise the white glaze of the f On ting class, and the colours of table salt and of ground rice describe perhaps the degree of difference. Less similarity is shown by the t'u ting, or earthy Ting : the body is coarser and opaque, and the glaze is of a creamy yellow colour and crackled. In all three varieties the glaze is thinly applied and there is no sign of the thick glazes found on the Kuan, Chiin, Lung-ch'iian and Chien wares.

We have given the impression that all the Ting yao was white or nearly so; but, though this is true of any specimens the ordinary collector is likely to meet, we read of purple (tzu) Ting, and black Ting. The Ko-ku yao-lun says: "There is purple Ting Chou ware in which the colour is purple, and also black Ting Chou ware with a glaze as black as lacquer." In Hsiang's Album twelve examples of Ting yao are figured, six are white, five are purple, and one is white shading somewhat abruptly into black. Hsiang Yuanpien enters into rhapsodies about this last specimen, which is a wine vase with a neck and head in the shape of that of a duck. The black glaze extends over the head and neck and merges rather suddenly into white, of which the body of the duck entirely consists. He says that in the course of his life he had seen hundreds of white Ting specimens, some tens of purple, but only this one black example, which belonged to a relative of his wife. As none of us is likely to see one in the possession of even a distant relative, we need not discuss black Ting further; no authenticated specimen is known to exist in this country or America. We have, moreover, to confess to no first-hand knowledge of purple Ting.It is curious that no example of reputed purple Ting has been exported to Western countries in view of the apparent familiarity a connoissuer like Hsiang Yuan-pien had with the ware.

The decoration employed took various forms. Sometimes designs were carved with a hard point in the paste, and these were not much diminished in sharpness of outline by the thin layer of glaze subsequently imposed. This type is universally regarded as the best; the designs are usually floral, but animals such as fishes, ducks and phoenixes are also to be found. These etched embellishments are executed with a characteristic boldness, and there is no finicky work about them; they afford rather a marked contrast in this respect to the moulded variety, which form the next category. This freedom of drawing must be emphasised because it is one of the main points which distinguish the Sung specimens from those of later date. Often the whole bottom of the plate or bowl is occupied by the design, which is executed by relatively few strokes of the etching tool; the lines are carried through with a firm and confident sweep, and there is no touching up or rectification of faulty strokes in the best specimens. Nor is there stiffness in the drawing, though the design may be formal.

Moulded or stamped ornamentation is frequently found and is also beautifully executed; but the decoration is more crowded. This is perhaps natural, for the designs were produced in the first place on a mould, the metal of which lent itself to more narrow adjustment than the plastic clay. The drawings, which are usually of flowers and leaves, are often surrounded by a key-fret pattern or by scroll work.So fine is the workmanship that a good specimen will bear examination under a magnifying glass.

But many Ting examples owe their beauty to shape and glaze alone; some of the small articles made for the scholar's table are exquisite in their daintiness, while the grace of the larger vases is equally distinguished.

Chinese writers also speak of Ting yao which is ornamented with hsiu hua. This expression means " ornament painted in many colours." As the expression cannot refer to monochrome decoration it opens up a very interesting question. We do not associate painted designs with Ting yao; but we know that the potters of Tz'u Chou used black or brown decoration upon a white glaze with freedom. We also know that, in a ware closely allied to the Tz'u Chou product, the earliest examples of enamelled decoration have been found.' As Tz'u Chou and Ting Chou are not very far from each other, and as the factories were in operation at the same time, it is quite conceivable that they employed a similar technique. In certain other respects the glaze of the Sung products of Tz'u Chou bears some resemblance to a Ting glaze, and additional evidence may soon be forthcoming which will take certain painted specimens out of a Tz'u Chou classification and group them in the Ting category.

The Ko-ku yao-lun and the Po-wu yao-lan, which refer to the hsiu hua variety of Ting yao, may have included Tz'u Chou workmanship by mistake. As, however, the former of these works was published in 1387 and the latter in the early part of the seventeenth century, there seems no reason why a mistake of this magnitude should have been made; though the repetition of the reference cannot be given much weight, as Chinese writers of art books are notorious for the way in which they borrow wholesale from their forerunners.

So far, we have discussed Ting yao of the Sung and Southern Sung dynasties made at Ting Chou and Ching-te Chen respectively; we have now to consider later products and those turned out by less important factories in Sung and post-Sung times.

In the Yuan dynasty a goldsmith, by name P'eng Chun-pao, produced at his kilns at Ho Chou in Shansi a white ware which closely resembled Ting yao; it was called P'eng yao after its maker and was known also as hsin, or new, Ting yao. The fourteenth-century work quoted above, which was written more or less contemporaneously, describes it as having a fine paste, but the glaze was less rich and the ware was fragile.

In the same dynasty the Ching-te Chen factories were plying their trade, producing no doubt quantity rather than quality; but, as the ware was not so suitable for export or trade generally, probably the output was more spasmodic than in the case of the factories manufacturing such marketable goods as the celadons.

Later on, when China was restored to its native rulers, the Ming Emperors put Ching-te Chen into a pre-eminent position among the ceramic centres; and although new types, such as the blue and white and polychrome wares, were introduced, the old traditions were maintained as well. Ting ware continued to be produced of fine quality. In particular there was a famous potter, by name Chou Tan-ch'uan, who is reputed to have made reproductions of the Ting yao which defied detection. Mr. Hobson quotes Stanilas Julien's translation of a story told of Chou Tan-ch'uan, which is so delightful that it must be repeated. " One day Chou embarked on a merchant boat from Chin-ch'ang and landed on the right bank of the Kiang. Passing Pi-ling, he called on T'ang Hao-ch'eng,i the Director of the Court of Sacrificial Worship, and asked permission to examine at leisure an ancient tripod of Ting porcelain which was one of the gems of his collection. With his hand he took the exact measurements of the vessel; then he made an impression of the patterns on the tripod with some paper which he had hidden in his sleeve, and returned to Ching-te Chen. Six months after he returned and paid a second visit to Tang. Taking from his sleeve a tripod, he said to him, 'Your Excellency owns a tripod censor of white Ting porcelain. Here is its fellow, which be longs to me.'T'ang was astounded.He compared it with the old tripod, which he kept most carefully preserved, and could find no difference. He tried its feet against those of his own vessel and exchanged the covers, and found that it matched with perfect precision. T'ang thereupon asked whence came this wonderful specimen.Some time ago,' replied Chou, ` I asked your leave to examine your tripod at leisure. I then took all its measurements with my hand.I assure you that this is a copy of yours and that I would not deceive you in the matter.' The Director of the Court of Sacrificial Worship, realising the truth of this statement, bought for forty ounces of silver the tripod, which filled him with admiration, and placed it in his collection beside the original as though it were its double."

The sequel to this story is no less amusing and runs as follows : " In the Wan Li period, Tu Chiu, of Huai-an, came to Fu-liang. Smitten with a deep longing for T'ang's old censer, he could think of nothing else, and even saw it in his dreams. One day he went with T'ang Chiin-yii, the grandson of the Director of the Court of Sacrificial Worship, and after much importunity he succeeded in getting from him, for a thousand ounces of silver, the imitation made by Chou, and returned home completely happy." The joy of Tang must have been equally great at the result of his forethought in purchasing Chou's copy, whereby he made a profit of 2,400 per cent. and still retained his beloved censer.

Although collectors of today will not meet such precious Ming copies as this one must have been, they will see from time to time most desirable examples. They will also find a number of specimens with a Ting-like glaze which it is difficult to assign with any assurance : many from their general appearance seem to be of Sung date, others show obvious Ming characteristics; but in between are debateable examples which are variously attributed by different schools of thought. The author of the T'ao Shuo in his description of specimens refers to a number made in the Sung Dynasty. Among others he mentions round dishes moulded like a plaited basket of willow, and the little bowl shown on Plate XVII, fig. 1, would appear to be similar in character. The white ware of Ching-te Chen turned out in the Manchu dynasty has, as a rule, a very different appearance from the Ming copies of Ting yao; the porcelain is finer in quality but the glaze is less rich and has a more dead white appearance; moreover, where designs are added, the drawing is generally stiffer.

We must now pass to the minor factories which produced ware of the Ting type, though in some cases the resemblance is not very close. One nearly related member of the family has already been mentioned, viz., the ware known as hsin ting or the New Ting made by P'eng Chun-pao and his school at Ho Chou in Shansi. There were apparently three other factories in Shansi which made white wares, but unfortunately we do not know much about them or their products. They were situated at P'ing-yang Fu, Yu-tzu Hsien, and P'ing-ting Chou. The first two began operations in the Tang dynasty and the last named in Sung times. From their geographical position it is unlikely that any of the Ting Chou potters migrated to these centres to avoid the Chin Tartars; the potters would have moved further out of reach, south of the Yang-tze; or, at all events, would have travelled south of the Yellow River and westward in company with the general exodus in that direction.

If this were so, we must look to these Shansi factories to have produced ware exhibiting features of their own and probably of a rough type : literary records, such as they are, bear out this surmise, since we are told that their products were of a coarse build and of inferior quality. Specimens are met with which are of a utilitarian kind, bowls, wine jars, etc., and which are covered with a creamy-white glaze of poorish quality. Some of these are reported to have been excavated from Sung tombs in Shansi, which may point to their manufacture in the same province; but " reported " sources are most unsatisfactory aids to attribution : one never knows how far the information has been adjusted before it is received. It is curious that the Shansi railway cuttings have not produced better evidence. A possible example of this northern type of white glazed ware is seen on Plate XVIII.

A much more important group of factories are those which were placed in the old province of Kiangnan, and the supposed products of which are tentatively grouped under the title Kiangnan Ting. The collector will be puzzled by the use of the name Kiangnan, which he will not find on any recent map of China.It was a province of China in the Ming dynasty and earlier; in the Manchu dynasty it was divided into the present provinces of Kiangsu and Anhui. In Sung times there were factories at Su Chou and Sze Chou in Anhui, and in the same province a factory was operating in Yuan and Ming days at Hsuan Chou. In Kiangsu there was another " Village of White Clay " situated at Hsiao Hsien. It is to these factories that we must look for the wares classed as Kiangnan Ting. I suggest that when the Ting Chou potters scattered, some of them may have found their way to one or more of these centres, though the bulk of them made for Ching-t8 Chen. This would account, perhaps, for the excellent quality of many of the " Kiangnan Ting " specimens, the general characteristics of which must now be described.

There are two types which are specially associated with Kiangnan. The first consists of large vessels, generally wide-mouthed vases or bowls which have a creamy-white glaze of the " orange-peel " variety, well known to collectors of the later wares. The other type is generally classed as a product of Ming potters, but there are no doubt specimens of Sung or Yuan origin as well; the glaze is like ivory in texture but is very finely crackled, and there are often large patches of light brown spreading over the surface, and, less frequently, purple staining. A pigskin effect 1 is produced which can be realised from the example figured on Plate XIX. In both cases there are sometimes formal designs in relief upon the ware, usually in a fretwork or other geometrical pattern.

In the province of Chekiang a factory seems to have existed at Hsiang-shan, which produced ware of the Ting type in the Southern Sung dynasty; we know very little at present about its products, but literary references to it are fairly complimentary, describing its best examples as rich and lustrous, with a crab's claw crackle.

Our list of factories producing wares closely related to the Ting yao is already a substantial one, and proves the high esteem in which these early white wares were held. But there are still other factories which it will be convenient to dispose of here. In the province of Kiangsi at Nan-feng Hsien and at Chi Chou there were factories at work during the Sung and Yuan dynasties, and we find somewhat particular reference to the latter in the Tao Shuo, in fact the description accorded to it is as lengthy as that devoted to the Chun yao. We are told that the Chi Chou ware resembled the purple Ting but was of thick make. During the Sung dynasty there were five potteries, but those controlled by one Shu Kung were the most eminent: he made white and brown pieces with good crackle. Apparently Shu had a daughter, who was even more skilled than her father in the production of incense burners and vases of merit.The body is spoken of as being greyish-white and covered with a black or ashy coloured (yu) glaze. The factory was closed before the end of the Southern Sung dynasty; for we are told that when a Sung Minister of State was passing through, the contents of the kilns turned into jade ! The potters were terrified at the possible results and fled to Ching-te Chen, where they could ply their trade without being subjected to such disconcerting episodes.

Finally there are the modern imitations of Ting yao. Owing to the high price which is given for fine quality specimens of Sung Ting, it is only natural that the ingenious potter of today in China or Japan should try and get more than the market price of modern goods for his efforts. The designs in the modern specimens I have seen are very stiffly drawn and are in too pronounced relief to be satisfying : the fact that the " tearmarks " are on the wrong side has already been mentioned. The shapes and foot-finishes are also slightly wrong; the bowls have too much curvature, or it is in the wrong place, and displays the craftsmanship of the modern " thrower."

The existence of these imitations only adds to the zest and excitement of collecting, and it would be a poor spirit which was entirely damped by the knowledge of danger.



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