Ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia

Fujian province kilns

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A customs office was established at the port of Quanzhou in Fujian province in 1087, and the port grew even more important after the Song court moved to Hangzhou in 1127. This was reflected in an increase in the export to Southeast Asia and elsewhere of ceramics made at kilns along the coast (Dupoizat 1997). Thousands of kilns were active during the twelfth through fourteenth centuries and dominated the trade in Chinese ceramics with "vast numbers of ordinary wares" (Kerr and Wood 2004, 558, 724).

Fujian wares of that period reflected the full range of popular clear-glazed and qingbai porcelain, celadon, and brown-glazed ware. Most kilns supplied the market with a variety of standard wares. Celadon was made at Tongan and related kilns and at Putian. Kilns in Quanzhou itself made qingbai, brown-glazed ware, and iron-decorated ware as well as lead-glazed ware. Porcelain production in the northern half of the province reflected the style of Jingdezhen qingbai, while Dehua to the northwest of Quanzhou was a center of porcelain production and influence in the southern half (Stanton-Hughes and Kerr 1981; Kerr and Wood 558). Kilns such as Cizuo near Quanzhou made unglazed bottles and brown-glazed jars for commercial use as containers.

Zhangzhou, in the south of the province, was another significant port, and kilns throughout the region played an important role in ceramic export in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through production of a great variety of blue-and-white porcelain, enamel-decorated porcelain, and lead-glazed vessels. Formerly known as Swatow ware, after the port of Shantou in northern Guangdong province, these diverse wares were properly identified through kiln-site excavations in the region in the 1990s (Kamei 1990; Tan 2007).

Shaowu was one kiln that made qingbai-glazed heavy porcelain jars said to have been used to ship gunpowder, but widely distributed and probably used for a range of contents (Ch'en 2002).

Cobalt-decorated ceramics (incorporating stamps to supplement or replace cursory painting) continued to be made at various kilns in Fujian through the nineteenth century or later (Ho 1988). Many such wares reached widespread markets in Southeast Asia.

Like those of Guangdong, the Fujian kilns were the source of many potters who emigrated to join overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Valdes 2000, 81).