Ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia

Stoneware kilns in coastal Central Vietnam

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The territory of coastal Central Vietnam lay within the Cham kingdoms (known collectively as Champa) until it was gradually absorbed into Dai Viet as the ethnic  Vietnamese extended their control down the coast. Exactly when, where, and how this shift of control took place is the subject of a lively debate (Southworth 2001; Vickery 2005; Wheeler 2006). Glazed stoneware production carried out under Cham patronage was succeeded by unglazed stoneware production by Vietnamese potters migrating southward. Some of those sites continue in production today. Meanwhile, production of earthenware by ethnic Cham women continues in two communities in Phan Rang and Phan Thiet provinces and undoubtedly represents a much more widespread production of long duration.

Cham kingdoms along the coast of Vietnam are mentioned in Chinese documents by the third century. The Cham engaged vigorously in international maritime trade. Ceramic finds in Cham political and ritual centers include the "package" of Changsha, Xing, and Yue wares, together with early Islamic turquoise-glazed earthenware, as well as iron-decorated ware from the Xicun kilns in Guangdong, Longquan celadon, and blue-and-white ware from the Zhangzhou kilns in Fujian province (Aoyagi and Hasebe ed. 2002).

One kingdom was centered in the city of Vijaya (modern Qui Nhon in Binh Dinh province). Kilns were identified at five communities along the Con River, which empties into the harbor of Qui Nhon. Surveys were begun in 1991, and three kilns were excavated by a joint Vietnamese-Japanese team in the village of Go Sanh 1993–94 (Yamamoto et al 1993; Morimoto et al 1996–97; Aoyagi and Hasebe 2002).

The products from these excavated kilns, as well as from surface finds at other identified kilns, consist of celadon-glazed bowls, dishes, and basins; iron-glazed jars with either horizontal or vertical lugs; iron-glazed pear-shaped bottles; and bowls and dishes with underglaze-iron decoration. Distinctive shapes include small brown-glazed cups and deep basins with rounded sides. The earliest celadon bowls are completely glazed on the interior, while later ones have rings of glaze cut away to facilitate stacking bowls for firing. The kilns also produced glazed and unglazed roof tiles and architectural ornaments. Overall, these wares closely resemble provincial wares from kilns in Fujian province, and previously they were misidentified as such when found in excavations (Aoyagi and Hasebe 2002).

Reflecting the Cham principalities' active participation in trade, Cham ceramics (perhaps more properly termed Vijaya ceramics) can now be identified at sites from the Sinai Peninsula to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Japan, as well as in shipwrecks off the coasts of Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam (Aoyagi and Hasebe 2002). A noteworthy find is the Pandanan shipwreck off the coast of the island of Palawan, which carried several hundred celadons from the Go Sanh kilns along with northern Vietnamese and Chinese wares (Diem 1997, 1998–2001, 1999). Vijaya ceramics were also buried in the Dai Lang cemetery in the Central Highlands, demonstrating trade into the interior (Morimoto 1996; Bui et al 2000; Bui 2007).

Glazed stoneware made under the aegis of Vijaya (the identities of the potters are a matter of debate) seems to have ceased sometime during the fifteenth century or the early sixteenth century at the latest.

Production of unglazed stoneware jars by ethnic Vietnamese potters is found at kiln sites near coastal urban centers between Hue to the north and Phan Thiet to the south. Such production has been studied by Kikuchi Seiichi in connection with his research on the seaport of Hoi An (Kikuchi 1997). The kilns north of Hue that made cylindrical unglazed jars were active by the sixteenth century, as confirmed by finds of such jars in sixteenth-and early-seventeenth-century levels at the port city of Sakai in Japan (Morimura 2002, 2004). Seemingly, kilns further south were founded sequentially, although this has yet to be proven. Many unglazed cylindrical jars, bottles, and dishes in the Hauge Collection were found in the Mekong Delta and were assumed to be "Oc Eo" due to their resemblance to pieces (surface finds, not excavated pieces) that Louis Malleret published in connection with his excavation at Oc Eo (1959). It can now be demonstrated that they were made at kilns in southern Coastal Vietnam and transported to the delta as containers for trade goods.