Ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia

Jiangxi province—the Jingdezhen kilns

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Jingdezhen, in Jiangxi province, was the most influential center for the invention and production of high-quality porcelains. It began operation in the tenth century as a southern supplier of replicas of the famed Ding porcelain of the north. The early kilns used local porcelain stone alone for the clay body, but from the twelfth century onward, local kaolin clay was added to make a whiter, more plastic body. Jingdezhen potters perfected a translucent pale-blue glaze known as qingbai ("blue-white," aptly translated by Kerr and Wood 2004 as "icy blue"). The color resulted from firing in reduction a glaze containing a very small percentage of iron (Vainker 1991, 124–27).

By the early fourteenth century, potters began adding decoration rendered with iron oxide, copper oxide (fire in reduction to red), or cobalt oxide under the bluish glaze. From that time certain workshops within the city became associated with production for the ruling court. Appointed kilns filled court orders until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911. Meanwhile, commercially operated private kilns made goods for the domestic market and for overseas trade. They also took orders from overseas-for Japanese tea-ceremony practitioners in the early seventeenth century (Curtis 2005), for the Nguyen court of southern Vietnam in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Truong 1997), and for the Siamese court in the nineteenth century (Pariwat et al 1996, 227–28).

Successive ceramic formats established in Jingdezhen and produced there to the highest standard were widely dispersed and imitated at provincial kilns for regional consumption and overseas trade. Many centers for such production flourished in Fujian and Guangdong (Ye Wencheng 1990; Yang 1990; Ye Qinglin 1990). It is fair to say that the majority of qingbai and blue-and-white porcelains found in Southeast Asia came from these kilns.