The term "Southeast Asia" is a twentieth-century invented phrase that is used to identify a geographical area situated east of India and south of China. It consists of a mainland region corresponding to the present-day countries of Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, and an insular region conssisting of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore. In ancient times, the area was called "Nanyang" or Nan-hai" (meaning South Seas) by the Chinese. On early maps drawn by European cartographers in the sixteenth century any geographical area east of India was named generically. Southeast Asia was identified in broad terms, such as "Further India", "East India", "India outside the Ganges", or "the Orient Beyond India" A miniature map of the 1599 by Giovanni Boteor (1540-1617) shows Southeast Asia in remarkably good proportions, particularly the coastline of the mainland region. The percept that pottery origins in Southeast Asia were long standing emerged in the mid- 1960s with the discovery of unglazed earthenware on the northern Khorat Plateau in north-eastern Thailand, which revealed an extensive pre-historic civilization previously unknown. The finds, collectively called the Ban Chiang cultural tradition after a village in the region, have produced quantities of earthenware pots that were used for cooking, storage, and funeral rites. Sites that have yielded Ban chiang pottery encompass a large area extending well beyond the village of Ban Chiang, and confirm that the technology for making pottery was known in the pre-historic period.
What are the main characteristics of pottery in Southeast Asia? Is there a distinctly Southeast Asian pottery?
There are two main distinctions that can be found in Southeast Asian pottery. The first is that contemporary ceramics in the region are linked to antique ceramics through the reproduction of antique shapes, glazes, and designs. Today, the industry of pottery in the region is thriving and growing because it is inspired by ancient wares.
The second distinction is that in contemporary times, while there are obviously a variety of wares available in the region representing many cultures, styles, and techniques in pottery making, the ancient wares to which they get their inspiration from were all linked by the common thread of utilitarianism. As Dawn F. Rooney, a historian of folk pottery in the region, pointed out:
... Stylistically, the pieces were linked by a common thread. All were made to be used; not a single piece was purely decorative. The impression of functionalism was strong. These wares were most certainly the everyday utensils of the early inhabitants of Southeast Asia (Folk Pottery in Southeast Asia, p. vii)
Indeed, Southeast Asia abounds with appealing utilitarian pottery. Robust, balanced forms made for domestic use are an integral part of daily life. Closely aligned to the elements of nature, the pottery reflects the cultural and religious heritage of the people of the region. Everyday earthenware found in Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand have common features. Even the earliest pieces reflect a combined utilitarian and aesthetic appeal, a characteristic often found in other arts and crafts of the region. Much of the indigenous pottery was made by craftspeople who worked in slack periods of the agricultural season using local materials to produce wares for everyday use. The region is abundant in the natural elements required for making pottery. Undoubtedly, this rich source accounts for the preference for fired clay over other materials for domestic vessels. Production of pottery for utilitarian use continues today in Southeast Asia and the methods and materials remain basically unchanged.
A stylistic comparison of earthenware from prehistoric to modern times suggests that production has been uninterrupted, but archaeological support is lacking. Problems in producing evidence include determining dates of production and place of origin. Since the wares were made for use by the local population rather than for export, the same shapes were produced over a long period of time with little stylistic change. Also, because of their portability, they are frequently found away from the place of origin. Additionally, unlike imperial wares, there are no models to study and museums rarely display folk pottery. Even though continuous habitation has not been established, a succession of cultures within the region is identifiable. The gaps in evidence may be due to a lack of attention to pottery in excavations rather than a stop in production.
The development and level of technological achievement of pottery production in Southeast Asia varied amongst the countries. Vietnam reached the highest degree of skill at the earliest date. Unlike other countries in the region, the knowledge of making pottery was most likely transferred directly from China to Vietnam in the beginning centuries of the Christian era. Similarities in the methods of potting, in shapes, and in decoration are evident between wares from the two countries. Pottery technology in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, did not advance until modern times beyond the production of unglazed, utilitarian wares. In other countries, notably Cambodia and Thailand, development was probably a gradual one evolving through the refinement of natural materials and improved skills in techniques of decorating, glazing, and kiln construction. Both countries produced low fired, unglazed earthenware and high-fired stoneware, unglazed and glazed.
Not all folk pottery in Southeast Asia is indigenous. Local production was paralleled by imported wares as early as the tenth century. Chinese celadons from the song period (960-1279) have been excavated in Indonesia and the Philippines. However, it was from the fourteenth century onwards, with the introduction of blue and white, china's greatest ceramic achievement, that the largest quantities of folk pottery were imported into Southeast Asia.
In this report, the terms "pottery" and "ceramics" are used interchangeably and apply to all fired clay objects, unglazed or glazed, and included earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. Classification of pottery types is based on body material, not on the glaze, and the primary difference is the temperature at which the wares are fired. Mention of color and texture of the clay body refers to the visible unglazed areas after firing.
Earthenware - this is the earliest type of pottery made by mankind. It is usually unglazed and the color varies widely from shades of grey to buff to reddish-orange. The texture is coarse and porous so it is easily broken, which is probably why so little early earthenware has survived. It is relatively simple to make, requiring only ordinary clay and a simple open pit for firing.
Stoneware - this is the next stage in the development of fired clay. The characteristics of stoneware vary more than any other type of pottery because of the natural materials used. The clay is usually more complex than earthenware, with substances added to improve it. The color varies from blue to orange to light and dark shades of grey, depending on the clay used and the firing conditions. It is fired at a higher temperature than earthenware, making it a harder and more durable material. Stoneware is usually glazed.
Porcelain - this is a refinement of stoneware and the finally achievement in the development of pottery. It was made in china as early as third century AD. The formula for producing porcelain remained a secret until the seventeenth century when Europe started making a counterpart. Technically, porcelain is synonymous with perfection. It is always glazed and the clay is white due to the presence of an ingredient called kaolin. It is fired at a very high temperature which produced a hard, impervious body that is translucent.
It is not always easy to distinguish between stoneware and porcelain without laboratory testing. In some cases, especially with blue and white folk pottery, a piece of each type side by side can look the same, yet one is porcelain because it was fired a higher temperature than the other one which stoneware. Both types are high-fired and impervious. In general, stoneware is more thickly potted and opaque with a grayish tinge to the clay, whereas porcelain is thinly potted, translucent, and white. In perfect condition, it is possible for both types to ring when struck.
Prehistoric earthenware vessels were closely linked with the ceremonial and ritualistic customs of the people. Whole and broken pieces found in burials have produced valuable information bout the sociological aspects of the early inhabitants of the region.
A comparison of artifacts from various sites indicated cultural links between prehistoric groups in the region in addition to pottery, similar metal tools and glass beads have been found at sites in Indonesia (Borneo), Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), the Philippines, and Thailand.
Typical pottery of the prehistoric period in Southeast Asia is an earthenware vessel, hand built with coils, and finished with an anvil and beater. Although there is evidence that some of the vessels may have been turned on a wheel for decorating, full use of the potter's wheel was employed at a much later date. The vessel is medium sized, with a globular body, wide mouth, and round bottom. It was fired at a low temperature in an open pit, which produced various earth tones on the exterior. The vessel was often finished with a combination of cord marking and incised geometric designs. The early vessels of the region are surprisingly pleasing to the eye and well constructed, with balanced proportions.
Identified prehistoric sights in Cambodia date to the fourth millennium BC. Collected artifacts are similar, both stylistically and in apparent use, to those found in other parts of the region.
Prehistoric earthenware burial vessels have been found in cages in Malaysia at Sabah. Evidence shows that firing of the wares took place inside the caves, an ingenious forerunner of the kiln.
Pottery has also been found inside a cave on the island of Palauan, in the south-western part of the Philippines. The cache of decorated ritual vessels is dated to the first millennium BC. Burial sites in the Philippines have produced pottery dating from the middle of the second millennium BC.
The prehistoric Ban Chiang culture in Thailand extends from about the fourth millennium BC to the third or fourth century AD. However, since bronze and iron artifacts found in association with pottery represent products of a highly developed metal industry, it is possible that additional discoveries may produce an earlier date for the beginning of prehistory in Thailand.
A characteristic vessel of the late Ban Chiang period is a large upright pot with sharp angles, a wide flaring rim, and a pedestal. It was made from a dark clay and covered with a buff slip. An asymmetrical geometric motif combining thick and think lines was boldly painted with red vegetable dye on the body.
The kendi, an upright bottle-like vessel with a spout on the shoulder, is closely associated with the culture of Southeast Asia, where it has been used as a utilitarian and ritualistic vessel since at least the eighth century. Its origin is unknown but etymology suggests India as a source. "Kendi", a Malay word, is a derivative o "kundika", a Sanskrit word meaning "water pot". Local variations of the term "kendi" are used in Malaysia and Indonesia today. Even though the terms are related, it is uncertain whether or not the kundika was a prototype for the kendi because their functions differ. Both are designed to be filled from the larger opening and poured from the smaller opening but the positions of the opening are reversed on the two vessels. The kundika is filled from the spout and paired from the mouth while the kendi is filled from the mouth and poured from the spout. It seems like that the kendi originated in India was transmitted to Southeast Asia and China by traders and religious leaders in the early years of the Christian era.
The general shape - with a round body, straight neck, and mouth - looks like a bottle. Unique features of the kendi are a spout set at an angle on the shoulder and the absence of a handle. Originally the kendi may have been a metal form as junctures of the neck and spout at sharp angles to the body are metallic features. Reproduction of the kendi in fired clay is complex, requiring skill and technology. Yet pottery kendis have been found in habitation sites in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia dating from the eighth century. Early kendi fragments have also been found in Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, and form a later date, in Laos. Even though the form must have been introduced in China at approximately the same time as it was in Southeast Asia, limited shards have been found in china indicating that it was note widely used domestically. In contrast, evidence of the kendi in Southeast Asia is sufficient to assume that it was used extensively throughout the mainland and insular regions.
The kendi has persevered as a ceramic form in Southeast Asia over a long period of time. The earliest ones were made of unglazed earthenware and the form continues to be made of unglazed earthenware and the form continues to be made of the same material today. But, in between, the kendi was produced in stoneware, both unglazed and glazed, and porcelain. Evidence of its early use in the region suggests that I was originally made locally and later imported from China and Japan. Thailand and Vietnam also produced kendis and exported them to Indonesia and the Philippines.
Kiln sites producing kendis have been found in peninsular Thailand at Sathing Phra. Specific features of kendis from this area are distinct white clay and a long narrow neck. The kilns may have been in operation as early as the tenth century.
Another type of kendi, previously unknown, has been found in conjunction with Sukhothai and Sisatchanalai glazed wares on sunken ships in the Gulf of Thailand. The shape is a globular body with a mammiform spout. A slender neck and a mouth with a flange are reminiscent of a metal form. The clay color is black and it is unglazed. It was probably made in Thailand during the Ayutthaya period (1350 - 1767). The quantity found is small in proportion to other wares. It is possible, therefore, that these kendis may have been used by crews on the ships which were carrying ceramics as export cargo.
Insight into the purpose of the kendi is provided by ancient religious carvings in Indonesia and Cambodia, dating between the eighth and thirteenth centuries. Various scenes depict the kendi as a vessel filled with liquids, used either for utilitarian or ceremonial purposes. The form is generally sturdy and solid, making it suitable as a container for liquids, a use that is implied by the name. The narrow neck and double opening suggests that it was used for drinking. The neck is narrow enough to hold the vessel in one hand, while the spout opening is small enough for liquid to pass through without the vessel touching the lips.
Since the quality varies from weighty, crudely made earthenware to light, delicate, finely potted porcelain, the extent and duration of use must have been broad. The former most likely had a utilitarian use, whereas the latter was probably reserved for ritualistic and ceremonial functions.
A recent study of kendis classifies the form by the shape of the spout. Kendis with a straight spout were made in China during the Song period, in Cambodia in the eleventh century, and at the Sukhothai, in Thailand, in the fourteenth century.
Unglazed shapes with a bulbous spout from the eighth and ninth centuries are depicted on reliefs at Borobudur, in Java. The bulbous spout first appeared in China in the middle of the fourteenth century. It was a popular form throughout the Ming period (1368 - 1644) and was produced in blue and white as well as enamels.
In the fifteenth century, kendis with animal-like appendages were made in Thailand, china, and Vietnam. Generally, the spout is modeled like an animal's head with an opening through the mouth and a tail on the opposite side. The neck may be in the form of a rider. Features such as feathers or wings were modeled or incised on the surface of the body. Both naturalistic and mythical animal shaped kendis were made. The Thais achieved a high degree of excellence in producing the complex form.
Once the kiln technology for firing stoneware was acquired, the transition from unglazed to glazed ware was a progression which probably evolved from both experimentation and the unexpected results of kiln firing. The earliest glaze was most likely a natural occurrence when ash, from the wood used as fuel in the kiln, fell on the upper surface of a piece during firing. The ash melted and fused with the vessel forming a glaze, or glass-like covering.
The earliest glazed stoneware in the region was produced in Vietnam between the first and third centuries AD. Other countries with long0standing stoneware traditions are Cambodia, during the Khmer civilization between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, and Thailand from the tenth to the late sixteenth century and again in the twentieth century. Glazed stoneware was also made in Burma and Laos but the dates and types of production are not clearly defined.
Glazed wares for daily use have been imported into Southeast Asia first and foremost from China, then later, and to a lesser extent, from Japan, for at least 1,000 years. Although trade was carried on between China and Southeast Asia in the early centuries of the Christian era, Chinese ceramics were not traded in the region until the tenth century. Chinese records of the thirteenth century report ceramics being exported to areas today known as Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Prior to this, the impetus for trade probably came from the Chinese who arrived in the region in search of luxury goods, such as ivory, rhinoceros horn, tortoise shell, spices, pearls, and exotic woods like sandalwood. Later the initiative was most likely reversed when the people of Southeast Asia were attracted to the high-quality glazed wares of China.
Southern China was the point of origin for trade with Southeast Asia. As demand increased in both directions for luxury items, new kilns were established in southern China, primarily in the provinces of Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangxi, and Guangdong. Goods were transported over a network of sea routes linking the regions.
Chinese monochromes of the Song and Yuan dynasties (mid - tenth - mid - fourteenth centuries) were especially popular in the Philippines and Indonesia, whereas a limited number have been found in the mainland regions of Southeast Asia. However, the introduction in the fourteenth century of a unique an decorative class of Chinese ware known as "blue and white" attracted the entire region and it has been imported ever since. The appeal for blue and white in Southeast Asia continues today.
Excavated sites in Indonesia and the Philippines from the Ming period produced predominantly blue and white and it was exported in such large quantities to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand, from the middle of the fourteenth to the middle of the eighteenth century, that divers have been working in the river for over twenty years recovering remains of the famous Chinese blue and white.
The demand for glazed ceramics, particularly blue and white, continued to grow, both in Europe and in Southeast Asia. However, at the end of the Ming dynasty, in the mid - seventeenth century, China was in political upheaval and the production of ceramics for export was temporarily halted, forcing importers to find other markets. It was against this background and at this time that Japan emerged as a major supplier of glazed wares. The Dutch, having already established relations with both Japan and Indonesia, were in a fortuitous position to shift to Japan as a source of ceramics when China's supply diminished temporarily. They had access to Japan and used Indonesia as a transshipment point, with Europe as the final destination.
Quantities of Japanese export wares, primarily blue and white, have been found in Indonesia. Earlier wares were alien shapes, such as beer mugs, clearly made for the European market. They were en route either to Europe or to Indonesia for use by the Dutch residents.
Later, probably some time after China resumed ceramic production, a shift is discernable in the position of Southeast Asia as an independent market. Finds include shapes, such as the kendi, which were made specifically for the region. Also Chinese shapes with Southeast Asian designs, such as Buddhist mythical figures, have been found.
By the eighteenth century, Southeast Asia was already an important market for Japanese ceramics and the trend continues in the twenty first century.
a. Trade Relations
Although Southeast Asia was known to foreign traders since the Han period (206 BC - AD 221) and some Chinese ceramics were imported into the region in the early centuries. A significant pattern of ceramic trade between China and Southeast Asia did not develop until the tenth century. Trade with China expanded and experienced its greatest level of activity in the Song and Yuan periods (tenth - fourteenth centuries). Enormous quantities of Song celadon have been excavated in Indonesia and the Philippines, especially in coastal settlements.
The introduction by the Chinese in the fourteenth century of a new type of ware - blue and white - attracted a wide market. It was immensely popular in Southeast Asia and remains so today. Import of blue and white into the region reached a peak between the late fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. Large quantities were also imported between the late eighteenth or early nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when folk pottery was commonly used throughout Southeast Asia.
Europeans began trading with China in the sixteenth century. The Portuguese were the first to arrive and were soon followed by the Dutch, English, and French. They soon established trading posts in Southeast Asia and although their entry into the market caused fluctuations in the types of ceramics traded, Southeast Asia remained one of China's primary markets for folk pottery. Production of a coarse type of ware for everyday use continued for export to Southeast Asia, and during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries ceramics were the leading export from China to the region. The popularity of folk pottery did not diminish as is evidenced by large quantities of nineteenth - and early twentieth - century blue and white found inn the region. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Japan captured some of the ceramic trade to Southeast Asia by producing a competitive type of blue and white, as well as polychrome wares.
b. Chinese Wares Yue Wares - Yue wares are forerunners of the celadon produced in China, in Zhejiang Province. Although a proto - Yue ware existed as early as the Han period, the term "Yue" was firmly associated with a particular type of ware for the first time in the Tang period (618 - 906). Pieces of Yue ware have been found in Indonesia, the Philippines, and peninsular Thailand. A light grey stoneware body is covered with a thin pale-green glaze which usually has a brownish or grayish tinge. Small, shallow bowls with incised and floral designs are typical. An attractive feature is the textural interest created by the thin glaze that collected in an irregular pattern to form thick and dark areas.
Yue - type wares were produced in various kilns in southern China after the Song capital moved from northern China south to Hangzhou, in Zhejiang Province. They were exported to Southeast Asia between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.Yue - type wares are frequently confused with the Yue wares of an earlier date.
Under royal patronage, the kilns of southern China flourished and the court encouraged trade. Within this environment of development and expansion during the thirteenth to mid - fourteenth centuries Longquan, or southern celadon, dominated exports to Southeast Asia.
Celadon - Definition of the term "celadon" is controversial, but it is identified with a type of stoneware fired to a high temperature in a reducing kiln atmosphere, and covered with a green glaze that contains a percentage of iron.
Celadon originated in China and was never made outside of the orient. The unctuous green color stimulus jade. Celadon received wide acceptance in Southeast Asia. A piece of celadon was highly regarded, so much so that in Indonesia it was considered to have magical and curative powers.
The earliest celadon found in Southeast Asia was produced in Shanxi Province beginning in the late tenth century. Northern celadon is grey - bodied stoneware. Examples found in Indonesia, the Philippines, and peninsular Thailand are characterized by distinct brownish tones in the green glaze. A typical form is a small bowl, similar to Yue ware, except that it is less shallow, with incised designs depicting the peony and lotus.
Longquan celadon was produced in southern China in Zhejiang and Fujian Provinces. The quality and beauty of this ware were unequalled between the thirteenth and mid - fourteenth centuries. It has a light - grey stoneware body and an opaque green glaze with grayish or bluish tinges. The ultimate color goal was a bluish - green but kiln conditions were not uniform and variations were extensive. A distinguishing trait of southern celadon is a bright reddish foot. Plates, bowls, and small pots are the most common shapes found in Southeast Asia. Yuan - period (1260 - 1368) plates of exceptionally large size, with a foliate rim and incised designs, are found throughout the region. The pieces seem to have been mass - produced as they are characterized by an untidy and rough surface on the base, evidence of a hastily finished piece. Generally, decoration was minimal, but it increased in proportion to production, and by the late fourteenth century it was quite elaborate. Also characteristic of many plates found in Southeast Asia, is an unglazed ring on the base, presumably to facilitate firing. Frequently the unglazed are is so large that only a spot of glaze appears in the center of the base.
An innovation seen on some of the celadon shipped to the Philippines, was the addition of dark brown spots deliberately created for a decorative effect by painting spots with iron pigment on the surface before glazing.
Brown Wares - Although brown - glazed Chinese wares are found in abundance in Southeast Asia, especially small pots from Philippine grave sties of the thirteenth century, little is known about their provenance and date. A 1985 report on trade ceramics found on Tioman Island in Malaysia included small upright shapes and basins in various tones of brown with impressed designs. They were made at Xicun kilns in Fujian Province in the Song Period. The Quanghou kilns in Fujian Province produced pots with a homogenous glaze and a whitish clay. The color of the glaze ranges from brown to olive, caramel, and almost black. These types are similar to finds in the Philippines and Indonesia.
Blue and White Folk Pottery - Hole - bottom Saucer: A small yet distinct class of Chinese export ware made between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries has been excavated in Southeast Asia. Known as a hole - bottom saucer, a somewhat misleading name, it is distinguished by the absence of a foot - ring and the presence of a recessed base surrounded by an unglazed ring. The name "hole - bottom" is derived from this unique treatment of the base.
The kiln sites have not been found but it seems likely they were located in southern China. The form was first discovered in gravesite excavations in the Philippines. Until the 1970s, the form was unknown elsewhere. Subsequently many examples have been found in gravesites in South Sulawesi in Indonesia, in excavations at Brunei, and in the river at Ayutthaya in Thailand. The pieces are identical in clay, shape, glaze, and decoration to those pieces found in the Philippines. Therefore, it seems that the hole - bottom saucer was made for export to all Southeast Asian markets.
The use of the form is uncertain. Because it has been found in gravesites, it must have had significance perhaps it offered protection from evil spirits. Interestingly, in Philippine excavations, twice as many saucers were found in children's graves as in adult ones. Another conjecture is that it was an oil lamp to provide elevated lighting at festivals and ceremonies. A bamboo pole could be fitted into the recessed base; then a wick and oil could be put in the saucer. A similar type of aluminum lamp is used in Southeast Asia today.
Monochrome hole-bottom saucers are either white or green glazed. They are usually more thickly potted, heavier, and generally of poorer quality than blue and white examples. The glaze is crackled and the foot is roughly finished. If decorated, a single design was stamped or incised in the center.
Folk pottery (eighteenth - early twentieth centuries): Vast quantities of blue andwhtie folk pottery for daily use were produced in southern china between the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries. Two circumstances occurred to support a large production of ordinary ware.
First, by the eighteenth century Europe, which had been a major market for china, was producing blue and white in sufficient quantities to meet its own demand. This change in trade forced china to concentrate on developing regional markets and altering production to meet their requirements. Blue and white folk pottery was the favored type of ware. It was shipped from china to Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and the Straits settlements of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore. The quality varied from crude, hastily finished pieces to fine wares with carefully executed detail. The impact of this type of ware was so effective that its use extended to all classes of people and encompassed royalty as well as commoners.
The Chinese were skilled at producing wares from drawings. Thus, a unique market emerged and pieces were made to order for the Southeast Asian market. A fine example of these wares can be seen at Vimanmek Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, where King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868 - 1910) lived for six years towards the end of his reign. The King was a keen collector of Chinese blue and white altarpieces. A vintage photograph of the interior of Vimanmek Palace taken at the beginning of the twentieth century shows Chinese ceramics decorated with the King's initials. Thai palace has been restored and is open to the public.
Since so many of these wars have been found in Southeast Asia, the kilns were probably located in southern china, near ports for ease of shipment abroad. Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, and Jiangxi Provinces all produced blue and white folk pottery.
Blue and White Tableware: A particular type of Chinese bleu and white ware has been found in large quantities in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand. It consists almost entirely of heavily potted plates and bowls in varying sizes. Hallmarks are an unglazed ring around the center on the interior, a white glaze with blue, green, or grey tinge, blue painting that may have a black or grey tone, and a light grey or buff clay with visible darker specks. Sometimes the clay is reddish, caused by an accidental reducing kiln atmosphere.
Yixing Ware - Yixing is a particular type of stoneware produced in Jiangsu Province, central China. Named after the area where the pottery is made, the most famous form is an unglazed teapot in a distinctive brown color, resulting from clay with high iron content. The area is a rich source of fuel and of the special type of clay required for the pottery. Also, it is ideally situated near coastal ports for export of the products by the sea.
Yixing kilns have been in operation since the Song period but production of Yixing teapots began in the sixteenth century and continues today. Popularity of the simple wares spanned continents. A drawing shows Chinese merchants sitting in a shop in Saigon in the nineteenth century drinking from Yixing teapots. They were used widely by scholars in China and were the original teapots of Europe, introduced by the Dutch when tea drinking was introduced in Europe in the late seventeenth century. The tea also came from Southeast Asia where it was grown in Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam. As the popularity of tea drinking grew and spread across Europe to England, tea became the main cargo transported by the East India Company. Yixing teapots were packed inside the tealeaves for protection. The teapots were exported to Southeast Asia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1892, Yixing teapots were ordered by King Chulalongkorn to commemorate the anniversary of the Chakri dynasty in Thailand. A tea-set in Vimanmek Palace where the King lived at the beginning of the twentieth century, included a Yixing teapot mounted with gold on the spout, knob, and lid accompanied by eight enameled and gold cups with covers. A Gold tray completes the set. In Thailand during this period, the use of Chinese export porcelain with gold was reserved for royalty.
Pieces exported to Thailand have two unique features. First, the tip of the spout, knob, and the rim are often bound in gilt metal. These mounts are found on most of the Yixing teapots in Thailand, and it is believed that the metal was applied in Thailand, as a precaution against the breakage. They have only been found on teapots of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Secondly, the surface has an exceptionally highly polished finish. The possibility that pots exported to Thailand received special handling is suggested by WA Graham who, in 1922, wrote that the Yixing teapots were imported in rough unfinished condition and that the polishing and mounting were done in Bangkok, near the Giant Swing. He describes how the wars were polished. The grinding or filing of the surface was done with an inferior sapphire mixed with sticlac and set hard. The final polishing was done by rubbing the pot with the outside surface of bamboo.
Shekwan Ware - The Shekwan kilns, southwest of Guangzhou in Guangdong Province, were established in the Song period and are still in operation. The area is rich in raw materials required for glazed ceramics, and the kilns are situated near the Shekwan River, which provided a suitable channel for transporting the wares to the coast for export.
Imitation of earlier wares, particularly Chun, are a hallmark of the Shekwan kilns. Speciality in this area originated when the kilns were established. In the twelfth century, when the northern Song dynasty was taken over by the Mongols, potters fled to southern China. Many settled at Shekwan and resumed potting. Thus, potters applied technology from northern China to raw materials in southern China. The Chun glaze, distinguished by a bluish- lavender color splashed with purplish patches, is one of the most successful and the prolific imitations of the Shekwan kilns.
c. Imported Japanese Ceramics - Japan has a long history of stoneware production, which as learned form the Chinese in the early centuries of the Christian era. The Japanese valued the aesthetic texture of thickly potted stoneware with uneven, mottled glazes. In the seventeenth century, they acquired the skill of producing porcelain and, soon after, moved into the export market. Southeast Asia was an attractive market because of its accessibility and because of local appreciation of the attractive blue and white ware, which was not made in the region.
Japanese blue and white ceramics are thicker and not as carefully potted as the Chinese wares. The glaze on the Japanese pieces is thick with many bubbles, and the blue has a purplish-grey tint. The painting is bold and expressive although sometimes it descends to sketchy and careless designs. Undecorated space is more common and pictorial scenes tend to be asymmetrical and less balanced than Chinese designs.
Small village workshops are situated throughout the region producing unglazed earthenware for domestic use, the greatest number of ceramic centers being located in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, in addition to utilitarian pottery, factories in these countries now produce high-quality copies of antique Asian glazed ceramics which are sold both locally and exported.
Contemporary wares in Southeast Asia
The 6,000-year-old legacy of antique ceramic production in Southeast Asia that began in the prehistoric period, continued in the twentieth century at modern factories and private pottery groups throughout the region. Today, the manufacturing process is refined through the discovery of additional materials, improvements in techniques, mechanization, and increased knowledge of clay and glaze chemistry. However, the basic principles of pottery and the prime stages of production - selecting the raw materials, shaping and firing the form - remain essentially the same today as in ancient times.
Types of modern ceramic factories in Southeast Asia vary from small village workshops making folk pottery for daily use by the local population, to large mechanized factories producing copies of ancient ceramics and antique-style wares.
Uses of Folk Pottery
Folk pottery has been used in Southeast Asia for at least 6000 years. Abundant and widespread finds of both surface shards and excavated pieces from the earth and the water substantiate a regional preference for pottery over other materials such as metal or wood. Regardless of the type, a common theme of functionalism is evident in an examination of these pottery finds.
Although historical written information is lacking, archaeological datum indicates that the primary use of pottery in Southeast Asia was for the utilitarian and ritualistic needs of the local population. Pots made for funeral purposes were amongst the earliest uses. Prehistoric burials have yielded an abundance of pottery in this context. Concurrently, earthenware vessels served as containers for the storage and cooking of liquids and foods. Later uses of pottery are depicted in stone carvings on temples at Borobudur (Indonesia) and Angkor (Cambodia), dating between the ninth and twelfth centuries. Gravesite excavations in Indonesia and the phili8ppines reveal that ceramics were used as burial wares again between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Another source for information on the use of locally produced pottery is a comparison of ancient and modern examples. The shapes of many of the vessels are the same, indication that the functions have not changed.
The use and appeal of antique ceramics imported into the region seems timeless. . Chinese wares, particularly celadon and blue and white, continue to be sued in daily life today.
A popular use of antique blue and white ware is for contemporary table settings. A superb example of the timelessness of this ancient ware can bee seen in the dining-room at the celebrated Jim Thompson house in Bangkok, Thailand, where the table is set with blue and white ware.
In Indonesia, antique ceramics are used today in association with magic potions concocted by mediums. Pottery that rings when it is struck is particularly auspicious and a piece with a resonating ring is believed to be powerful enough to summon sprits. Some believe that one particular type of saucer has the power to ward off illness and to strengthen fidelity in partners, providing the right mixture of ingredients is used and the ritual is performed by a special gifted medium. The saucer is small, approximately 15 centimeters in diameter and is white glazed with a distinct grey tone and an unglazed ring around the center. It is decorated with a maroon-colored over glaze in a pattern of alternating crosshatch and floral motifs (pp 17-18 Folk pottery in Southeast Asia).
a. Everyday uses - Ceramic containers for storing and cooking food and liquids have been used throughout history in Southeast Asia. Other shapes, such as plates, were not often produced for use locally because the region has a prevailing tradition of sing other materials, such as shells, baskets, bamboo, and leaves for serving and eating food.
Every kitchen ahs large jars for storing liquids such as water, oil, and rice wine, and medium-sized jars fro picked vegetables and rice. Smaller containers are used for preserved foods such as pepper, lime, mango, sauces, fish paste, condiments, medicines, and cosmetics. Containers are also needed for storing lime paste, and essential ingredient in betel chewing, which is widely practiced amongst the people of Southeast Asia.
A contemporary earthenware pot made in Burma serves a dual purpose. The pot is a container for rose petals and the cover is used for baking fish paste.
Large, oval-shaped brown-glazed ceramic jars are used today by the mountain people in north-eastern Cambodia, the Philippines, and Vietnam for storing a local wine made from honey, sugar, and rice. This is most likely an ancient custom since a relief carved on the Bayon temple at Angkor in Cambodia depicts men drinking through a reed from similar-shaped jars. The rice wine is prepared by placing rice husks and a fermenting agent in the jar and sealing the opening. After fermentation has taken place, water is added and the mixture is converted to wine.
Finds on sunken ships in the Gulf of Thailand include large stoneware jars with miniature glazed pots tightly packed inside. The large jars were ideal storage containers, for although chemical elements of the sea often destroyed the glaze on the exteriors of the storage jar, the small wares packed inside are in pristine condition, protected by the thickly potted, high-fired stoneware jar.
Ceramic containers are widely used for transporting water from a central source. It is a commo0ng sight to see groups of young women in Bali and other parts of rural Indonesia, and in Burma, gathered around a communal well chatting and laughing as they fill their narrow - necked, bulbous - shaped jars with water. They return to their homes varying the jars on top of their heads or suspended from a bamboo pole.
An earthenware bottle is a popular shape used for transporting drinking water to and from the rice fields. The porosity of the earthenware keeps the water cool for a refreshing drunk during the long, hot, hard work in the fields.
An ancient custom retained today in Burma and Thailand, particularly in the north, is to provide drinking water for people walking past one's home or shop. A medium - shaped earthenware jar filled with fresh water, is placed outside as an offering of goodwill for passers - by. A ladle made from a coconut shell with a bamboo handle is used for drinking.
Ceramic mortars and pestles were made by the early Thais and Khmers. A similar shape is made today in Thailand at Ang Sila (formerly known as Ang Hin), a coastal village on the Gulf of Thailand specializing in carving mortars and pestles from a coarse, dark grey stone. Spices, including roots, leaves, and sees, are fundamental ingredients in Southeast Asian cooking and are used in almost all food preparations. Added to other staples, they provide variety in taste and texture. Selected whole seeds are placed in a mortar and beaten to a fine consistency with a pestle. The same utensils and method were used to prepare ointments, perfume, and oils, which are comparable to the use of cosmetics today.
A typical daily meal in agrarian Southeast Asia consists of cooked rice, vegetables, and curry. Rice is a staple food in the diet. Pots for cooking rice are as essential today as in the past. The traditional, medium-sized earthenware vessel with a round bottom is a universal shape. Other vessels are required for cooking fish, vegetables, and curry, as well as for preparing sauces accompanying these dishes.
Various sizes of wide-mouth ceramic jars are needed for washing, in a typical house in rural Southeast Asia; an open wooden platform adjoins the kitchen. Several large stoneware jars filled with water and placed in this area are used for bathing, washing dishes and kitchen utensils, and for cleaning the interior of the house.
Jars and basins are also used as water containers for washing one's feet before entering a house. A basin filled with water is placed on the wooden or concrete platform at the entrance of a rural house. A smaller bowl floating inside is used for scooping water from the large basin.
Based on Khmer finds, it is apparent that one of the major uses of small ceramic pots in ancient times was as containers for lime paste used in betel chewing, which is still a common practice today in Southeast Asia, although less so than in the past. Traces of hardened white or pinkish lime are found on the inside of Khmer pots, particularly animal - shaped ones.
Different types of glazed ceramic weights were made at Sisatchanalia and at northern Thai kilns. A typical form is pear-shaped, covered with a brown glaze although more complex shapes and other glazes are also known. Suggest uses are fish-net and plumb weights.
A chess - like game must have been popular in ancient Thailand as various chess forms paralleling modern shapes have been found at Sisatchanali, Sukhothai, and northern Thailand. Colors are subdued, just as they are today, with light - and - dark colored pieces symbolizing Yin and Yang, the polarities. Counterparts of a knight in the form of a horse, a pawn-like shape, and a possible bishop are known.
b. Religious and ceremonial uses - an early use of pottery in Southeast Asia was for funerary purposes. Earthenware pots were buried with the dead in prehistoric times. At one site in northeastern Thailand, over 123 burials were uncovered. The type and placement of pieces around the bodies seemed utilitarian in some instances, and in others they appeared to have a symbolic purpose. The exact meaning is unknown, but it is clear that pottery used as funerary vessels to accompany the dead into afterlife was a major purpose of pottery in the prehistoric period.
In the Philippines, earthenware jars containing bodies and other jars with just bones dating from prehistoric period have been found in caves. Glazed stoneware jars were used for burying the dead in Indonesia in the historic era but it was not a common practice in Thailand.
Today, blue and white folk pottery is used in a Chinese funeral ceremony.
The religious and ceremonial uses of ancient vessels in Southeast Asia are frequently depicted in relics on ancient temples, although the material is not readily identifiable. It may have been metal, ceramic, stone, or lacquer. However, many shapes in Khmer wares have been found that are the same as those seen on the reliefs. Metal was most likely used originally and pottery as a substitute later, or in less prosperous areas.
Ceramic vessels have been used throughout history in Southeast Asian religious and ceremonial rites. Dominant ritualistic elements are candles, incense, music, dancing, drama, water, and food. Ceramic containers and offertory vessels are essential for the use of these elements. A painting of the Shwedagon pagoda in Rangoon, Burma, shows various ceramic containers in use.
A twentieth - century report on Burma mentions small earthenware dishes used as lights. Kerosene is put in the dish and a cotton wick added. The small laps are placed on the window sills and verandahs of houses in rural Burma on festival days.
The ancient potters at Sisatchanali, in Thailand, produced appealing, hand-modeled animal and human figures for use as votive offerings. Spirit houses, or animistic shrines, are widely used in Thailand today, and probably serve the same purpose as in ancient times. A miniature replica of a rural Thai house usually stands on a post set in the ground and is strategically placed so that the house occupied by humans never casts a shadow on the spirit house. Offerings of figurines, fruit, and flowers are placed on the verandah of the house to appease the evil sprits and encourage them to remain in the spirit house, rather than leave and enter the owner's home.
Figures modeled from clay are used extensively in animistic worship. Spirits for protection, fertility, and ancestors are appeased by rituals. Thai ceramic figures in human form are sacrificed in animistic rites to safeguard a person from danger or misfortune. Interestingly, the figures are nearly always seated. Many of the female figures are holding babies and it is believed these were offered as a sacrifice by pregnant women to ensure a safe delivery and a healthy child. Because so many of these figures have been found with severed heads, decapitation must have been part of the ritual.
A ceramic factory in Singapore uses a brick kiln fired with wood fuel in much the same manner as ancient times. Beside the entrance to the kiln is a small shrine. Throughout the firing, offerings are made to the spirit of the kiln to ensure a successful firing, with minimal damage.
c. Architectural fixtures - Pottery was a primary material used in ancient Southeast Asia for fixtures on temples and other public buildings. Vast quantities of structural materials, such as railings cornices, balustrades, drain pipes, and lattices were needed for the temples. Roof tiles for buildings must have been one of the most extensively made products. The most common type was an unglazed rectangular form which has been found at Khmer and Thai kiln sites. The same shape, with a white celadon glaze, is also common. Besides flat, rectangular roof tiles, figures sculpted in the round were used as decorative fixtures on roof ridges and eaves at Sukhothai.
Glazed tiles were also popular in Vietnam, where blue and white tiles in imaginative and decorative motifs were made.
Temples at Pagan, in Burma, are frequently adorned with tiles. Typical is a row of rectangular, carved tiles surrounding the base of the temple. They depict tales of the lives of Buddha. Many of the tiles are inscribed with a row of characters along the base and were probably used for teaching Buddhism to children.
The Khmers made finials which were most likely used as ornaments and placed at the apex on the roofs of royal buildings. During the Bangkok period in Thailand, when Chinese ceramics were imported in great quantities, the walls of temples were inlayed with pieces of broken glazed porcelain, both blue and white, and enamels. Intricate and artistic arrangements were created. Fine examples of this technique can be seen at the Grand Palace and the Temple of Dawn in Bangkok, Thailand.
Modern ceramic alterations
An illicit branch of the type of factory producing copies of antique Asian wares has sprung up at an alarming rate in recent years. It involves altering modern copies to look like antique wares and altering antique wares to improve their appearance. Both techniques are used to increase the resale value.
Ceramic finds in situ instigate the idea of improvising antique wares. Villagers immediately sense the interest generated by a new find and the potential monetary gain from the sale of excavated pieces. They respond by digging randomly and carelessly in the hope of producing saleable pieces. This type of work destroys archaeological data and often damages the wares. Thus, the quality of excavated pieces is frequently poor. The next step is to alter the wares for the purpose of improving their appearance.
Modern potters are ingenious at emulating defects on an original piece. Crackle in a glaze is achieved through saturation in uric acid. The iridescent gloss on a Tang figure is duplicated by burial in the ground. Even a firing scar can be copied precisely. Chinese enamel from the Qing period is commonly repainted. These pieces are readily identifiable as the fresh paint flakes off when scraped with a fingernail or any sharp implement. Furthermore, a monochrome (one color) can become polychrome (more than one color) by reglazing and refiring.
SEA village workshops
Village workshops producing utilitarian vessels exist in all countries of Southeast Asia. The output is limited primarily to firing earthenware in sufficient quantities to meet the needs of the local population.
In some areas, potting is a cottage industry, which is a seasonal operation co-coordinated with the farming cycle. During the dry season, when farmers are not working in the fields, they make pottery. In this type of production, wares are made for immediate local use.
In other areas, an entire village depends solely on the sale of pottery for economic support. The end product is used locally but production is keyed to consumer demand and is primarily for trade, either by selling or bartering, in the region.
Both men and women engage in potting, but the jobs handled by each sex vary from village to village. In a cottage industry, women usually do the potting while men do the farming and fishing. If potting is a main industry, the jobs are shared. Men father and prepare the raw materials while women shape and decorate the vessels. Both men and women participate in the firing process. Often men are responsible for selling the finished product.
A typical workshop is family operated. The home and factory share communal space. A one-storey wooden structure built of local products, such as hardwood and bamboo, is supported by posts. Ground level is an open airy space with an earthen floor, which is used for storing, prepared clay and for shaping, drying, decorating, and glazing the pottery. The first floor is divided into rooms opening on to a verandah where the finished wares may be displayed. The kilns or pits for firing the pottery are situated near the house and are often shared by several families. Each workshop has at least one termite mound which provides a sandy, coarse clay. It is added to the clay mixture to help prevent pots from cracking during drying.
The ubiquitous, indigenous vessel of Southeast Asia is a medium seized, unglazed, orange earthenware pot with a spherical body, a short, constricted neck and a flaring mouth with a thick, round rim. The base may be broad and flat, round, or attached to a foot. A dome - shaped lid with a knob in the center is common. The size and profile vary but the general form is united by a similarity in shape, method of potting and multi - faceted use in daily life, ranging from cooking to storage.
The basis of any pottery form is preparation of the clay. After mining, sifting out the impurities, and adding water, the clay is ready for wedging and mixing. It is essential to remove the air bubble and achieve a uniform consistency before making a form. It does not require special equipment but it is an acquired skill. In Japan, it is not unusual for an apprentice to train for several years just learning how to mix clay to a uniform consistency before proceeding to the next step in the potting process. Large masses of clay are wedged by bare feet. At a modern factory in Singapore, a skilled worker stands on top of a cake-shaped mound of clay. He methodically and knowingly massages the clay with utmost control. Starting from the outer rim, he kneads a section, turning it and moving in to another area.
To make a hand-built vessel, the paddle and anvil method is used. A potter sits cross-legged with a square, straw-filled cushion in his lap, which serves as a base to rotate and shape the clay. A wad of wet sticky clay is flattened with the palm of the hand. The walls of the pot are formed by beating the exterior with a wooden paddle while holding a baked clay anvil on the interior. During the beating, the paddle is dipped in water to prevent it from sticking to the clay. This process continues until the desired shape and thickness are achieved.
On larger pieces, another jar is turned upside down to serve as a base. A circular slab of plaster is placed on top and the potter walks around the jar thinning and strengthening the walls by beating them with a wooden paddle. An experienced potter establishes a practiced rhythm to the beating process and turns out a well-proportioned pot rapidly and skillfully.
A repetitive, geometric design is often impressed around the shoulder using a carved paddle. A pendant design, formed with a series of small nicks in the clay, is characteristic of the Ayutthaya period in Thailand. An incised chevron-like motif, formed with a series of thin lines, is frequently found on earthenwares produced in the region from ancient to modern times. Sometimes, shoe polish or oil is applied to give a smooth finish, but a more permanent and functional method of treating the surface is burnishing, or rubbing the pot with a stone disk, which gives a polished appearance and makes the pot impervious. After it is thoroughly dried in the sun, the pot is fired in a shallow pit covered with straw. This method of making vessels is one of the oldest known crafts. It began in the Neolithic period and continues today with a very little change in technique.
Wheel throwing is the other primary method of making a clay vessel. The wheel is a circular disk, approximately 20 centimeters in diameter, which is anchored on a pivotal base. It is rotated by hand or mechanically and at varying speeds. A potter begins by centering a round lump of clay on a rotating wheel. Then, pressing his thumbs into the mass of clay he opens it and, by applying even pressure with both hands, he raises the walls of the vessel. He shapes the clay with his hands and tools to achieve the desired form. Finishing the lip is the final stage before removing the vessel from the wheel. Applying a steady rhythm, pressure of the fingers is used to achieve the desired shape. A piece that has been thrown on a wheel can be identified by a series of regularly spaced rings created by the wheel on the interior, and a pattern on the base that looks like a thumb print, resulting from cutting the vessel from the wheel.