Antique teaware: China

“A cup of tea is a cup of peace.”

Soshitsu Sen XV

 

Tea is for some a repast and for others a religion.  It entered history as a medicinal brew during the Han dynasty of China (206 BC–220 AD), although folk tales mention tea being drunk during the long years of the ancient Shang dynasty (about 1750 BC– 1027 BC).

 

Han Dynasty teaware consisted of blunt tools to crush the leaves which were then heated and served in bowls along with various spices or herbs. Hammers and bowls were the sole things one needed to serve tea during the reign of the Han lords.

 

Things changed during the Tang. Lu Yu wrote his tea classic,  the Cha Ching, documenting his own love of tea and the evolving rituals of its preparation. Tea preparation had become more complex as evinced by the composite utensils required by Lu Yu. Here are but a few of them: crushing block, charcoal mallet, tea tongs, gourd scooper, brush, spent tea basin, and so on.

 

Such a list is strangely alien to the modern tea drinker!

 

Yixing teapots

 

The invention of the teapot,  the most necessary and perhaps the most beloved of modern tea pieces, is attributed to a monk of the Jinsha temple whose name is lost. These teapots were fashioned from local clay near the temple. The local area, Yixing, began to produce teapots in large numbers and these Yixing teapots are produced and treasured to this very day.

 

The Yixing pot is a stoneware vessel and as such it is slightly porous, absorbing small amounts of the tea that it contains. Over time it retains the colour and the taste of tea, so it is used mainly to pour stronger teas such as oolong, black and pu-erh teas. Tea experts will usually use a single tea per Yixing pot in bid to enhance an individual tea’s flavour. Yixing teapots are smaller than Western equivalents and they have a minimalist design with earthy rich colours.

 

You can find Yixing teaware on bidorbuy.

 

Song dynasty ceramic teaware

 

The porcelain equivalents followed in the  wake of  Yixing teapots.  These teapots were of the Ding variety: white minimalist porcelain pieces with an almost transparent glaze which formed an appearance of rivulets or tears on the surface. In contrast to the teapots,  tea cups and bowls were of the Jian type: dark coloured or black pieces, the most valued of which have a glaze that shifts through different colours in a technique known as “hare’s fur”.

 

Jizhou cups also appeared at this time. They too were dark, but made from ironware, rather than the porcelain of the Ding and Jian kilns.

 

The Ru kiln was considered to produce the most beautiful porcelain pieces at this time. These pieces were glazed a light duck egg blue and exhibited a crackling effect on their surface known as “crab claw veins”.  The Ru kiln was eventually noticed by the imperial court and received a royal mandate to produce pieces exclusively for the royal line.

 

Yuan dynasty teaware

 

The depredations of the Mongols under Genghis Khan led to the Sung dynasty abandoning Northern China and the great kilns that it housed. This marked the end of the ancient production or Ru, Ding and Jian ware. The southern kilns such as the Jizhou continued to produce teaware through this time. During this Southern Sung dynasty, the porcelain Qingbai kiln teaware previously considered inferior rose in rank and beautiful pieces were produced. This style had similarities with earlier Ding porcelain but was more translucent. Longquan celadon pieces also were produced in great quantities during this time – these pieces are stoneware, often covered with a green glaze.

 

Ming dynasty

 

Innovation was the name of the game during the Ming dynasty and ceramic technology advanced in leaps and bounds. A major development was the refinement of white and blue porcelain technology during the reign of emperor  Xuande. The cobalt used for blue patterns traditionally bled during firing; with the addition of manganese this defect was overcome and more defined artwork could be achieved. The  Xuande pieces are some of the most valued of Chinese porcelain.

 

The Ming also saw the creation of Dehua porcelain (known in Europe as Blanc-de-Chine). These pieces are an exceptional milk white colour (due to the small quantity of iron oxide in the paste). It was exceptionally popular in both Europe and Japan.

 

Further innovations in colour reached an apex in wucai or five coloured porcelain. These pieces could be coloured with a variety of pigments and resulted in more elaborate decorations than previously seen in Chinese ceramics technology.

 

These technologies were carried over to the Qing dynasty which saw a mass production of Chinese porcelain and teaware.

 

You can find a range of antique Chinese teaware on bidorbuy.

 

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