Chinese Antiques & Artifacts

  • Collection" antiques show on BTV
  • There's no place like home for Chinese antiques
  • US considers Chinese request for import restrictions 
  • September 2005
  • Panjiayuan offers treasure trove for antique lovers
  • Rebecca Sherman On Her Chinese Love Affair
  • Ancient Figurines
  • Chinese Embroidery Styles 
  • Chinese Porcelain & Ceramics
  • Neolithic Bronze
  • Other Articles (NOTE: These are Chinese Language versions)

"Collection" antiques show on BTV

English version reprinted from

English Version reprinted from:

Actor Wang Gang, an avid collector of antiques, is the new host of a show called "Collection" on Beijing TV. Like other antiques shows, participants on "Collection" submit their antique ceramics or artwork to a panel of experts for a judgment of provenance. What distinguishes "Collection" from those other shows is that Wang destroys any pieces that are found to be counterfeit. From Beijing Daily Messenger:

...Wang Gang and the crew cooked up a golden mallet and a judge's brush; if, during the program, an object brought by a collector is fake, Wang Gang will take up the mallet and smash it. If a painting brought by a collector is fake, Wang will mercilessly destroy it with the brush dipped in red ink. This is done so that the fake pieces cannot be returned to the antiques marketplace.

Through 20 January, nine episodes of "Collection" had been recorded and three had aired. In those nine episodes, Wang smashed a total of 7 fake ceramics and destroyed a number of paintings.

As for whether collectors are willing to accept the destruction of their treasures on the program, Wang Gang said that China's antiques world has a tradition of smashing counterfeits. Many major collectors have accidentally acquired fakes and have smashed them themselves. So if pieces were not destroyed on the program, true collectors would smash them once they returned home since they now knew they were counterfeit. "Collection" producer Zhao Chunhua said that before recording the program the crew informs the collectors of this phase, and if they are willing to participate, they sign a "letter of challenge" acknowledging that their objects will be smashed if they are found to be fake.

Xi'an Evening News notes that pieces that are clearly marked as imitations will get a reprieve. Collectors are also able to save their fake treasures from the golden mallet by making a public acknowledgement that the pieces are counterfeits.

Wang said that at least one piece has been smashed on each episode, and in one installment, all three items submitted to the experts were ruled fake.

The show airs weekly on BTV-1 at 22:05 Saturday and repeats at 11:05 Sunday and on BTV-5 at 10:05 Saturday.

There's no place like home for Chinese antiques

From the China Daily 2006-09-22 09:43

An increasing number of Chinese antiques scattered overseas will return and show up in Beijing auctions in the coming years. 
So said Kong Fanzhi, administration director of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage.

However, there are worries that fake goods could damage the antique auction sector which has been experiencing massive growth since 2003.

Kong said customs statistics show that about 10,000 Chinese ancient works of art have come back since January this year, with more returning every year.

Their return is expected to further boost the antique auction market in Beijing.

The market is expected to hit 20 billion yuan (US$2.47 billion) in trade volume in 2010, almost doubling the 2005 figure.

The proportion of returned relics is likely to be as much as 35 per cent of the total antiques to go under the hammer in 2010, Kong said yesterday.

He was introducing the work plan for his administration for 2006-2010.

The plan is part of Beijing's overall 11th Five-Year Plan, the basic document guiding the city's social and economic development in the next five years.

Fu Gongyue, deputy chief of the market division of the administration, said the antique market in Beijing is facing the growing threat of fake products, which may hamper the booming market.

"This danger may impact on this year's antique auction market," Fu observed, adding that the trade volume at antique auctions might not enjoy the same growth speed as in the past few years.

Kong said the Chinese Antique & Art Fair, a renowned antique trading platform held every autumn in Beijing, will be staged twice a year in the near future.

The trade volume at each fair is expected to top 600 million yuan (US$75 million) in 2010.

Turnover at this year's fair, which ran for four days in August, was about 550 million yuan (US$69 million), according to Fu.

(China Daily 09/22/2006 page3)

US considers Chinese request for import restrictions 
September 2005


US considers Chinese request for import restrictions 
September 2005

By Jason Edward Kaufman 
NEW YORK. On 8 September members of the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee met to discuss the renewal of import restrictions on Italian antiquities. Arguments for and against were heard and a decision will be taken 90 days after CPAC submits a report to the State Department.

Meanwhile, the US State Department has built a wall of secrecy around a request from the Peoples Republic of China that the US implement a blanket ban on import of all Chinese cultural material made before 1911.

The PRC submitted their request in Fall 2004, and the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) that advises the State Department on such policy matters has been deliberating in secret ever since. Other than a single public hearing that took place in February, members of the public—including the press—have been shut out of the process.

The Chinese asked for the embargo in an effort to reclaim stolen goods and to stem looting and illicit export of archaeological material by reducing the market demand overseas. The request was made under the 1970 Unesco Convention regarding cultural property. According to the 1987 US law implementing the Unesco accord, to approve the request the CPAC must determine not only that the cultural patrimony of the State Party (i.e., China) is in jeopardy from pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials, and that the State Party has taken measures to protect its cultural patrimony. It also must determine that application of the import restrictions would be “of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage” if the request is “applied in concert with similar restrictions” by nations having a significant trade in such imported material.

Opponents argue that China has a deplorable record of protecting its cultural patrimony, much of which was destroyed by Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution, desecrating in campaigns in Tibet, and inundated by the construction of Three Gorges Dam. They further argue that China has not done due diligence in enforcing its own export restrictions, and that the US is being singled out among many countries—including China itself— where large markets in Chinese cultural goods exist. The Chinese have an expanding auction market and private trade.

Archaeologists wish to implement the ban because they see it as a way of staunching the looting of archaeological sites. Collectors, dealers, and the auction houses— whose trade would be slashed if the ban were imposed—have argued against the ban, hiring lawyers to press their case in Washington. Some museums also have come out against the blanket ban, which would limit their ability to add to their collections. They fear the embargo may open the door to legal actions against works they own that have questionable provenance. But despite the very real public interest at stake in the decision, the government has denied access to the original Chinese-language request, refused allow the public to attend CPAC meetings, and refused even to disclose the status of the request.

“There continues to be a wall of secrecy thrown up by the State Department around this proceeding”, says James Fitzpatrick, a Washington lawyer representing New York-based Chinese art dealer James Lally. “Any effort to gain transparency is strongly rejected”, he says. Sotheby’s attorney Michael McCullough, vice president and compliance officer in New York, is working on behalf of the auction house in the US, but was unavailable for comment.

One of the trade’s crucial complaints is that CPAC is heavily biased in favour of the archaeological point of view. CPAC’s decisions are only advisory, but the State Department generally abides by CPAC’s recommendations, and the current composition of the committee is slanted in favour of the pro-restriction point of view. The committee consists of 11 Presidential appointees intended to represent museums (two), the trade (three), the scholarly field (three) and the public (three). Chairman Jay Kislak, a Florida collector of Americana, is neutral, but two of the three academic members are archaeologists Nancy Wilke and Joan Connelly, and the other is anthropologist James Lorand Matory, all pro-archaeology. The two museum members are both with the Field Museum in Chicago, an archaeological museum that does business in and with China, and both are pro-archaeology. And one of the three public members, Marta de la Torre, worked at the Getty and was involved with conservation and is pro-archaeology. That gives the pro-archaeology corner a majority in any vote.

Several months ago, lawyers for the trade submitted a petition to disqualify the two members who had worked for the Field Museum in Chicago on the grounds that they had a conflict of interest in that their museum had partnered with the Chinese government on income-earning exhibitions. Field director John McCarter and former director Willard Boyd should be recused from voting on the China request, the petition maintained, because they are not impartial as required by government regulations. The State Department ignored the petition, and the museum people remain voting members of CPAC.

Furthermore, according to multiple sources, the State Department commissioned a report by art-market statistician David Kusin to determine the size of the Chinese art market in the US. “We know from people close to the author that the data indicated that the Chinese domestic market is many times the size of the US market”, says Mr Fitzpatrick. “If the theory is that market demand fuels looting, the fact is that the Chinese domestic market is the main source of demand for Chinese antiquities, not the US. But we understand that report was never given to CPAC because it didn’t provide data supporting the Chinese request”, he says. Peter Tompa, a Washington lawyer representing a numismatic association, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to secure the document, but his request has not been fulfilled.

A similar attempt to secure the original Chinese request in Chinese also has been rejected by the bureaucrats. “It is important because Chinese officials have said all they want to do is bar entry of stolen property into this country”, says Mr Fitzpatrick, noting that the request made public by the government is more far-reaching. “We are highly skeptical that this wasn’t contrived by the CPAC staff itself”, he says. Why would the US itself expand restrictions on behalf of the Chinese? Some believe that with the US government engaged in negotiations concerning trade, monetary policy, copyright law, and the situation in the Taiwan Straits, the cultural ban may be a trading chip.

Xie Chensheng, a senior cultural heritage preservation expert, told China Daily, “Cultural wealth can be shared by the whole world, but not the ownership. Just like the property rights on software, ownership of lost Chinese cultural treasures should lie with the Chinese people”. Calls to the State Department seeking comment were not returned.

Panjiayuan offers treasure trove for antique lovers 
Last Updated (Beijing Time):2006-03-02 09:16 
Source:China Daily

"Veteran patrons now make their purchases in cheap hotels around the neighbourhood rather than in the open-air market," Song said. "Sellers arrive in Beijing on Wednesday or Thursday, stay in these hotels costing 20 to 30 yuan (US$2.40-3.60) a night and call their old, regular clients to come."

"Walk into one of the rooms and you will find antiques piled on the bed and on the ground. You have a big chance of getting an authentic antique at a great price if that vendor is a farmer selling items collected from villages around his home.

"But to be included on the farmer's calling list, you have to be introduced to the farmer by one of his trusted clients," he said.

With more than 10,000 people selling frequently and a much larger number of those buying on a regular basis, a small "inner society" with a hierarchy has come into being at Panjiayuan.

At the top of the hierarchy are mainly those who have been involved in the curio market since its humble beginnings in a hutong on the southeastern bank of Houhai Lake beside the Forbidden City, Song said.

Beijingers in need of money in the 1980s were the first to take artworks from their family collections there to sell at the weekend.

Such trading among individuals was forbidden at the time, and both buyers and sellers had to run fast every time the police arrived.

The black market for these artworks developed fast. By 1990, the 200-metre hutong had become so crowded on weekends that people began to move their businesses into a small patch of woods beside the Panjiayuan Bridge.

Hiding in the woods, hawkers spread antiques often in the shadows of boulders. Many of them were farmers from suburban Beijing or nearby provinces who sold items collected in their villages.

"Local authorities wanted to put an end to this business in the woods but failed," Song said. "They then had the idea of building a market and letting the hawkers pay rent."

The Panjiayuan Curio Market was established in 1995 as the first legal antiques market in Beijing. A stall in its semi-covered area costs the vendor 100 yuan (US$12) a day; a space in the open air costs 50 yuan (US$6) a day.

Many areas of art trading including both transactions and auctions were legalized in 1994. Since then art markets have been appearing with lightning speed. Today, more than 30 of them sell goods in and around Beijing.

But Panjiayuan is indisputably the most prosperous. It has more than 3,000 stalls and open-air spaces leased every day at the weekend.

Second is the Baoguosi Curio Market, located in the backyard of the Baoguosi Temple, which was first built in the Liao Dynasty (916-1125) in the southern part of downtown Beijing.

Actually a stall at Panjiayuan can be so hot that a number of early arrivals make big profits by renting stalls from market administrators for a long-term period and leasing them out to hawkers on a daily basis at a price much higher than 100 yuan a day, Song said.

And since the market opened, stalls in its semi-covered area, which has a big wooden roof supported by pillars but no walls, have been divided into four zones according to their items they have for sale.

The zones are not marked but easily distinguishable.

The southeastern portion is called Zone One by Panjiayuan's veteran patrons. There are rows of Chinese paintings, calligraphic works on sale as well as beads and small jade articles.

A visitor needs to realize that the paintings and calligraphic works are generally handmade but mass-produced and should not be more expensive than 500 yuan (US$60), according to Wang, an expert on Chinese paintings at the Rongbao Auction Co Ltd who frequents Panjiayuan.

But the cheap beads, especially those made of colourful glass, can be a gold mine for Song, who travels into the mountains of China's underdeveloped western provinces for research on primitive tribes which he has been doing for more than three decades.

"I get dozens of glass bead necklaces here every time I go to Guizhou or Yunnan because people who live so far from civilization get so excited when I send them a shining necklace that they often invite me to dinner in their homes," he said.

Besides the beads, antiques of all kinds - old books and files, bronze vessels, ceramic vases and small wooden furniture - are on sale in Zone Two, the north-eastern portion.

Since farmers, who are often more honest than full-time antiques dealers, like to gather in the area, it is the part of Panjiayuan where buyers have the best chance of getting a genuine antique at a bargain price, Song said.

One can also find in this part documents and souvenirs of the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) at a reasonable price.

Cheaper versions of the same kind can be found among the piles of second-hand books in the open air.

The southwestern part of the semi-covered area, known as Zone Three, has antiques of Chinese ethnic minorities on sale, many of which are from the Tibet Autonomous Region.

"One can see a more complete an array of Tibetan cultural relics in Panjiayuan than in a Tibetan village," remarked Chen Yu, a researcher of Tibetan studies at the National Museum of China.

A bang on the man-sized Tibetan drum, with ox skins as its membranes, could easily give a start to everyone in the market. A small, strange-looking silver article reputed to be a musical instrument used in a Buddhist mass was a point of some controversy when rumours began circulating about the skin used for its membranes. Could it have been human?

Chinese ceramics fill the ground in Zone Four, the northwestern section, but most of them are newly made, and a larger part of the so-called antique ones are actually fakes, Song said.

"Those who make fakes are constantly improving their skills, and a buyer has to be especially cautious," he said.

These people soak newly made bronzes into acid to make them rusty, and bury poor-quality jade in the ground with dead poultry to give them that antique look, he added.

Those who have no expertise to tell the genuine articles from the fakes here will find no place to complain and also little sympathy.

"Caveat emptor," or "let the buyer beware" the rule of the ancient Roman markets also applies to Panjiayuan.

Some tips for determining the authenticity of Chinese antiques can be invaluable:

An established antique furniture dealer in Beijing says the easiest way to tell the authenticity of an antique furniture is to lift it; an authentic old piece, generally made of hard wood, should be much heavier than a contemporary one.

If you knock on the panels, the sounds are different. The wood of the fake furniture is generally thinner and emits a clearer and harsh sound.

Table surfaces and wardrobe doors, if truly antique, have a finer texture than most replicas, which do not contain such artistic spirit.

To those who are not that confident of their own expertise, Song and Chen offer this advice:

Always bargain hard and remember that the final price should be no more than one-third of the vendor's original asking price.

Rebecca Sherman On Her Chinese Love Affair

by Rebecca Sherman, Photo by Dave Shafer

Moment of Truth

In China, the trade in fakes is big. The Chinese will fake anything, especially ancient porcelains, which they’ve been faking for centuries.

A fang gu, or imitation, might be many hundreds of years old, pretending to be even older. My first encounter with Chinese porcelains came during a trip in 1996 to visit my brother, who was working in China.

I landed at night in Shanghai, the legendary port on the Yangtze River Delta in east China. The next morning, I peered out the window of our hotel room at a city of cranes and scaffolding. Dozens of new skyscrapers were going up on the harbor, as if they couldn’t wait to catch up to the Western world. The horizon buzzed with energy. Below, in the hotel gardens, on the sidewalks, and nearby in Pudong Park, a sea of old men and women performed slow, graceful tai chi movements. The contrast was exhilarating.

After a traditional, if less exhilarating, breakfast of watery rice, shredded pork, and unidentifiable vegetables, I headed across the street to Shanghai’s official, government-run antiques store. Chinese antiquities must bear an official wax seal in order to leave the country legally, plus, at a government-sanctioned store, the chances of buying a fake were less.

Inside, I was taken by a 1950s era, red alarm clock with Mao Zedong painted on its face and contemplated buying it. That was before I spied the blue and white double happiness vase. Its abstracted sweet pea vine pattern was staggeringly beautiful. The glaze had a centuries-worn, fine crackle to it, and on the inside bottom, there was a layer of rock-hard dirt, calcified from age. Fine pots made for the Imperial families are no longer allowed to be exported from China. In fact, a Chinese national who attempts to smuggle an Imperial pot outside the country faces life in prison or death. Unrefined “peoples ware” or everyday objects such as the double happiness vase, are plentiful, having been stored en masse for decades or centuries in barns and warehouses.

At 12 yuan, the vase cost my entire souvenir budget, but I gave in and bought it anyway. This marked the start of an obsession with blue and white, one that continues to muddle my brain every time I see a beautiful example. Wikipedia defines the verb Shanghaied as “the act of forcibly conscripting someone to serve a term working on a ship, usually after having been rendered senseless by alcohol or drugs.” Shanghaied. That’s what I was, addled by the heady beauty of a single Chinese porcelain, and forever enslaved.

The vase turned out to be real, though common. The fakes came later, after I discovered eBay six years ago. I bought a few “old” blue and white pieces from online dealers based in Shanghai for a pittance, only to be blindsided by enormous shipping and handling costs. My pots arrived after slow passage, their boxes stamped with graphic Chinese lettering. Even the postage was beautiful. I opened the first and my heart sank. The blue and white colors of my “19th century Yuan-style” vase were dull. Its pristine glaze was obviously brand new. The pot was just plain ugly. I turned it over, and oddly enough, water poured out. The next box held a large gourd-shaped vase that had split perfectly in half at a vertical seam, like a slice of Wonder Bread. These pots were so newly made that they must have been put in their boxes fresh from the firing kilns.

An authentic “peoples ware” piece, with its crude firing pits and fine, irregular cracks, looks old. Age is hard to fake without looking, well, fake. A genuine pot seems to hum with trueness. Fang gu, on the other hand, clanks with an ineffable discordance. Hardly science.

On a trip some years ago to San Francisco, I stumbled upon a small shop filled with beautiful Chinese pottery. The whole place was “humming.” The proprietor, a silver-haired woman, greeted me, and I noticed a framed appraiser’s certificate from Sotheby’s on the wall. She looked wise. Here was my chance to pick an educated brain about fakes. How do you know when a piece is real, I asked? She picked up a rustic bowl with a dragon painted on it and cradled it in her hands. It was exquisite, imperfect. “When something is real, it speaks to you,” she said, and handed me the bowl. I had expected a short lesson on dynasty marks or some other appraiser’s learned trick of the trade. Instead, she reaffirmed what I already knew, that truth is revealed not in outward appearance, but in soul.

Copyright © 2006 D Home Magazine All rights reserved. 

Ancient Figurines

Reprinted from :
1) “Things Chinese” by Feibao, Du. Publisher: China Travel & Tourism Press, 2002

Most ancient figurines were historically objects of funerary practices. They have their origin in the institution of immolation or burying the living with the dead.

Immolation was practiced in the period of slavery. In 1950, excavations made of a Shang Dynasty (c. 17th – 11th century B.C.) aristocrat’s tomb at Wuguan Village, Anyang, Henan Province, brought to light the remains of 79 slaves who had been buried alive with their dead master. Besides that, in 27 pits arranged in rows in front and at the back of the tomb were discovered, buried en masse, the skeletons of 207 other slaves beheaded in immolation.

The cruel custom of burying the living with the dead, though replaced by the burying of tomb figurines, lingered on and was practiced in isolated cases under nearly every dynasty. In the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), according to contemporary notes, a human sacrifice was entertained to a sumptuous feast to meet his last day before being led down to an underground temple to meet his horrible end. At the funeral of an emperor, palace maids were reportedly pushed, one after another, onto bed-like racks, and their heads into nooses, and were hanged after the racks had been removed. When Emperor Changzu of the Ming Dynasty died in 1424, sixteen persons were buried alive with him. In the eastern and western ‘wells’ on either side of the Changling Mausoleum (the largest of the Ming Tombs) are the remains of his immolated concubines.

After the Qin and Han dynasties, tomb figurines began to be used instead of human

beings. Vast numbers of them, dating from the Warring States Period (475 – 221 B.C.) down to the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), have been unearthed. They are of various descriptions but most are made of pottery and porcelain, next come wood and lacquer, and occasionally jade. They represent people of different status and walks – court officials, musicians, dancers and acrobats. As a rule, they are nicely modeled in

different postures, constituting a valuable part of China’s ancient art.

Jade figurines first appeared in China during the 8th to 3rd century B.C. A number of tiny jade figurines were unearthed in 1974 from a mausoleum of the ancient state of Zhongshan. Most of them appear to be females, though some are males. They have their hair done up in buns on the head – double buns for women and single for the boys. They all stand, holding their hands before their chest. The females are clad in tight-sleeved dresses, buttoned down the middle, and chequered long skirts. The hairdo and costume must be true-to-life reproductions of those prevalent in Zhongshan at the time.

The Qin (221 – 206 B.C.) and Han (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.) dynasties are noted for the high quality and large numbers of pottery figurines they produced. In 1974 the famous terracotta warriors and horses of Qin Shi Huang (the First Emperor of the Qin) were discovered just east of his mausoleum. The excavation is still going on, and Vault No 1alone is expected to yield 6,000 of them. The life-sized figures of men and hoses are in neat battle formation, with the men holding real bronze weapons of the time and reflecting the formidable might of the legions of the First Emperor.

In the winter of 1980, another valuable find was made to the west of the mausoleum. Two bronze carriages, standing one behind the other, were discovered. Each was drawn by a team of four bronze horses and driven by a driver, also made of bronze. All figures are half life-size, weighing a total of 1,800 kilograms. They are the earliest, largest, most elaborate and best-preserved models of ancient bronze carriages, complete with animals and drivers, ever found in China. Each discovery at and near the Qin Shi Huang mausoleum has caused – and will cause – a stir among archaeologists the world over.

Han Dynasty figurines show clear influences of the Qin, but are smaller in size. An impressive discovery was made a few years ago in a Han tomb at Yangjiawan, Xianyang, Shaanxi Province of a total of 3,000 painted pottery figures. Most of the standing figurines represent warriors, and some of them are equestrians. Compared with the human figures,the horses are more expressive: some stand quietly and others rear up with an unheard neigh. They must be truthful portraits in sculpture of the foot and mounted troops of the Han Dynasty.

With the flourishing of ceramics during the Tang, Song and Ming dynasties (10th – 17th century), the tomb figurines of this long period are mostly glazed pottery and porcelain, among which the ‘tri-coloured glazed pottery of the Tang’ is world-famous. Out of the ancient tombs of Xi’an and Luoyang have been unearthed many colour-glazed females, horses and camels. Noteworthy especially are the pottery camel drivers with their deep-set eyes, protruding noses and hairy faces, evidently Central Asians who plied the Silk Road with their caravans. The ‘tri-coloured Tangs’ represent in effect a special handicraft art careering solely to the funerary needs of the aristocracy at the heyday of China’s feudalism.

Wooden figurines have a much longer history, which extends back to the Warring States Period (475 – 221 B.C.). They have been found in many ancient tombs of different ages and in different localities. The tomb of Zhu Tan, prince of Lu (the tenth son of the founding emperor Zhu Yuanzhang of the Ming), situated in Zouxian, Shandong Province, yielded in 1974 a total of 406 painted wood figures in the formation of a long funeral procession. It consists of three parts: musicians leading in front, followed by attendants and military officers in the middle, and civil officials bringing up the rear. The figures – a sculptured model of an early Ming (2nd half of the 14th century) funeral – are on display in the Provincial Museum of Shandong in Jinan.

Some wood figurines have been found in the Dingling Mausoleum of the Ming Tombs. They are few in number and crude in workmanship, showing that wood figures are already going out of vogue towards the end of the dynasty.

During the Qing Dynasty (1616 – 1911), paper figures appeared; they were not buried with the dead but were burnt at funerals to follow the dead to the nether world. After the fall of the Qing, tomb figures have fallen completely into disuse.

Chinese Embroidery Styles 

Embroidery is a traditional Chinese craft which consists of pulling colored threads through a background material with embroidery needles to stitch colored patterns that have been previously designed on the ground. The adoption of different needling methods resulted in different Chinese embroidery styles and technique schools. Chinese embroidery had already reached a high level early in the Qin and Han dynasties, and silk and embroidery were the main products transported along the ancient Chinese Silk Road. The four famous Chinese embroidery styles are the Su embroidery of Jiangsu Province, the Xiang embroidery of Hunan Province, the Yue embroidery of Guangdong Province and the Shu embroidery of Sichuan Province.

Su embroidery (Su Style Chinese Embroidery) has a history of over 2000 years. It was produced on a large scale during the Song Dynasty. In the late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty, Shen Shou absorbed Japanese and Western fine art sand combined them with traditional Chinese embroidery skills to create the simulated embroidery with ray effects. In the 1930s, the irregular embroidery technique was created in the Zhengze Girl's Vocationa1 School in Danyang. In 1957, the Embroidery Research Institute was established in Suzhou. Su embroidery is known for its delicacy and elegance. The design is usually very simple, high lighting a main theme. Its stitching is smooth, dense, thin, neat, even, delicate and harmonious. The thin thread is divided into up to 48 strands that are barely visible to the naked eye. Double-sided embroidery has the same pattern on both sides and uses the same embroidering method that does not show the joins in the stitches. Su embroidery products were sent to participate in the Panama World Fair in 1915. Since then, the style has become increasingly famous throughout the world. View more detailed info about Su Style Chinese Embroidery

Xiang embroidery (Xiang Style Chinese Embroidery) was initiated in the Chu Kingdom of the Warring States Period. It had become the main craft in places around Changsha, capital city of Hunan Province, in the Qing Dynasty Xiang embroidery was developed from Hunan folk embroidery methods, but it also drew on the skills of Su embroidery and Yue embroidery. Xiang embroidery products use loose colorful threads to embroider the pattern and the stitches are not as neat as those of other embroidery styles. The various colored threads are mixed together, showing a gradual change in color with a rich and harmonious tone. Designs on Xiang embroidery mostly derive from traditional Chinese paintings of landscapes, human figures, flowers, birds and animals. The most common designs on Xiang embroidery are lions and tigers. The tigers appear strong and bold, revealing their power and menace as a king of animals. Xiang embroidery won the best award in the Torino World Fair in Italy in 1912 and the First Award in the Panama World Fair in 1933. Xiang embroidery is known abroad as the ideal embroidery.

Yue embroidery (Yue Style Chinese Embroidery) was entirely developed in the Tang Dynasty Ancient Chinese craftsmen used peacock feathers twisted together as the embroidering thread to stitch the ornamental designs; horsetail was used to stitch the outline to make the work more expressive. The designs of Yue embroidery are rich and complicated in content with bright colors and strong decorative effects. The embroidery is smooth and even. One type, gold and silver cushion embroidery, creates a magnificent three-dimensional effect Yue embroidery has a wide range of designs, the most common ones being birds worshipping the sun, dragons and phoenixes. Yue embroidery includes the Guang and Chao branches which have different stitching styles.

Shu embroidery products are mostly found in Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province. They are made with soft satins and colored threads as the raw materials are embroidered by hand. The varied stitching methods form their unique local style' Designs on Shu embroidery include flowers, birds, landscapes, fish, worms and human figures. The products themselves include quilt covers, pillow covers, back cushions, table cloths, scarves and handkerchiefs.

Besides the four major Chinese embroidery styles, there are Ou embroidery of Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, Bian embroidery of Kaifeng, Henan Province, and the Han embroidery of Wuhan, Hubei Province.

Chinese Porcelain & Ceramics: A Brief History

Ceramics began in China 6,000 years ago during the New Stone Age, whose advent was marked, among other things, by the invention of pottery. The earliest earthenware was moulded by hand; the potter's wheel came much later. At the beginning the clay was fired at a temperature of some 500-600 c. Painted pottery began to be known during the period of Yangshao and Longshan cultures.

The large legion of terra-cotta soldiers and horses of the Qin Dynasty (221- 207 B.C.), discovered in Shaanxi Province in 1974, are eloquent proof of the high skills in kiln-firing and sculpture attained at that early age. The art of pottery reached another peak of development in the Tang Dynasty (618 907 A. D.), as evidenced by the renowned "tri-coloured glaze."

On the basis of pottery developed porcelain, which emerged in China, homeland of the art, 3,000 years ago during the Shang Dynasty. From the remains of that period at Sanligang of Zhengzhou and Xiaotun of Anyang (both in Henan Province) and at Wucheng Village of Qingjiang County, Jiangxi Province vessels of blue-glazed ware have been unearthed. Upon examination, they proved to have been made of kaolin and fired and. vitrified at the high temperature of 1,200 C. Their surface is coated with a glaze, whose chemical composition is already very close to that of their bodies. Certain porcelains of the Song (960-1279) and Ming (1368 1644) dynasties were already celadon, though at its early stages.

Chinese ceramics became known to the world at large from the Tang Dynasty so much that the word "china" became the name of porcelain. Chinese porcelain, together with Chinese tea and silk flowed through the Silk Road and other land and sea routes to foreign countries.

Jingdezhen in southern China became a principal centre of the porcelain industry during the Song Dynasty. Dubbed the "Porcelain Metropolis," it still boasts important remains of ancient workshops and kilns.

A significant archaeological find was made when a porcelain kiln dating back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25- 220 A.D.) was brought to light a few years ago at Xiaoxiantan in Shangyu County, Zhejiang Province. This is the earliest porcelain-producing site ever discovered in China, and in the world as a whole.

Rapid progress has been made in the industry since the founding of New China by inheriting from, and improving upon, the past. Ceramics are now produced with renovated techniques and in ever-growing varieties in many localities, to the welcome of customers at home and abroad.

In China, porcelain enjoys a very long history. During the Shang and Zhou dynasties, ancient earthen wares were found in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and Yellow River. Actual porcelain wares only starts during the Han Dynasty. As times progress, the making of porcelain ware improves with new techniques and creativities, resulting in having different styles from one period to another period.

During the Han Dynasty, celadon and black porcelain were mainly produced. Celadon is a type of grayish-green glaze, which is like the colour of jade. Developments in the productions of celadon porcelain continue to carry on into the later dynasties.

In the late Tang Dynasty, with the achievement of high technical method, celadon porcelain was produced in a large scale. While celadon porcelain was at its peak, at the same time, pure white porcelain known as Xing ware, because it was mainly produced at Xing Kiln in the Province of Hubei. Its porcelain wares when been tapped gives out sounds like as if a sound from a musical instrument.

In the history of Chinese porcelain, the porcelain wares of the Song Dynasty can be classified as a classic example of porcelain art in the entire world. Classic, because Song porcelains have achieved an excellent combination of shape, glaze and decoration to it's ware. This is mainly due to the achievement made by the potters during the Song Dynasty, for having acquired a high command of skill in the area of making pots, innovative firing techniques and glaze making.

Many famous kilns were found at different areas during the Song Dynasty. Among all the famous kilns, the Ru Kiln, Jun Kiln, Guan Kiln, Ge Kiln and the Ding Kiln are the top five most famous kilns.

Creamy porcelain wares are produced at Ru Kiln. The red of the rosy porcelain wares produced at Jun Kiln are like the brilliant sunset glow. Ge Kiln specializes in producing artificial crackle porcelain wares. Among this three-mentioned kiln's ware, Ru's wares is the most famous of them.

It was said that a Ru ware are solely produced for the imperial court. Ru wares is fine and delicate, it uses a special glaze with carnelian added to it. Basically, four kinds of colour glaze are been used in Ru wares; they are azure, sapphire, moon white and turquoise. The firing temperature and the glaze prescription are very difficult to control. With only twenty years of production, Ru wares are very rare. So rare, that up to date only seventy pieces of such ware can be found in the whole world. Therefore, we can say that the techniques applied in the production of porcelain wares during the Song Dynasty have reached its greatest height.

During the Yuan Dynasty, the porcelain industry continued with its rapid development. Blue and white porcelain of the Tang and Song dynasties, continues into the Yuan Dynasty, by using the traditional techniques maybe with some difference in design like painting are being applied.

Firstly, the blue and white porcelain ware was painted with a strong blue under the transparent glaze. This resulted in the colour been perfectly protected by the layer of hard glaze, enabling it to be lasting and well preserved. Among those kilns at that time, the kilns in Jingdezhen has made a technical breakthrough by remodeling the material combination and make improvement to the firing temperature, hence facilitated the production of large porcelain wares.

Secondly, in Yuan Blue and White wares we may find some uncustomary Chinese design, it is full of decoration, brightly coloured together with combination of some uncustomary Chinese shape and decorative Chinese motifs. During the Yuan Dynasty, under glaze-blue and the under glaze-red was used for decoration. The decoration is very pictorial.

Thirdly, before the Yuan Dynasty there was very little colour choice. Great achievement was made in the produce of coloured glaze.

In the Ming Dynasty, blue and white porcelain wares are the chief porcelain products. During the reign of Emperor Yongle, Xuande and Chenghua, blue and white porcelain ware enters into its golden era. Emperor Yongle and Xuande reigns' porcelain has features of delicate and thick glaze, various design and pattern, and with plenty of model. As for those porcelain wares under Emperor Chenghua reigns, it is also delicate but lighter in colour with Chinese ink and washed painting incorporated onto it. During the late Ming Dynasty, under the reigns of Emperor Jiajing, Longqing and Wanli, the blue and white porcelain received great popularity.

In the Qing Dynasty, the blue and white porcelain made great advances and created a worldwide interest. Among the Qing porcelain wares, those produced under the reigns of Emperor Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong are the most famous.

Porcelain of Jingdezhen

Jingdezhen, formerly spelt Ching The Chen and known as the "Ceramics Metropolis" of China, is a synonym for Chinese porcelain.

Variably called Xinping or Changnanzhen in history, it is situated in the northeastern part of Jiangxi province in a small basin rich in fine kaolin, hemmed in by mountains which keep it supplied with firewood from their conifers. People there began to produce ceramics as early as 1,800 years ago in the Eastern Han Dynasty. In the Jingde Period(1004-1007), emperor Zhenzong of Song Dynasty decreed that Changnanzhen should produce the porcelain used by the imperial court, with each inscribed at the bottom "made in the reign of Jingde.: From then on people began to call all chinaware bearing such in scriptions "porcelain of Jingdezhen".

The ceramic industry experienced further development at Jingdezhen during the Ming and Qing dynasties or from the 14th to the 19th century, when skills became perfected and the general quality more refined; government kilns were set up to cater exclusively to the need of the imperial house.

Jingdezhen, the ancient ceramics metropolis, has been regenerated with new vigor since the founding of New China. It now boasts a ceramic research institute and a ceramic museum in addition to five kaolin quarries, 15 porcelain factories, two porcelain machinery plants, one porcelain chemical plant, two refractory materials factories and dozens of porcelain processing works.

The leading center of the porcelain industry, Jingdezhen has been put under state protection also as an important historical city. With 133 ancient buildings and cultural sites, it is a tourist town attracting large numbers of visitors from home and abroad.


Cloisonne is a unique art form that originated in Beijing during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368). Cloisonne, in which China excels, is known as jingtailan in the country. It first appeared toward the end of the Yuan Dynasty in the mid-14th century, flourished and reached its peak of development during the reign of the Ming Emperor jingtai(1450-1457). And as the objects were mostly in blue(lan) colour, cloisonné came to be called by its present name Jingtailan.

A Jingtailan article has a copper body. The design on it is formed by copper wire stuck on with a vegetable glue. Coloured enamel is filled in with different colours kep apart by the wire strips. After being fired four or five times in a kiln, the workpiece is polished and gilded into a colourful and luxtrous work of art. During the Ming Dynasty(1368-1644), cloisonneware was mainly supplied for use in the imperial palace, in the form of incense-burners, vases, jars, boxes and candlesticks-all in imitation of antique porcelain and bronze. Present-day production, with Beijing as the leading center,stresses the adding of ornamental beauty to things that are useful. The artifacts include vases, plates, jars,boxes, tea sets, lamps, lanterns, tables, stools, drinking vessels and small articles for the desk. A pair of big cloisonné horses have been made in recent years, each measuring 2.1 metres high and 2.4 metres long, and weighing about 700 kilograms. They took eight months to finish, involving the labour of hundreds of workers and 60 tons of coal for the firing. They represent the largest object even made in cloisonné in the 500 years since the art was born. Cloisonne ware bears on the surface vitreous enamal which, like porcelain, is hard but brittle, so it must not be knocked against anything hard. To remove dust from it, it should be whisked lightly with a soft cloth. Avoid heavy wiping with a wet cloth, for this might eventually wear off the gilding.

During the reigns of Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), cloisonne improved and reached its artistic summit. Colors were more delicate, filigrees more flexible and fluent, and scope was enlarged beyond the sacrifice-process wares into snuff bottles, folding screens, incense burners, tables, chairs, chopsticks, and bowls.

Cloisonne manufacture is comprehensive and sophisticated, combining the techniques of making bronze and porcelain ware, as well as those of traditional painting and sculpture: click to view more about Cloisonne manufacturing.


Celadon, a famous type of ancient Chinese stoneware, came into being during the period of the Five Dynasties(907-960). It is characterized by simple but refined shapes, jade-like glaze, solid substance and a distinctive style. As the celadonware produced in Longquan County. Zhejiang Province, is most valued, so it is also generally called Longquan qingci. Its Chinese name, qingci, means "greenish porcelain". Why then is it known in the West as 'celadon". Celadon was the hero of the French writer Honore Urfe's romance L' Astree(1610) the lover of the heroine Astree. He was represented as a young man in green and his dress became all the rage in Europe. And it was just about this time that the Chinese Qingci made its debut in Paris and won acclaim. People compared its colour to Celadon's suit and started to call the porcelain " celadon", a name which has stuck and spread to other countries. Now, new products of Longquan qingci have been developed to radiate with fresh luster; they include eggshell china and underglazed painting.

Neolithic Bronze 

Chinese started to cast bronze wares about 5,000 years ago. However, bronze vessels were commonly used till the Shang and Zhou dynasties by aristocrats in daily life and ancestral rituals. Thus, the Shang and Zhou bronze vessels were the most highly esteemed objects of their time.

The ancients believed that their deceased ancestors would intercede on behalf of the living, provided they were honored and respected. The bronze vessels were kept in ancestral halls and used during a variety of feasts and banquets.

Most bronze vessels were used for cooking food or to heat a millet wine. However, certain huge vessels usually symbolized power and status. For example, Ding, a tripod caldron, some having 4 legs, was originally cooking vessel and ritual vessel inscribed with memorial address, and gradually transferred into a symbol of state and power.

Owing to their importance, bronze wares exemplified the most advanced technical and artistic developments. Early bronze vessels, including Jue (wine goblet), Zhi (wine goblet), Zun (wine beaker) and Ku (wine goblet beaker) except Ding, were the most advanced developments in shape and decoration up to that point in world history.

In 1976, at Anyang in Henan province, capital of the Shang dynasty, archaeologists uncovered a Shang tomb, the burying chamber of Fuhao who was Emperor Wuding's consort and a female general who leaded troops and helped her husband in wars. The tomb was the only Shang imperial tomb found intact. Many bronze vessels were found, including those she used before and those specially cast as her burial vessels.

Many famous Shang bronze vessels currently displayed around the world are all the legacy of Fuhao's grave. Most of the Shang vessels are shaped into animals and decorated with motifs of Taotie, a kind of legendary vicious beast and other zoomorphic designs.

The Bronze Tripod or Cauldron

The bronze ding, a cooking utensil in remote times, was used like a cauldron for boiling fish and meat. At first, about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, the ding was made of fired clay,usually with three legs, occasionally with four that is why it is loosely referred to as "tripod" in English. It stands steadily and has a nice shape.

With the advent of the slavery system, China entered the bronze age, and the earthern ding was gradually replaced by the bronze one. In time, it assumed the role of an important sacrificial vessel used by the slave-owning aristocrats at ceremonies of worship.

Leading among the bronze ding that have been discovered to date, and by far the largest, is the "Si Mu Wu" ding which dates to the late Shang Dynasty (c.17th to 11th Century B.C.). Weighing 875 kilograms, it is 133 centimeters high and rectangular in shape, standing on four legs. It was made for the King of Shang to offer sacrifices to his dead mother Wu. Exquisitely cast, it is considered a rare masterpiece of the bronze culture the world over. The ding of this historical period have a unique shape and are often decorated with patterns of animal masks and other distinctive features characteristic of animal masks and other distinctive features characteristic of the period. They are important material objects for the study of the ancient society concerned. Towards the end of the slave society, the ding became a vessel which, by its size and numbers, indicated the power and status of its aristocrat owner. At rites, the status of its aristocrat owner. At rites, the emperor used a series of 9 ding, the dukes and barons 7, senior officials 5, and scholarly gentlemen 3. From the number of ding yielded by an ancient tomb, one can tell the status of its dead occupant.

Today visitors to palaces, imperial gardens and temples of the Ming and Qing courts can still see beautiful arrays of bronze tripods which were, in their time, both decorations and status symbols. In the periods when Buddhism was the predominant faith in the country, the ding was also used as a religious incense-burner. Such burners, made of bronze, iron or stone in various sizes, can still be seen in many old temples. In Yonghegong, the famous Beijing lamasery, there is a large bronze ding with an overall heigh of 4.2 meters, cast with the inscription "made in the 12th year of Qianlong(1747). It was in this ding that Qing Emperors, which they went to the temple for worship, were believed to have offered bundles of burning joss sticks.

Bronze tripods and cauldrons have always fascinated people with their heirachical associations and their simple but stately forms. So there has always been a thriving craft devoted to the making of copies or imitations of them. Normally they are miniatures for table-top decoration often made of other materials such as jade, agate, lacquer and so on. They represent an important branch of Chinese arts and crafts.

Musical Bells and Chime Stones
These are percussion musical instruments unique to ancient China. The zhong are made of bronze while the qing generally of stone. They may be played either individually or in groups. In the latter case, they are hung in rows on wooden racks and known respectively as bianzhong and bianqing. Struck with wooden hammers, they produce melodious sounds of various notes. In their time, they were the important instruments played-either in solo performance or in ensemble or as accompaniment-during imperial audiences, palace banquets and religious ceremonies.

1. Stone and Jade Qing
It can be easily imagined that the stone qing must have been one of the earliest musical instruments in China. During the Stone Age, the Chinese forefathers, working with stone implements, founds out that certain sonorous rocks, when knocked, produced musical sounds and that, by knocking at rocks of different sizes, they could make music. So the earliest sizes, they could make music. So the earliest man-made chime stones were born out of those natural rocks. In 1973 a Shang Dynasty(c.17th-11th century B.C.) chime stone was discovered from the ruins of that age in Anyang, Henan province. It is grey-coloured and has tiger patterns engraved on it, showing that it had been used by the imperial court.

The key step in the making of a chime stone is to give it the right note. Artisans learned long ago how to achieve this. If the pitch of a Stone was too high, they would grind the two flat faces of the slab, making it thinner if the pitch was on the low side, they would grind the ends and make the slab shorter, until the right tone was arrived at.

The jade qing was made much later, following the same idea as for chime stone but using the more valuable jade as the material. In the hall of Treasures of the forbidden City can be seen a chime consisting of 12 iade qing. They were made during the reign of Qianlong(1736-1795) of a previous black jade exquisitely finished on both sides with gold-painted dragons playing with balls. It is said that the twelve were chosen out of 160 pieces made at the time by the jade carvers of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, involving 90,000 workdays and untold costs.

2. Chime of Bells Bianzhong
To make the chime of bells, an important metal instrument in ancient times, bronze was invariably used for the best acoustic effect. Early bells are called yongzhong, rather flat in shape and very much like two concave tiles joined face to face. Later, however, people stressed the beauty of their shape and gave them a more and more round body, at the expense of the tonal qualities.

It seems that there was fixed number of bells for each chime. Judging by those unearthed to date, a chime may be very simple, consisting of 3,6 or 9 bells, or very complicated, with 13,14,16 or as many as 36 bells.

The most elaborate ancient bianzhong, a set of 65 bells, was unearthed in 1978 in Suixian County, Hubei Province, from the tomb of the Marquis of Zeng dating from the Warring States Period(475-221 B.C.). Their total weight is over 2,500 kilograms, and they were found hung on a three-tiered rack. The biggest of the bells has an overall heigh of 153.4 centimetres and a weight of 203.6 kilograms. The whole chime, unprecedented discovery in the history of musical instrument ever brough to light-not only in China but in the world as a whole.

Although buried underground for over 2,400 years, the bells still produce fine tones. Ancient and modern music, including tunes from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, revived ancient tunes of the Tang Dynasty and them tunes of modern Chinese Operas, has been played on them with satisfying results.

Careful study of the bells has revealed that they were cast according to the 7 tone scale with 5 semitones in between, completing a well-integrated system of 12 tones. The scale of the whole chime agrees with the modern 7-tone scale in C major, and its range covers 5 octaves, just two octaves less than the modern piano. What is more amazing, each bell can produce two different tones, a unique feature in percussion imstruments.

An inscription of 2,500 characters engraved on the bells tells of the musical theories and the names of the tones prevalent at the time as well as the positions where the tones can be produced. The unearthing of this set of bells has proved beyond all doubt the application of the twelve-tone equal temperament in Chinese music as early as the 5th century B.C., providing one more evidence of the antiquity of the Chinese Civilization.

The 65-bell bianzhong can be seen at the Provincial Museum of Hubei in the Central China city of Wuhan.

Another bianzhong worth seeing is one of 16 bells made of pure gold during the Qianlong period in the 18th century, now displayed in the Forbidden City's Hall of Treasures. Cast in unique forms and about the same size, the 16 bells are of a uniform height of 23.8 cenimetres, but their weight ranges from 4,703 to 14,316 grams. Round in shape, they produce a rather than monotonous ring, but they were meant during the heyday of the Qing Dynasty, to impress viewers with the wealth and extravagance of the imperial house. And they are indeed very much valued being cast in dazzling gold and engraved with lively patterns of ball-playing dragons.

Bronze Ware

The bronze ware were unique national treasures for China n ancient times for their impressive designs, classical decorative ornamentation, and wealth of inscriptions. The ancient Chinese society fell into the Stone Tool Age and the Iron tool age. The earliest stoneware in China was found in 3000 B.C. The Shang and Zhou dynasties ushered China into the height of the Bronze Age. During this period the making of bronze ware reached its zenith. After the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods China entered the Iron Tool Age.

Bronze is the alloy of cooper and zinc or copper and lead that is bluish grey. The museums across China and some important museums outside China, have all collected Chinese Bronze ware dating back to the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Some of them are part of the cultural heritage passed down through the generations, but most of them were dug up from underneath the earth. Ancient Chinese Bronze ware fall into three types: ritual vessels, weapons, and miscellaneous objects. Ritual vessels refer to those objects employed by aristocrats in sacrificial ceremonies or audiences. Therefore there is something distinctively religious and shamanist about them. These vessels include food containers, wine vessels, water pot and musical instruments. Bronze weapons come in such varieties as knife, sword, spear, halberd, axe, and dagger. The miscellaneous objects refer to bronze utensils for daily use.

In ancient China the making of bronze ware was dominated by the imperial families and aristocrats. And the possession of such wares was regarded as a status symbol. In comparison with counterparts in other parts of the world, the Chinese Bronze ware stand out for their inscriptions which are regarded as major chapters in the Chinese history of calligraphy.