Tiger Cave Kiln

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Reconstructed vase from the museum at the site Hangzhou Nansong Guanyao Bowuguan 20120518-28.jpg
Reconstructed vase from the museum at the site

Archaeological excavations at the Tiger Cave Kiln (Chinese :老虎洞窑; pinyin :Lǎohǔdòng Yáo) at Hangzhou in the Chinese province of Zhejiang have helped to identify one site of origin of the important ceramic wares of the Southern Song dynasty known as Guan ware, meaning "official" ware, which were made for the exclusive use of the imperial court.

Simplified Chinese characters standardized Chinese characters developed in mainland China

Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters prescribed in the Table of General Standard Chinese Characters for use in mainland China. Along with traditional Chinese characters, they are one of the two standard character sets of the contemporary Chinese written language. The government of the People's Republic of China in mainland China has promoted them for use in printing since the 1950s and 1960s to encourage literacy. They are officially used in the People's Republic of China and Singapore.

Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet, and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.

Hangzhou Prefecture-level & Sub-provincial city in Zhejiang, Peoples Republic of China

Hangzhou formerly romanized as Hangchow, is the capital and most populous city of Zhejiang Province in East China. It sits at the head of Hangzhou Bay, which separates Shanghai and Ningbo. Hangzhou grew to prominence as the southern terminus of the Grand Canal and has been one of the most renowned and prosperous cities in China for much of the last millennium. The city's West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage site immediately west of the city, is among its best-known attractions. A study conducted by PwC and China Development Research Foundation saw Hangzhou ranked first among "Chinese Cities of Opportunity". Hangzhou is also considered a World City with a "Beta+" classification according to GaWC.


Reconstructed meiping Hangzhou Nansong Guanyao Bowuguan 20120518-18.jpg
Reconstructed meiping

The Tiger Cave Kiln and other associated ceramic ware sites have come under the control of Hangzhou Southern Song Guan Kiln Museum located in the west area of Turtle Hill of Yuhuang Mountain in Hangzhou, providing a detailed appreciation of the history and aesthetics of some of China's most celebrated ceramics; the museum also contains many ceramics of other origins.

In 1127, under pressure from invading Jurchens, the Northern Song court was driven south of the Yangtze River and in 1138 established a new capital at Hangzhou, in modern Zhejiang province (Chu Yen 1977) (Kerr 2004). The move to the south resulted in the abandonment or decline of kilns used to make ceramic wares for the northern court, above all Ru ware, but by 1149 two new kilns had been built at Hangzhou to make porcelain for the newly established Southern Song court (Kerr 2004); the first kiln under the control of the Xiuneisi (Department of Palace Supply) and the second near to the Jiaotanxia (Altar of Heaven) (Chu Yen 1977).

Zhejiang Province

Zhejiang, is an eastern coastal province of China. Zhejiang is bordered by Jiangsu and Shanghai to the north, Anhui to the northwest, Jiangxi to the west, and Fujian to the south. To the east is the East China Sea, beyond which lie the Ryukyu Islands of Japan.

Ru ware

Ru ware, Ju ware, or "Ru official ware" is a famous and extremely rare type of Chinese pottery from the Song dynasty, produced for the imperial court for a brief period around 1100. Fewer than 100 complete pieces survive, though there are later imitations which do not entirely match the originals. Most have a distinctive pale "duck-egg" blue glaze, "like the blue of the sky in a clearing amongst the clouds after rain" according to a medieval connoisseur, and are otherwise undecorated, though their colours vary and reach into a celadon green. The shapes include dishes, probably used as brush-washers, cups, wine bottles, small vases, and censers and incense-burners. They can be considered as a particular form of celadon wares.

The location of the Jiaotanxia kiln was finally established by excavations carried out between 1984 and 1986; but the location of the Xiuneisi kiln remained unknown until excavations started in 1998 at the Tiger Cave kiln site provided confirmation that this was the hitherto unidentified Xiuneisi kiln (Kerr 2004).

Excavations at the site

Fragmentary double layer vase Southern Song Guan Kiln Double layer vase.jpg
Fragmentary double layer vase

From 1998 to 2001 the Hangzhou Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology [杭州市文物考古所] excavated the Laohudong (Tiger Cave) Kiln. The results have rewritten Chinese ceramic history and solved mysteries that have haunted the field for literally hundreds of years. Excavated shards fall within the historical range of the Southern Song (1127-1279) to the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). The Southern Song celadon sherds show clearly that the Tiger cave Kiln was the ceramic production site for Southern Song Guan (official) ware. Tiger Cave is a seven hundred meter area located between Phoenix Mountain and Nine Flowers Mountain. The site is not more than a hundred meters from the north wall area of the Southern Song Imperial City area. Likewise it is two and a half miles from another Song production area known as the Jiaotanxia Kiln [郊坛下窑].

Sherd Historic or prehistoric fragment of pottery

In archaeology, a sherd, or more precisely, potsherd, is commonly a historic or prehistoric fragment of pottery, although the term is occasionally used to refer to fragments of stone and glass vessels, as well.

Yuan dynasty former Mongolian-ruled empire in Eastern and Northeastern Asia

The Yuan dynasty, officially the Great Yuan, was the empire or ruling dynasty of China established by Kublai Khan, leader of the Mongolian Borjigin clan. It followed the Song dynasty and preceded the Ming dynasty. Although the Mongols had ruled territories including modern-day North China for decades, it was not until 1271 that Kublai Khan officially proclaimed the dynasty in the traditional Chinese style, and the conquest was not complete until 1279. His realm was, by this point, isolated from the other khanates and controlled most of modern-day China and its surrounding areas, including modern Mongolia. It was the first foreign dynasty to rule all of China and lasted until 1368, after which the rebuked Genghisid rulers retreated to their Mongolian homeland and continued to rule the Northern Yuan dynasty. Some of the Mongolian Emperors of the Yuan mastered the Chinese language, while others only used their native language and the 'Phags-pa script.

The discovery of the Kiln site took place on September 20, 1996 after an extensive archeological search of the area. Southern Song shards display shapes that correspond to ritual vessels such as celadon vases and incense burners. Clearly the original objects were intended for palace use. The shards are primarily of a powder blue color. Next in number are those of a honey tint. The celadon shards display a rich thick glaze with prominent crackle and crazing. Clearly the kiln site is the long lost Official Ceramic Ware site referred to in historical texts as the Xiuneisi Official Ware Kiln [修内司窑]. The Mongol Period strata of the archaeological site perhaps solves another long standing ceramic history mystery i.e. that of Ge ware. After the fall of the Southern Song court and the unification of the Chinese nation under Mongol rule the Tiger Kiln maintained production. A portion of the ceramic production of this period continued to be celadon ware in the official (guan) ware style. This conforms to period historical references.

Ge ware

Ge ware or Ko ware is a type of celadon or greenware in Chinese pottery. It was one of the Five Great Kilns of the Song dynasty recognised by later Chinese writers, but has remained rather mysterious to modern scholars, with much debate as to which surviving pieces, if any, actually are Ge ware, whether they actually come from the Song, and where they were made. In recognition of this, many sources call all actual pieces Ge-type ware.

Southern Song guan wares

The Percival David Foundation has in its collection, now in the British Museum on loan, a number of pieces that some scholars believe were made at the Xiuneisi (Department of Palace Supply) kiln; a kiln which has now been identified as the Laohudong (Tiger Cave) kiln.

British Museum National museum in the Bloomsbury area of London

The British Museum, in the Bloomsbury area of London, United Kingdom, is a public institution dedicated to human history, art and culture. Its permanent collection of some eight million works is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence, having been widely sourced during the era of the British Empire. It documents the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. It was the first public national museum in the world.

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Longquan celadon (龍泉青瓷) is a type of green-glazed Chinese ceramic, known in the West as celadon or greenware, produced from about 950 to 1550. The kilns were mostly located in Lishui prefecture in southwestern Zhejiang Province in the south of China, and the north of Fujian Province. Overall a total of some 500 kilns have been discovered, making the Longquan celadon production area one of the largest historical ceramic producing areas in China. "Longquan-type" is increasingly preferred as a term, in recognition of this diversity, or simply "southern celadon", as there was also a large number of kilns in north China producing Yaozhou ware or other Northern Celadon wares. These are similar in many respects, but with significant differences to Longquan-type celadon, and their production rose and declined somewhat earlier.

Celadon term for ceramics denoting both wares glazed in the jade green celadon color

Celadon is a term for pottery denoting both wares glazed in the jade green celadon color, also known as greenware and a type of transparent glaze, often with small cracks, that was first used on greenware, but later used on other porcelains. Celadon originated in China, though the term is purely European, and notable kilns such as the Longquan kiln in Zhejiang province are renowned for their celadon glazes. Celadon production later spread to other regions in Asia, such as Japan, Korea and Thailand. Eventually, European potteries produced some pieces, but it was never a major element there. Finer pieces are in porcelain, but both the color and the glaze can be produced in stoneware and earthenware. Most of the earlier Longquan celadon is on the border of stoneware and porcelain, meeting the Chinese but not the European definitions of porcelain.

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Chinese ceramics show a continuous development since pre-dynastic times and are one of the most significant forms of Chinese art and ceramics globally. The first pottery was made during the Palaeolithic era. Chinese ceramics range from construction materials such as bricks and tiles, to hand-built pottery vessels fired in bonfires or kilns, to the sophisticated Chinese porcelain wares made for the imperial court and for export. Porcelain is so identified with China that it is still called "china" in everyday English usage.

Gangjingun Kiln Sites is a tentative World Heritage site listed by the South Korean government at UNESCO. It is a complex of 188 kilns which produced Goryeo ware. The kiln sites are located in Gangjin-gun, Jeollanam-do, South Korea near the sea. Mountains in the north provided the necessary raw materials such as firewood, kaolinite, and silicon dioxide for the master potters while a well established system of distribution transported pottery throughout Korea and facilitated export to China and Japan.

Jun ware archaeological site

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Jingdezhen porcelain

Jingdezhen porcelain is Chinese porcelain produced in or near Jingdezhen in southern China. Jingdezhen may have produced pottery as early as the sixth century CE, though it is named after the reign name of Emperor Zhenzong, in whose reign it became a major kiln site, around 1004. By the 14th century it had become the largest centre of production of Chinese porcelain, which it has remained, increasing its dominance in subsequent centuries. From the Ming period onwards, official kilns in Jingdezhen were controlled by the emperor, making imperial porcelain in large quantity for the court and the emperor to give as gifts.

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Yue ware type of Chinese ceramics

Yue ware or Yüeh ware is a type of Chinese ceramics, a felspathic siliceous stoneware, which is characteristically decorated with celadon glazing. Yue ware is also sometimes called (Yuezhou) green porcelain in modern literature, but the term is misleading as it is not really porcelain and its shades are not really green. It has been "one of the most successful and influential of all south Chinese ceramics types".

Seto ware

Seto ware refers to a type of Japanese pottery, stoneware, and ceramics produced in and around Seto in Aichi Prefecture, Japan. The Japanese term for it, setomono, is also used as a generic term for all pottery. Seto was the location of one of the Six Ancient Kilns of Japan.

Guan ware

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Jizhou ware

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Five Great Kilns

The Five Great Kilns, also known as Five Famous Kilns, is a generic term for ceramic kilns or wares which produced Chinese ceramics during the Song dynasty (960–1279) that were later held in particularly high esteem. The group were only so called by much later writers under the Ming and Qing dynasties, and of the five, only two seem to have produced wares directly ordered by the Imperial court, though all can be of very high quality. All were imitated later, often with considerable success.

Yaozhou ware

Yaozhou ware is a type of celadon or greenware in Chinese pottery, which was at its height during the Northern Song dynasty. It is the largest and typically the best of the wares in the group of Northern Celadon wares. It is especially famous for the rich effects achieved by decoration in shallow carving under a green celadon glaze which sinks into the depressions of the carving giving contrasts of light and dark shades.

Dragon kiln traditional Chinese form of kiln

A dragon kiln or "climbing kiln", is a traditional Chinese form of kiln, used for Chinese ceramics, especially in southern China. It is long and thin, and relies on having a fairly steep slope, typically between 10° and 16°, up which the kiln runs. The kiln could achieve the very high temperatures, sometimes as high as 1400 °C, necessary for high-fired wares including stoneware and porcelain, which long challenged European potters, and some examples were very large, up to 60 metres long, allowing up to 25,000 pieces to be fired at a time. By the early 12th century CE they might be over 135 metres long, allowing still larger quantities to be fired; more than 100,000 have been claimed.

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The mantou kiln or horseshoe-shaped kiln was the most common type of pottery kiln in north China, in historical periods when the dragon kiln dominated south China; both seem to have emerged in the Warring States period of approximately 475 to 221 BC. It is named after the Chinese mantou bun or roll, whose shape it resembles; the ground plan resembles a horseshoe. The kilns are roughly round, with a low dome covering the central firing area, and are generally only 2 to 3 metres across inside. However it is capable of reaching very high temperatures, up to about 1370°C. There is a door or bricked-up opening at the front for loading and unloading, and one or two short chimneys at the rear.


Stephen Wootton Bushell English physician and amateur Orientalist

Stephen Wootton Bushell CMG MD was an English physician and amateur Orientalist who made important contributions to the study of Chinese ceramics, Chinese coins and the decipherment of the Tangut script.

Rose Kerr (art historian)

Rose Kerr is an English art historian specializing in Chinese art, especially Chinese ceramics, on which she has written a number of books. She was the Keeper of the Far Eastern Department at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London until 2003. In 2015, she was made an honorary citizen of Jingdezhen, China, the historic centre of Chinese porcelain production, in recognition of her academic research on Jingdezhen ceramics, and her promotion of cultural exchange between the United Kingdom and China. She was the first non-Chinese citizen to be so honoured.

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