The Song Dynasty (960-1279) is considered the most advanced in culture and a classical age in the development of porcelain in Chinese history. That period saw the emergence of many official and private kilns, the best known of which were the Ru, Guan, Ge, Ding and Jun kilns. Song Dynasty porcelains have their distinguishing beauty and are highly valued throughout the world.
The Guan Kiln The Guan kiln was located in Kaifeng, the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). It was an imperial kiln that produced for the court. Guan ware was very difficult to produce and its success rate was very low. In order to guard against imitations, the manufacturing technique of the ware was absolutely kept secret from outsiders and substandard pieces were all smashed to pieces. Guan pieces are exceedingly rare and highly valued because the kiln existed for only 18 years-established in 1007 and destroyed by war in 1125.
The Ru Kiln The Ru kiln, an official kiln in the Song Dynasty, was one of the five celebrated kilns in its time. The other four were the Guan, Ge, Ding and Jun kilns. Ru wares are extremely rare. According to statistics, less than 100 authenticated pieces survive. Ru wares are therefore highly valued and much sought after by collectors at home and abroad.
The Ru kiln was set up in 1107 during the reign of Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty. It took its name from Ruzhou (now Linru County in Henan Province) where it was located. The principal colors of Ru ware are sky-blue, opalwhite and light greenish blue. Most of the existing Ru pieces are light greenish blue. As the Ru kiln, which produced wares for the exclusive use of the court, operated for only a short period of time, Ru pieces are exceedingly scarce and can only be found in a few museums and private collections in the world, 17 pieces in the world. According to archeologists, not a single piece of Ru ware so far has ever been discovered from song tombs.
The Ge Kiln In Southern Song times, as one story goes, two brothers from Longquan in Zhejiang Province each set up a kiln in their native town. The kiln owned by the elder brother was called the Ge (elder brother) kiln and that belonged to the younger brother was known as the Di (younger brother) kiln. The Ge kiln did a booming trade while the Di kiln did not. One day when his elder brother was away, the younger brother poured water into the elder brother’s kiln of his brother due to his jealousy. Because of the unequal contraction of the glaze, the wares in the kiln came out with a wide-meshed crackles that looks like shattered ice pieces. Although regarded as defective, the wares were warmly received by customers for their exotic designs and natural styles with sense of great antiquity. Porcelain wares with a cracked glaze soon became special products of the Ge kiln and enjoyed an increasing popularity with the people.
The Ding Kiln The kiln was name after Dingzhou (now Quyang County, Hebei Province) in which it was located. It began to produce white porcelain during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and became famous for its white ware throughout the country during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The kiln also produced articles covered with black, brown and green glazes. Ding ware may be either plain or decorated with incised, molded, impressed or carved designs. The kiln greatly enhanced its production by introducing the technique of firing wares upside down. During the Song period, Ding wares were exported in large quantities, mostly to Persia, India Japan, Egypt and other African countries. Ancient porcelains produced by the Ding kiln can also be found in the British Museum.
The Jun Kiln The Jun kiln was located in Junzhou (now Yuxian County) Henan Province. It began production during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and reached its height of development during the Song Dynasty (960-1927). The Song emperor ordered the kiln to produce porcelains only for the court. During and after the Song period, Jun kiln wares were greatly prized. One would rather have a piece of Jun porcelain than ten thousand strings of cash, as the saying goes.
The reasons why the Jun wares of the Northern Song period are much prized and sought after are as follows. First, Jun ware was produced for only a short time because of war and authenticated. Jun wares are extremely rare. Second, the body of Jun ware is hard-fired stoneware covered with a unique yaobian or transmutation glaze, the coloring agents of which are copper salts. Characteristics are barely perceptible tracks caused by the parting of the viscous glaze. Third and last, Jun ware was very difficult to produce. A piece of Jun ware had to undergo more than seventy processes and the success rate was very low. In addition, no two pieces of Jun ware, even of the same heat, are alike in terms of color.