Discovering Asia's ceramic development


During the early part of the Yuan dynasty (1280-1368), potters at Jingdezhen in China succeeded in decorating whitish local clay with blue cobalt oxide under a clear glaze, overcoming technical difficulties relating to both the colours and the glaze. The date of this major event in ceramic history is much debated, but it is believed that it could have been as early as AD 1300.

Production of blue-and-white ceramics developed rapidly during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), greatly influenced by the imperial court and its stringent requirements. Although 'imperial' kilns in the Jingdezhen area also made trade ware, those at Shantou (Swatow), Dehua and other parts of Fujian produced most of the exports for Southeast Asian markets.

Following the death of emperor Wanli (1573-1619), unsettled dynastic politics eventually allowed Manchurians to conquer the country (the Qing dynasty, 1644-1912). The imperial kilns at Jingdezhen closed, and were reopened by emperor Kangxi only in 1663.

The period between 1619 and 1663, when the imperial kilns were shut, is referred to as the 'transitional period'. It is believed that the imperial potters, temporarily without work, started to assist private kilns with the manufacture of blue-and-white ceramics. Sudden release from the strict rules and guidelines of the court gave craftsmen the opportunity to express individual talents. A new spontaneity can be seen in the artistic freedom of the painting, the choice of motifs, and the quality of brilliant blue cobalt under a clear and smooth glaze.

The Xuande site included a limited quantity of blue-and-white ceramics from the middle of the Ming dynasty. The Desaru wreck contained more than 10,000 pieces from the late Qing dynasty.

Motif 1
Motif 2
Motif 3
Motif 4
Motifs of the transitional period

Exhibition index
Maritime Asia homepage