In the Shiwan Ceramic Museum of Guangdong Province, there is a "living" cultural relic, an immovable national treasure, which is also included in the Guinness Book of the World.
Shiwan is a town in Foshan, mainly producing ceramic handicrafts. The art of Shiwan ceramic sculpture has a long history and rich culture. It can be traced back to the imprinted pottery of the Hedang Beiqiu Site in the late Neolithic period. During the Tang and Song Dynasties, the art of Shiwan ceramic sculpture gradually emerged. It became even more important in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It had become a unique art wonder in Lingnan area. It was famous for its unique shape, colorful glaze, and diverse techniques. Both in content and form, it shows the unique beauty of traditional culture.
The ceramic culture of Shiwan has a long history. In the Ming Dynasty, it enjoyed the reputation that Shiwan tiles were the best. The Ancient Nanfeng Kiln, built in the Zhengde period of the Ming Dynasty, has been passed down from generation to generation for five hundred years. It is marked by the Guinness World Records as oldest wood kiln in the world that is still being used till today. That is why it is described as a cultural relic that is alive, and also a national treasure that cannot move.
From the very beginning, the establishment of the Guangdong Shiwan Ceramics Museum was planned with the hope that it could display the history of the development of Shiwan ceramics together with the ancient kiln. The museum is divided into two areas, the dynamic exhibition area and the static exhibition area. Ancient Nanfeng Kiln, the national key cultural relics protection unit, is in the dynamic exhibition area of the museum.
Guangdong Shiwan Ceramics Museum is the first industry museum in Guangdong with the theme of ceramic culture. It was officially opened to the public on October 18, 2004.
When you walk into the Shiwan Ceramic Museum, you will find that all you can see here are fine ceramics, and each collection has an old history.
The static exhibition area is mainly about the history and the culture of ceramics, which is divided into fiveexhibition halls. In the dynamic exhibition area, two wood-fired ancient dragon kilns, Nanfeng Ancient Kiln and Gaozao are preserved. They are both national key cultural relics protection units.
As you walk into the museum, what greets your eyes is a pair of sculptures inlaid on the main entrance. This is the largest pair of door gods in China so far. Each sculpture is 2.59 meters high and 1.31 meters wide. They were created and made jointly by Zhong Rurong, a master of Chinese arts and crafts, and Xian Yanfen, a master of Chinese ceramic art, which took almost one year to finish.
China is a country with a long history in making pottery. Pottery was made more than 10,000 years ago. Ceramics Shiyu Exhibition Hall mainly gives us the introduction of China's ceramics in various periods and their distribution areas, and shows a line of how China's ceramic culture developed. China's ceramic production began to be popular in the Han Dynasty. It entered a period of great development in the Tang Dynasty, reached a stage of prosperity in the Song Dynasty, and reached a historical peak and entered a golden age in the Kang-Qian period of the Qing Dynasty. Throughout the past dynasties of ceramics, despite the change of varieties, the production of ceramics has always been continuous and progressing day by day.
Exhibition Hall of Pottery Formation shows the methods and details of the five processes of pottery making.
The formation of pottery is a perfect combination of clay, glaze and fire. The traditional pottery making process in Shiwan is roughly the same as that in other production areas. It can be divided into three major processes: raw material processing, forming and calcining. Specifically, there are five technological processes: clay, shape, decoration, glaze and fire.
Exhibition Hall of Kiln Evolution presents the development and evolution process of kilns in China.
At first, people made ceramics by piling on the ground. In the early and middle Neolithic period, the kilns had developed into semi-underground horizontal cavern kilns and vertical cavern kilns, which became the basic form of ancient pottery kilns in China, and the temperature could be raised to about 1000°C. Later it developed into a round steamed bun kiln and a long kiln with a long strip of inclined building.
From the Tang and Song Dynasties, steamed bun kiln was changed into the dragon kiln in Shiwan. Since the completion of Nanfeng Ancient Kiln in the Ming Dynasty, the structure of Longyao (dragon kiln) had been basically shaped and has been used up to now.
As a section of the Ceramic Museum, Exhibition Hall of Shiwan Ceramics Used in 24 Industries displays the main daily-use ceramic products used in 24 industries that were made in Shiwan from the Ming Dynasty to the founding of new China. The Shiwan Ceramic Industry Association began in the Jiajing period of the Ming Dynasty. Guilds were basically divided according to product categories, work types, and geographical boundaries. In addition to other auxiliary work types such as glaze making, kiln building, and transportation, there were mainly twenty-four industries according to product category, and each guild had its own name.
The appearance of guilds proved that ceramic production in Shiwan had gradually entered into standardized management in Ming and Qing Dynasties. You can see the variety of Shiwan ceramic products based on the industries that were using the ceramics.
Shiwan pottery figures are well-known at home and abroad. In Shiwan Pottery Art Exhibition Hall, many pottery art treasures from ancient and modern pottery professionals and masters have been collected. In addition to the five fixed exhibition halls, there are also two thematic exhibition halls in the static exhibition area for holding short-term exhibitions.
In the dynamic exhibition area of the museum, two wood-fired ancient dragon kilns, the Nanfeng Ancient Kiln and Gaozao are preserved.
Longyao (Dragon kilns) were mostly built on slopes in the Jiangnan area. First discovered in Shangyu, Zhejiang Province, it was a kiln site of Shang Dynasty. The kiln was long and strip-shaped, built on the hillside from bottom to top, which looked like a dragon, and that’s also how it got its name.
In the early days, the dragon kiln was generally more than ten to twenty meters long. In the Song Dynasty, the length of the dragon kiln was fifty to sixty meters. In some areas, it even reached seventy to eighty meters. It could hold 20,000 pieces of pottery at a time, which played a great role in the development of pottery at that time. With the gradual prolongation of the dragon kiln, the inclination and structure of it were improved in each dynasty, so that the heating performance could be better. In the Song and Yuan dynasties, multiples fire walls were built inside the kiln, which divided the kiln into several small chamber. Holes in the lower part of the fire walls were added so that the chambers were connected. Up to now, Longyao is still used to make ceramics in some areas of South China.
Dragon kilns were quite common in south China from Shang Dynasty to Ming and Qing Dynasties. Before Ming Dynasty, ceramic producing areas in the south, such as Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi and Hunan widely used dragon kilns. As of 2013, there were still a few dragon kilns in some areas in the south of the Yangzi River in China and parts of Southeast Asia.
In addition, the dynamic exhibition area has also restored the ancient pottery workshop - Guliao Chang. It has preserved the key cultural relics protection units of Guangdong Province, such as the Lin Family Hall, the ancient residential communities in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the cultural protection unit of the city - the side hall of Gaomiao Temple, the ecological wonder Guzao Rongfeng rooted in the ancient kiln, and the large mural Ruilong Xianbao (lucky dragon offering treasures) inlaid with unearthed pottery pieces.
Each Museum has a group of loyal fans, and the Shiwan Ceramic Museum in Guangdong is no exception. Ms Chen Xuelan, Assistant curator of Shiwan Ceramic Museum, Director of Promotion and Education Service Department says that since this museum is an industry museum, many ceramic artists, collectors, teachers and students of academies are friends of our museum. Ms Chen Xuelan says that many teachers will bring students to visit museum exhibitions, allowing them to feel Shiwan pottery culture from an early age. In addition, the Guangdong Shiwan Ceramic Museum holds a small commentator activity every summer. Chen says many kids will participate in the event, and not just the children from Chancheng District. Parents from Sanshui District feel glad to take their kid every day just to take part in it. Through learning and training, the little guides can confidently explain the knowledge of Shiwan ceramics in front of the audience.
Address: No. 5-6 (in Gongzai Street), Gaomiao Road, Shiwan, Chancheng District, Foshan City, Guangdong
Open to the public
Fees: free of charge
Opening hours: 9:00-17:00 every day (no admission after 16:30), closed on Mondays (except for public holidays).