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The Living Pottery

Written by Sandy Wan


Preface ned

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When it comes to ceramics, the image of Chinese traditional pottery pops up in my mind. The impression was old-fashioned, ordinary, historical, and in the colour of red. After a period of time, I realised the reasons. I started to conduct some research as usual which was by the method of looking around in my daily life, and talking to my family members and friends. What I was looking for are some stories. My grandma showed me all of the ceramics containers in her home and describe their histories. The most interesting finding was that, every story was told with their relationships with marriage, “this set of teapot and cup was gifted by your aunt’s mother when your uncle and aunt got married,” and “this bowl was used by your father to eat noodles for decades, but was left here after his marriage.” This drove me to search some ceramics related to marriage, which was totally an coincidence to my impression towards ceramics I have mentioned before in this passage. It is an important occasion and moment in human society and at the same time, where and when ceramics are playing an important role in it. Let’s explore how ceramics work in human beings’ rituals and traditions.


Dowry A dowry is the money, goods or estate that a woman brings forth to the marriage. In tradition, the giving and receiving of dowry reflects the status and even the effort to climb high in social hierarchy. Ceramics containers are widely embraced by the couples as dowry because of the aesthetics as well as utilitarian values. They love the symbols so every decorative pattern and colour on the pottery especially those used in special occasions occupy hidden meanings.

[ ĺŤ ] Girl married to a home [ ĺŚ? ] Decoration or a piece of wood, with a girl


Potteries of

various designs in shape carry different utilities. Generally, they can be classified as cups, bowls, spoons, plates and teapots. Specifically, however, there are slighly differences within each of the groups, like sizes, handles, lids, and shapes.


Let’s dress up the plain potteries.

Shall we put on some Chinese characters? For example...


Wishing Phrase in Chinese Society The four Chinese characters are used very often in the celebration of Birthday, wishing the people a long life. They are also used in the potteries for wedding, taking the meaning of long term relationship.



* Read from RIGHT to LEFT

Life, age, vivacity

Ten thousands



Shall we also put on some decorations with meanings?


Other images of Longevity 壽 The word of longevity can be transformed into different symbols and word forms, like the following. They are placed on different positions on the potteries. The left and the middle ones are usually placed at the centre, while the right one is on the bottom.


[扁壺 A flat teapot] Widely used for Guangdong tea like Pu-Erh tea. The capacity is relatively larger.

[托盤 A Tray] To convenient the users as every time the full set of cups are used together when the couple venerate the tea to the seniority.


[焗茶盎] [A Baked Tea Aug] Tea leaves put inside and hot water poured in. The lid covers to bake for tea. Finally tea is not drunk directly but poured to a cup, by holding the ang and the lid skillfully.

[有耳杯 A Cup with Handle] It is wealthier to use a cup with handle because people think it is more valuable.

[無耳杯 A Cup without Handle] It is more durable than the one with handle as handle is easy to be broken.


[大碟] [A Big Plate] Ususally the bigggest size is up to 12 inch. The function is highly flexible for a big plate, mostly for the dishes in lunch or dinner.

[中碟] [A Middle Plate] This is a plate putting under a cup, or for serving a bread in breakfast or tea-time.

[細碟] [A Small Plate] This is a plate for soy sauce in Chinese meal.


[酒瓶] [A Wine Bottle] It contains Chinese wine, usually rice wine, or other kinds with high proportion of alchol. The wine is not for drink but for ritual use.

[酒杯] [Wine Cups]

They are in a set of three,

usually placed in front of the spirit tablet.


[扁壺] [A flat teapot] This is the Chinese traditional teapot for Guangdong tea.

[西式壺] [A Western Teapot] The style is borrowed from western teapot in 1800s, in the aim of exporting the potteries to western markets.

[橋樑壺] [A Bridge-Teapot] This is Chinese style teapot, and vanishing in today’s society. The handle is made by “teng” (plant’s soft branch) and iron wire.








35 (件壺) (piece size)




) ize)

Comparison Between 3 Types of Teapot They are flat teapot, western teapot and bridge teapot. “Piece size” is a special measuring unit of the teapot used by Chinese people. What is worth to mention is that, only the bridge teapot can be produced in a relatively larger size. It is because according to the physical principle, only the “teng” with iron wire handle can afford the weight.


Are there any other decorations more than this series to represent the meaning of happiness?


Chinese are good at creating beautiful things by converging something in reverse. Bat is originally not good looking but now become a representation of happiness.

biānfú 蝙蝠 (Meaning:Bat) Homonym: fú 福 (Meaning: Happiness=)

e tu ] r Vi 德 好 [

Ha en ppy [ din 善 終 g ]

Five-Lucky-Bats [五福鼠]

Longevity [ 長壽 ]

Longevity [ 長壽 ]

hy alt We 貴 ] [ 富 The red symbol at the centre represents the Chinese character 壽 which means longevity.

H [ ea 康 lt 寧 hy ]


All-the-Best [如意] Borrowing the lucky meaning of glossy ganoderma, the “all the best” is usually in the glossy ganoderma, heart or cloud shape.

Birthday bun is reshaped in this way. It represents the happiness and beauty of life.

[壽包] Birthday Bun

Longevity Daisy [萬壽菊] Daisy also named as chrysanthemum, signifying the ease of life. Buddhists love to use this flower. And it represent good luck if placed at home.

Chinese people love even numble and double every good things. Therefore, the Chinese character of 囍 is a word having double 喜.

[雙喜] Double Happiness 33

Daily Wedding Banquet is a ceremony, a ritual. After inviting all the friends and relatives to witness their love and promises, the couple starts their brand new life. Everything is back to basic, and small stuffs continue to support and accompany to their daily practices, like potteries silently function in every meals. Discovering the beauty of containers can surely enhance living quality and passion to life.

[ 日 ] Daily [ 常 ] Long lasting, ordinary, usually


Cock Bowl [公雞碗]


...they drew chicken or fish on the bowl to satisfy their mental wants.


Cock bowl is popular in 80-90s Hong Kong. At that time, society was not that affluent and people’s meal were much more simple.

Therefore, they drew chicken or fish on the bowl to satisfy their mental wants. Another meaning is that cock represents vitality which is highly valued in Chinese society.

They were welcomed by different places and occasion like Shanghaifood, local sidewalk and sweet-soup restaurants. Many household brought them to use at home too.

Once the production stopped for a decade in 90s. Althought it is reproduced again, the technique and container type variety watered down.


Coloured Rice Bowl [蠖ゥ邀ウ騾夂「余

The main difference between coloured and cyanogen rice bowl is that the former one represents a wealthier family than the latter one. It was a practice only in the past, when the society was not that affluent.

Cyanogen Rice Bowl [髱堤アウ騾夂「余

The most significant craftmanship of the rice bowl is that, light can be transmitted through the rice. The artisans crave the rice to be thinner.


Lotus Bowl [蓮花碗]

Lotus has long been

regarded as the representation of religions and philosophy. In Chinese’s culture, it means the ideal human character of noble because of the form it grows: from the silt but in a clean and pure way.

Another Name of Lotus - 1: qīnglián 青蓮 (Meaning: Green Lotus) Homonym: qīnglián 清廉 (Meaning: Honest and upright)

Another Name of Lotus - 2: fúróng 芙蓉 (Meaning: Beauty) Homonym: fūróng 夫容 (Meaning: Face of Husband)


Potteries as a way to convey happiness...

Potteries are essential in daily life. Apart from the utilities and aesthetics value, I have found that they are also a means to convey and express happiness to our beloved ones. We give the best wishes to the new married couples, and they are reminded to the wishes, as well as their committeement among themselves. Therefore, potteries for the wedding, and also for daily life, cannot be seperated, but instead, have a close link between them.

Acknowledgement Information provider: Mr. Lo, seller of traditional potteries of Fuk Shing Pottery shop, SheungWan. Adviser: Justin and Mariko Hong Kong Baptist University April, 2012 Author: Sandy Wan


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