Shiwan Has long enjoyed the confirmed approval of the Southern Pottery capital, In one Collection of Ming's Poems, one line read this way: Shiwan Wa, jia tian xia (meaning Shiwan Pottery was superior to the other products of the same kind). The Shiwan has a long history of ceramic sculpture, with many vivid works by generations of craftsmen.
Shiwan Pottery's overture was replayed by the Beiqiu Relics in the late Neolithic. The large kiln operation in Shiwan may be traced to Tang Dynasty. In 50s～70s, in Shiwan and Nanhai of Foshan were discovered the kiln sites of Tang and Song dynasties, where the ceramic products were semi-procelains, with rather low level of attainment and low hardness, weight in base, saggy in texture. These were typical southern ceramics in Tang Dynasty.
After Han Dynasty, due to gradual development of commerce, the currency circulation became big. The copper at that time was mostly used for making coins and the copper daily goods were gradually replaced with ceramic products. As a result the ceramic industry became prosperous, which resulted in growth of ceramic arts that led to independent handcraft of ceramic making. Ceramic products became commodities in the market.
Production of Shiwan artistic ceramics started from Tang Dynasty. In Tang Dynasty, the Shiwan ceramic making addpted plain semi-oval kiln. The main glaze was green glaze, followd by dark reddish purple glaze. The production workmanship was combination of wheel making and manual making. The products were mainly the daily wares, including the common bowls, dishes, pots and pottery altar and three-feet incense buner etc Before Tang Dynasty, the people usually sat on the ground, wtih the daily wares on the ground, which were fit with ears with string for carrying. Since Tang Dynasty, the daily wares were to put the bed or table. As the bed and table were higher, the wares may be reached by hands directly, aso the string was not necessary for carrying. The wares before Tang Dynasty were imitating animals, and since Tang the wares were to follow plants.
At the end of Tang Dynasty, the ceramic wares shapes became even simpler with various types. The pot had long outlet, which was already in the same level of pot handle and pot inlet. The pot body had the shape of gourd. The bowl had the shapes of gourd and sunflower, but its hat shape was very popular.
In Song Dyansty, the ceramics reached its peak, when the consumption fashion of the whole society greatly promoted the development of the ceramics. The kilns for making ceramics appeared all over the county, with increasing varieties of daily use ceramic products, architectural ceramics and artisitcs ceramics. Hence came the praise that "There are eight Hundred types in Tang Dynasty, but there are three thoudsand types in Song Dyansty". The appearance of glazed tile established the visage of Shiwan ceramic arts, which was much cherished and was not necessary to be kept in secrete. The glaze varieties were much more than the preivous dynasties. Besides the traditional yellow glaze, black glaze, and pale glaze, the color glaze, flower glaze and kiln transformation glaze were created. The decorating patterns and means were enriched: carved design, scratched design, printed design, painted desing, barbola, embossment and adoption of leaves and paper-cut barbola etc. The ceramic production was one of the leading commodity productions in Song economy, with most of the exports products being the ceramic products. In order to adapt to the foreign market and to expand foreign trade, the ceramic industry gradually developed toward Zhejiang, Fujiang, Guangdong and Guangxi.
Two important reasons contributed to Shiwan ceramic industry development: convenient traffic and abundant pot clay resource. As the Guanyao watercourse became beneaped, the water carriage center was shifted to Foshan and Shiwan. Foshan was connected to Shiwan, with Fenjiang and Dongping River connected to Guangzhou, where it was very convenient to ship the products to Guangzhou for export. Along Shiwan there were rich resources of pot clay sands, which benefited Shiwn more. Shiwan, a place with good ceramics base, soon became an important ceramics production base in Lingnan.
In Song Dynasty, the daily ceramic wares made in Shiwan were added with artistic expression in shapes and decorations, with plump and balanced shapes, smooth lines. The varieties were richer than the Tang Dynasty, such as sacred pots, barbola tiles, short pots, color painting vases, and ceramic musical instruments etc, involing wares, curio items, animals and human figures etc. The Shiwan ceramic banjo is now collected in Taiwan Imperial Palace Musuem, a masterpiece of ceramic curio.
In Song Dynasty, textured surface was emphasized in the Shiwan ceramic decoration. There were many topics for textured surface, with rich images and fine workmanship, which were of rather high level. From the remains in the Song Graves in Shiwan Song Kiln in Qishi, the Song Dynasty "color painting flowers were of vivid expression and bold outline, such as orchids and bamboo leaves, which were bold in outline, full of charm". In addition, there are also robe lines, string lines, wave lines, gourd lines, twingled flower lines and double continuous lines etc.
The Cizhou decoration methods were adopted in Shiwan ceramics. The ceramic base was treated in a way to make the ordinary untility wares with styles and touches. The twingled flower lines were rather fine and delicate, where the flowers were freely unfolded, full of natural vitality.
As Shiwan was located at the corner of South China, where the main industry was daily ceramic wares, though the ceramic making crafts were at a certain level, but were still inferior to the famous kilns in the northern China. In fact in Song Dyansty, the Shiwan ceramic wares were not so famous. From Nan Song Dynasty to Yuan Dynasty, more and more people immigrated from the central plains to Foshan, who brought the norther ceramic making techniques to Shiwan, which was blended with the Shiwan ceramic making techniques to contribute to higher ceramc making level and arts standard. Thereofre, "Shiwan integrated the techniques of many famous kilns" to imitate the products from Ding, Nu, Guang, Ge and Jun kilns. In addition, the shapes and glazes as well as the decorating methods of the eight main ceramic families were adopted in Shiwan, which turned out to be a famous kiln good at imitation, especially well-known for the "Guangjun" and "Nijun" products. The Ge Kiln ceramic wares were famous for beautiful pieces with simple and vigorous glaze, mainly in gray green. The Shiwan ceramic operators always made use of the workmanship of other famous kilns.
As nongovernmental kilns, the Shiwan ceramics were always for the common people. So the ceramic sculptures were based on the principle of practicality, integrated with elgance and practicality with obvious decorating features. The Shiwan ceramic sculpture arts were closed related to the architechture. In order to the decoration demands for the memorial temples, courts and some buildings, the flower basins, fish jars, flower holders, flower windows and walls with carved murals were developed. In order to meet the demands of religious activities, many graven images and door-gods were made in Shiwan. The later Shiwan ceramic sculpture arts for enjoying resulted from the quazi-arts with strong practicality.
Many Shiwan potters were direct offsprings of the Guang Kiln and Jun Kiln of Song Dynasty and Yuan Dynasty. As the Shiwan kilns were in Guangdong, they were also called "Guangjun". For Shiwan ceramic products, beside the imitation Jun glaze, glazes from other famous kilns were also adopted, such as imitation Ge Kiln "Ice Crack Line", Longquan Kiln "Plume Green", Jian Kiln "Partridge Spot", Cizhou Kiln "Iorn Embroidery Flower" and Nu Kiln "Glass Green" etc.
The glaze workmanship of the Shiwan three-clor vases absorbed the style of the Tang Three-Color glaze. Due to differences of texture and different firing temperature, the Shiwan three-color ceramic products had their own bold and simple artistic style.
Since Ming Dynasty, Shiwan broke its previous export of single daily ceramics. The artistc ceramic sculptures, architechtural ceramics, handicaraft industry ceramics were also exported to the foreign countries, especially the garden architechural ceramics were very popular in Southeast Asia. Nowadays, in the temples in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, the Shiwan ceramic tiles are still well preserved.
After Ming Dynasty, the types and topics for ceramic wares became more and more extensive, the Shiwan ceramic arts were used to represent the daily working and living situations of fishing, wood cutting, cultivating, reading, herding, playing chess, drinking, playing musical instruments, traveling, opera and even mosquito clapping, titillation and ear digging etc, common things like various flowers, birds, fishes, wild and domestic animals, vegetables and fruits, as well as the fairy figures and historic figures like Damo Arhat, Kwan-yin, the god of longevity, Jigong, the Eght Immortals, Zhong Kui and Guangyu etc. The common perople's moral concepts and social attitudes were represented in Shiwan ceramic arts. For example, in the end of Qing Dynasty, there appeared the chamber pots with the shapes of the images of the European invaders, which expressed the social thought of fighting against the invasion. Therefore the Shiwan ceramic topics were praised as "mounting to a concentrated encyclopedia of Chinese Folkway Culture".
After establishment of the People's Republic of China, the Shiwan ceramic arts were greatly restored and developed, mainly represented in three aspects：first, the senior ceramic artists, such as Liu Chuan, Ou Qian, Liao Jian and Liang Bin etc, have trained may talents and a group cultural cadres with arts specialty were sent to Shiwan by the higher cultural departments; second, the Shiwan ceramic artists pay attention to learning artistic theory and summarization of creation experiences, with their artistic practice under dreiction of theory and certain artistic concepts; third, they conduct modern ceramic arts exploration to create plenty of works with modern aesthetic interest and stick to digging the ancient traditional techniques of Shiwan ceramic making to create many works with traditional local characteristics.