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Fujian Trade Ceramics in Jepara Shipwreck  

From the early A.D 2000s, many celadon and white wares started to surface in the Jakarta antique market.  The sellers said they were shipwreck items from a wreck located about 34 km offshore from Jepara.  There is no systematic and scientific salvage operation to survey the site and recover the artifacts.  According to the article "The Jepara Wreck" written by Mr Atma Djuana and Edmund Edwards Mckinnon, some available reports indicated that the wreck was either broken in two or there was a smaller but contemporary wreck in the same area.  The area was strangely strewn with large boulders.   Among the artifacts surfaced in the Jakarta antique market, there was a stone anchor about 2.5 m in length.  According to the authors, a similar anchor was displayed at the Maritime Museum in Quanzhou.  Hence, suggesting that the ship may be  a Chinese Junk.  It is also suggested that the Junk sank as early as  A.D 1130. The latest copper coins recovered from the wreck that the authors had seen was from Zhonghe (重和), the last year of this reign mark being A.D 1118.  However, I have seen some later coins of Jian Yian (建炎)purportedly from this wreck.  The last year of Jian Yian reign is A.D 1130.  Personally, I believe the wreck could be later than A.D 1130, probably around A.D 1150 to 1200.  The reason for my dating will be discussed below. 


Rise of Quanzhou port and Fujian Trade Ceramics

Quanzhou in Fujian Province was a cosmopolitan port known to Marco Polo as Zayton.  It was the largest seaport in Asia during the Song/Yuan period.  Many regions especially those located in the coastal areas in Fujian Province capitalised on their proximity to the Quanzhou port to produce export porcelains.   The bulk of the trade ceramics consisted of green wares (celadon), white/qingbai  and black/brown wares.

According to Song period Zhao Rugua's work "zhufanzhi" (A.D 1225) (赵汝适《诸番志),  46 countries (including Annam, Cambodia, Srivijaya, Malay peninsula, Borneo, Java, Eastern Indies, the Philippines and even Zanzibar) were listed as  China's trading partners and the Yuan period "Daoyi zhilue" by Wang Dayan ( 汪大淵 岛夷志略listed at least 58 countries.   

The map in the Quanzhou museum showing the maritime trade routes originating from Quanzhou is shown below.  Jepara is along the trade route but whether it was the destination of the ship which sank near there, it is unable to ascertain.



Ceramics in Jepara wreck

Greenware (celadon)

In the wreck, there are large and smaller bowls with carved and combed/dotted decorations on the interior and vertical combed lines on the external wall.  This was commonly termed as Tongan type or Juko (shuko seiji) greenware (name after Juko (shuko) a Japanese monk tea ceremony master).  In fact, this was a continuation of the Longquan tradition.  Longquan kilns started producing such type around Mid/late Northern Song period.  Kamei Meitoku in his article "Chronology of Longquan wares of the Song and Yuan periods" classified them into 1st half of 12th century.  In fact, besides the Minan coastal region, Northern Fujian kilns also produced similar wares.  The colour tone of such wares varies from olive green, grayish green to different degree of yellow.  In comparison with the Longquan version, the quality was less refined and for most pieces the outer lower portion of the bowls were left unglazed.  For the Longquan version, only the outer base was left unglazed. 

Although stylistically this category commenced during the Northern Song period, it continued to be produced by the Fujian kilns during the Southern Song period.  


There are also  large number of celadon bowls with carved lotus motif.  They do not have any vertical combed lines on the external wall.   Such type was also copied from the Longquan kiln.  Kamei Meitoku dates them to A.D 1150 - 1200 and hence later than the type mentioned earlier.  Both the Longquan and Fujian version were present in the wreck. Another type of celadon found in large number is those carved with abstract cloud motif.  Kiln sherds from Lianjiang Pukou kiln showed similar type being produced.

For export Fujian celadon, the centre of production was Nan an (南安) which boasted more than 47 kilns. Together with nearby kilns such as Tong an (同安), Anxi (安溪), Xiamen (厦门)and further away such Minhou (闽侯), Fuqing (福清), Putian (莆田) and Lianjiang (连江), this group of kilns produced similar  green products for overseas market. 

Another interesting type is big bowls decorated with wild goose and floral scrolls motif.  Such bowls were attributed to Anfu kiln in Longquan and example could be found in the book on "Ceramics from the Tioman Island".  The author in the book gave the Anfu attribution based on archaeological report from China.  

Another type of Longquan celadon bowls with paneled stylised motif (see below photo) were also found. According to Kamei, they made their appearance after A.D 1150.


White/Qingbai wares

The Jepara wreck also carried a substantial quantity of white/qingbai wares.   Large quantity of different sizes cover boxes with impressed floral/abstract motif or plain without motif were also recovered from the wreck.  Similar cover boxes were excavated from the late Northern Song Level of the oldest dehua kiln at Wanpinglun (盖德碗坪崙) and continued to be produced even into the Yuan period.  There are kendis and vases (some with floral-shaped mouth) and small quantity of vases with iron black floral motif.  There are also big shallow big bowls with flat horizontal rim.  They resemble those form Wanpinglun dated to the Late Southern Song period by Chinese ceramics experts. 


Qingbai ewers  with curved waves/floral/abstract motif were also found in the wreck.  They are most likely products from other Fujian kilns.  As compared with ewers from Jingdezhen, they are more thickly and heavily potted.

Likely products of Minqing kiln

Brown wares

In this category, there are dark brown glaze kendis and celadon glaze kendis with brown abstract motif.  The kendis are most likely product from the Cizao kiln in Quanzhou.  


Dating of the Ceramics wares

The presence of greenwares and Dehua white wares which based on archaeological evidence are dated to Southern Song indicates that the Jepara wreck is of that period.   The presence of the Jianyan copper coins means that the wreck is dated later than A.D 1130.  During the late Northern Song phase, the Longquan celadon bowls have vertical combed lines on the outer wall and more dense combed/curved motif on the interior.  The presence of small quantity of similar Fujian type suggested that they may continue to be produced  during the mid/late southern Song period while new products were introduced. Such new products are characterised by bowls with plain outer wall and more sparse inner decoration, the main decorative motif are lotus or partitioned stylised floral motif.  This is in line with A.D 1150 - 1200 dating in Kamei Meitoku chronology of the Longquan/Longquan-type greenwares.  This dating is also consistent with Fujian experts' dating of Dehua wares found in the Wanpinglun (盖德碗坪崙) kiln.   


Wiitten by: NK Koh (20 Mar 2010) updated: 20 Mar 2013



1. The Jepara Wreck by Atma Djuana and Edmund Edwards Mckinnon

2. Chronology of Longquan Wares of the Song and Yuan Period by Kamei Meitoku.  Article published in the book "New Light on Chinese Yue and Longquan wares" edited by Chumei Ho.

3. 福建陶瓷考古概论 (曾凡著)

4. 德化窑 published by Dehua Museum





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