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History has recorded that England and China used ceramic ware to drink their tea and those records go into great detail, showing contrasts and similarities between each culture's ceramics. The vast ideological differences between England and China show how social, political and ritualistic issues were reflected in the developments and changes made to the ware visually, as well as its functionality. Were the issues in each culture a result of external or internal influences, exchange, inspiration or necessity? A brief history of the origin of tea as a drink and how the very nature of these issues affected ceramics will be included. Perspectives formulated by developments and changes resulting from various oddities inherent in each culture will also be discussed. Rather than a lengthy exploration, a vignette of the author's opinions and impressions will be presented.
There are many similarities and few differences in the development of tea ware between China and England. However, one particular difference is the evolution of the teacup handle, and saucer or cup plate. In order to understand the significance of tea ware in the cultures under discussion, one must first understand how the beverage was discovered and what made it so important. What brought about the inception of tea ware in China and England for the drinking of tea?
The earliest tea cups in China were beautiful handle-less bowls of delicate stature. They varied in size averaging 4.4x9cm (1 3/4 x 3 1/2 in.), just large enough to hold cupped in one palm comfortably. They had gentle sloping shoulders, and tiny feet, and in some the lips were flared in such a fashion as to make the liquid float out of the bowl into the mouth without effort. Teapots came into existence later than the bowl and were truly an innovation attributed to the differences between taste. Those who liked certain types of tea made from powdered tea leaves preferred bowls and those who liked to boil the leaves (steep) in a small pot before pouring the liquid into a tea bowl.
With the exception of the teapot, the evolution of tea cup handles and saucers must be attributed mainly to European influence, although there is some connection between these elements and the bowl holders the Chinese had been using since the Tang dynasty. China held a monopoly on trade and quickly took advantage of this in the exportation of tea ware. The time period ranges from the first century A.D. to the late 1700's. Looking at a map of China, we see that many of the original names do not appear as they have been changed over the years by the prevailing government so that many are unfamiliar to us today.
From the Song to the Qing dynasties the major tea vessel was the tea bowl, therefore, the majority of teacups exported were the lovely handleless tea bowls the Chinese used. With the increase in exportation, they were quick to copy European vessels to please their customers and many styles were duplicated from prints and actual samples of silverware. Early export ware became a booming business and surprisingly, the English, although the last of the European countries to embrace tea as a drink, became the largest export customers of tea and tea wares.
Early English tea ware could not compare to the beautiful porcelains and stoneware that were being produced in China, but it didn't take them long before they were making a high quality imitation in softpaste or slip painted earthenware with various types of salt and tin glazes. However, once porcelain was discovered in Meissen, Germany, in the 1700's this changed and the Chinese monopoly was broken.
There is no actual written history supporting the many legends and stories regarding tea's discovery and subsequent development. There were two major legends and it is safe to conclude that the events depicted in the second one may actually be closer to the true events. One says that about 2700 B.C. Emperor Shen Nung of China discovered tea. Believing that water should be boiled as a hygienic precaution, he observed a new beverage when tea leaves were blown into his boiling water. Being scientifically minded, he tested this new brew and found it refreshing (World Book, Inc. 19: 6364). The second legend is placed in the later Han dynasty, somewhere around 25-221 A.D., where it is mentioned that when Gan Lu returned from Buddhist studies in India, he brought back tea plants which he then planted in the Meng mountains, in the district of Szechwan (Ukers l: I 2). However, the first credible mention was by Liu Kun, a general of the Chin dynasty in the fourth century A.D. who wrote to his nephew, the governor of Yenchow in Shantung province, saying ". . . that he felt aged and depressed and wanted some real t'u" (Ukers 1: 3). The first recognizable definition of tea was about 350 A.D. in the Erh Ya, an ancient Chinese dictionary annotated by Kuo P'o, a celebrated Chinese scholar. It says that "a beverage is made from the leaves by boiling" (Ukers 1: 3).
Historically, all cultures were using herbal drinks for medicinal purposes and tea was just one more added to the multitude of infusions and concoctions the Chinese used for a variety of illness, and realigning bodily humors. Originally formed into cakes which were then pounded to produce a fine powder, this tea was put into a tea bowl where boiling water was poured over it and such additives as onion, ginger, orange and salt were used to flavor it for drinking.
Tea was so popular a beverage that not only the imperial court, but scholars extolled it's virtues. Later, during the Tang dynasty, Yixing became noted for its tea tribute and the court established an imperial tea factory at Yixing. This tradition gave rise to the versatile development of tea implements. Tea powder was used in the Song period and the appearance of brewing tea leaves in a pot didn't occur until the Ming dynasty.
There was an infinite variety of tea bowls made between 960-1912 A.D. The Song dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) offers North Chien tea bowls with a variety of glazes, Southern Song Cizhou stoneware with a Temmoku glaze and a mulberry leaf design, Guan octagonal stoneware with a white crackle type glaze, and Jizhou porcelain with reserve and Temmoku tortoiseshell glazes.
Overlapping the end of the Song dynasty was the Jin dynasty (1115-1234 A.D.). The tea bowls of the Jin dynasty varied from the black stoneware, which were decorated with brown slip and black glaze giving it an oil spot appearance, to the Jun ware of simple form and value.
During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) tea bowls differed according to where they were made and the prevailing preferences. As in most things, human beings tend to copy others in preference of styles, and tea ware was just one more area. Depending upon which group of people a person was influenced by, the Chinese used either porcelain or stoneware. Some said the porcelain ware was more visually pleasing because the froth from the whipped tea did not clash with the more delicate surface of the bowl, however, others, especially those drinking brewed tea, said the darker liquid was more pleasing in a stoneware bowl. The lovely tea bowls of this time included delicate Xuande porcelain with a cobalt/copper dragon and wave motif; Chenghua teacups in the toutsai style with overglazed enamels; Jingdezhen porcelain with underglazes in the doucai style; while some Jingdezhen porcelain was decorated with gold painted enamels; and a great many porcelain tea bowls with blue underglazes.
Examples from the Qing dynasty (1644-1912 A.D.) included porcelain enameled tea bowls with the Yonzhen reign mark. We also find sets of cup, saucer and bowl with Famille rose enamels, probably produced with the European market in mind.
The people of the Ming dynasty began favoring tea brewed from leaves in pots instead of power brewed in bowls, and the most highly regarded teapots became the Yixing teapots. Since these wares were in high demand, the Yixing district and their potters became dedicated to the manufacture of their special teapots to meet this need (Flagstaff 7). There is no actual documentation covering the development of a "teapot" but is can safely be assumed a natural evolutionary step, and became important during the Ming dynasty where the brewing of tea leaves in a pot were the habit of the time (K.S. Lo 16).
Very likely the forerunners of the tea pot were hot water pots, sauce pots and wine ewers. This probable evolutionary step seems as obvious as their design. Since they were already in use, it would have been a simple matter making the transition and using their design to create a vessel in which to brew tea. In comparing the body designs we can see a similarity between a Northern Song Yingqing ware wine pot with warmer, which had a white body with impressed designs and blue glaze, and the forms of the many teapots produced. If you view a selection of teapots dating from the early 11th to the early 20th centuries, it is not difficult to see intriguing similarities in the shape of the Jingdezhen porcelain ewers as well as the Ming dynasty porcelain hot water pots with blue underglaze.
All the wonderful Chinese teapots were made either of porcelain or a variety of stoneware clay bodies. There was considerable information pointing to the disagreements between different factions within China as to which clay body was best for use as tea ware. Some purported to say the Yixing clay was best because of its ability to maintain the fragrance and taste of the tea. While others extolled the virtues of porcelain. One can get caught up in the debates between the form of the tea ware from thick body to thin; however, you must keep in mind that the visual was as important to the Chinese in their tea drinking as was the fragrance and taste of their tea. It was a warm exhilarating and restful break to take tea and to share the moment with friends and honored guests...so all aspects of the moment were appreciated. This developed into more than just a tea break -- it became a ceremony and a sign of civilized manners. Tea was always offered to guests and was more than just courtesy. The Chinese used this as a means to show respect. Also, in very ancient times when a girl was getting married, it was offered as a gift. At that time tea was a very expensive commodity and it was understood that if she accepted this "gift" the match making ended meaning she was engaged (Chow 39).
The earliest recorded European to personally encounter tea and write about it was a Portuguese Jesuit, Father Jasper de Cruz who was a missionary on the first commercial trade mission from Portugal in 1560 A.D. (Ukers vol. I 24). Portugal was the first country to gain trade with China and the developed trade route went first to Lisbon where Dutch ships then transported trade goods to France, Holland and the Baltic counties. Great Britain was the last of the European countries to obtain trade with China. The earliest samples of tea reached England somewhere between 1652 and 1654 when King Charles II ended his exile in Holland and reestablished the English Monarchy.
In China, tea was initially considered an excellent prescriptive for about any ill, but quickly became a highly sought after beverage and then considered a "treasure." Society embraced it with enthusiasm making it not only a subject for poetry, but esteemed worthy of fine vessels in which to prepare and partake of its benefits. Its exclusivity died out as it became more affordable to all classes of people and soon it became an established social custom all over China.
In contrast to the Chinese, the English were more inclined to view it as a beverage for only the very elite. The English embraced the drinking of tea with enthusiasm. But they differed from the Chinese in that they used the "tea ceremony" more to show wealth and elitism than the enjoyment of the moment, or the fragrance and taste of tea. Witness the addition of milk, sugar and lemon. These additives destroy the delicate flavor and fragrance of the tea brew.
Because of tea's extremely high importation cost,

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