Monday, February 04, 2008


Rich ceramic legacy


Philippine Daily Inquirer
By Rita Tan
February 04, 2008

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines played an important role in the flourishing maritime trade that took place in the South China Sea hundreds of years ago. Today, ceramics brought to our islands through trade from China, Thailand and Vietnam during the precolonial and colonial periods are found in enormous quantities and treasured as valuable collector’s items.

An ongoing exhibition at Yuchengco Museum is “Zhangzhou Ware Found in the Philippines: Swatow Export Ceramics from Fujian, 16th-17th Century.”

It is a joint project between the Oriental Ceramic Society of the Philippines (OCSP) and the Yuchengco Museum. The former was founded in 1980 and has over the years mounted various exhibitions on different groups of Chinese and Southeast Asian trade ceramics found in the Philippines and published their corresponding exhibition catalogs.

The 16th-17th century was an exciting period that saw the arrivals of the European traders—the Portuguese, the Spaniards and the Dutch—on this part of the world. They were initially looking for the ultimate source of spices—the Moluccas islands—but soon discovered and exploited the lucrative trade with China.

The affluent European traders were buying big quantities of Chinese ceramics for their home market. The newfound market in Europe became the focus of Chinese potters from Jingdezhen, which had become the main ceramic-producing center in China. Ceramics from kilns in Fujian were made chiefly to supplement the supply of China’s ceramic trade to its old customers in Asia.

The San Isidro shipwreck excavated near the coast of Zambales was loaded with a ceramic cargo of almost exclusively Zhanghzou or Swatow ware. This type of ware also frequently appeared in the ceramic cargoes of sunken ships destined for Europe, but in far less quantity than those from Jingdezhen, such as the San Diego shipwreck, which was a Spanish galleon originally bound for Acapulco but was converted into a battleship in an encounter with the Dutch. It sank on Dec. 14, 1600.

An interesting feature of the exhibition and its catalog is the inclusion of materials recovered from the two above-mentioned shipwrecks. It is like bringing history back to life—history of the Philippines’ intense involvement in the Asian shipping trade.

Majority of the exhibition pieces are from the collections of the members of the OCSP. The display of over 100 pieces of Zhangzhou ware in the exhibition illustrates the variety of this ware exported to the Philippines some 400 years ago.

The blue-and-white ware is the core of Zhangzhou ware, although it comes in a few other varieties, including monochrome ware with lightly incised designs; monochrome ware with slip decorations; and polychrome ware with overglaze enamels. The exhibition is complete with examples of all types of Zhangzhou ware.

Known for its charm and rustic appeal, Zhangzhou ware is a favorite among local, Southeast Asian and Japanese collectors. It is now gaining popularity in Europe as well.

The exhibition runs until April 5.

Yuchengco Museum is at G/F RCBC Plaza, Corner Ayala and Sen. Gil J. Puyat Avenues, Makati City. Museum hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Saturday. For more information, call 8891234 or e-mail Visit

On Feb. 9, 10:30 a.m., the author, Rita Ching Tan, OCSP president, will give a talk about the creation of the Chinese trade ware in the kilns of the Zhangzhou district of Fujian province during the Ming dynasty.

The artistic and symbolic beauty of Zhangzhou ware will also be explored. Following the talk, she will lead a special public tour of the exhibit.

Tan received her master’s degree in Art and Archaeology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Reservations for the talk and guided tour are required. For reservations and details, call 8891234 or e-mail


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