Special Presentation – Quintessential Taoism: Song Dynasty Emperor Huizong’s Dragon Bowl【中英文版】

Northern Song Guan Ware | 北宋徽宗官窑龙纹碗


1. King’s Ware – Establishment of the First Imperial Kiln by Emperor Huizong
2. The Cosmic Way – The Principles of Taoism
3. Jade – The Symbol of a Gentleman
4. Crab Claw Marks and Iron Foot – Key Features of Northern Song Guan Ware
5. The Good, the Bad and the Future

1. King’s Ware – Establishment of the First Imperial Kiln by Emperor Huizong

The famous Northern Song dynasty Imperial Kiln (“Guan Yao”) was closely associated with Emperor Huizong (Reign‎: ‎1100 – 1126).

Portrait of Emperor Huizong | 宋徽宗

Ceremonial services were utterly important for Emperor Huizong. Historic texts showed because Huizong was dissatisfied with Ru ware as ceremonial service ware due to irregularities, he ordered the establishment of the Imperial Kiln in Bianliang (today’s Kaifeng), the capital city of Northern Song dynasty. The very first imperial kiln in Chinese history was born.

Comparing to Ru ware, the style elements of Huizong’s Guan ware were more ritualistic, classic and elegant. In pursuit of classic looks, the designs of Guan ware were based on records of ancient bronze ware and jade ware, compiled under Huizong’s orders as well.

Guan ware therefore were made for ceremonial purposes and exclusively for Emperor Huizong’s personal use. Guan ware had been praised by later generations as “King’s Ware” and “National Ceremonial Ware” due to its origins.

Guan ware’s rhythmic and harmonious lines were formed by repeated firings after a new layer of glaze was added. The unpredictability of kiln firing created the natural beauty of Huizong Guan ware.

2. The Cosmic Way – The Principles of Taoism

Huizong’s Guan ware manifested profound Taoist aesthetics. Its near monochromatic color scheme, unadorned surface, unshowy shape, entirely adhered to the principles of Taoism, or the three treasures of Taoism – the basic virtues of compassion, moderation and humility.

What did the flowing lines of Huizong Guan ware imply?

“Tao” literally means “way”, but can also be interpreted as road, channel, path, doctrine, or line. In Taoism, it is “the One, which is natural, spontaneous, eternal, nameless, and indescribable. It is at once the beginning of all things and the way in which all things pursue their course.” It has also been denoted as the “flow of the universe, or a demonstration of nature.”

In his book, “Anthology of World Scriptures”, Professor Robert Van Voorst explained further:

“The ambiguous term wu-wei constitutes the leading ethical concept in Taoism. Wei refers to any intentional or deliberated action, common translations are “nonaction”, “effortless action” or “action without intent”. In ancient Taoist texts, wu-wei is associated with water through its yielding nature. Taoist philosophy, in accordance with the I Ching, proposes that the universe works harmoniously according to its own ways. When someone exerts their will against the world in a manner that is out of rhythm with the cycles of change, they may disrupt that harmony and unintended consequences may more likely result rather than the willed outcome. Taoism does not identify one’s will as the root problem. Rather, it asserts that one must place their will in harmony with the natural universe. Thus, a potentially harmful interference may be avoided, and in this way, goals can be achieved effortlessly. By wu-wei, the sage seeks to come into harmony with the great Tao, which itself accomplishes by nonaction.”

“Naturalness is regarded as a central value in Taoism. It describes the “primordial state” of all things as well as a basic character of the Tao, and is usually associated with spontaneity and creativity. To attain naturalness, one has to identify with the Tao; this involves freeing oneself from selfishness and desire, and appreciating simplicity.

An often cited metaphor for naturalness is pu, the “uncarved block”, which represents the “original nature… prior to the imprint of culture” of an individual. It is usually referred to as a state one returns to.”

Zhuangzi or Chuang Tzu, was a disciple of Lao Tzu, the founding master of Taoism, he also contributed to the Taoism discourse:

“The stories and anecdotes of the Zhuangzi embody a unique set of principles and attitudes, i.e. living one’s life with natural spontaneity, uniting one’s inner self with the cosmic “Way” (Tao/Dao), showing appreciation and praise for things others view as useless or aimless.

Zhuangzi interprets the universe as a thing that changes spontaneously and argues that humans can achieve ultimate happiness by living equally spontaneously.

The term “wandering” is used throughout the stories of the Zhuangzi to describe how an enlightened person “wanders through all of creation, enjoying its delights without ever becoming attached to any one part of it.”

As a devoted Taoism follower, Emperor Huizong embodied these classic Taoism teachings into the aesthetic guidelines of Guan ware made by the Northern Song imperial kiln.

3. Jade – The Symbol of a Gentleman

Huizong’s Guan ware shared many properties with that of the jade stone. The texture of its glaze highly resembled the luster of the jade stone – revered in ancient China as the gem supreme or jewel of heaven. The color of the glaze was a mixture of shades of green and pink, elegant and understated color scheme – serene, tranquil, mild and gentle, Huizong ware was bestowed upon a character and spirit of what its creator intended it to be.

What was the secret formula of Huizong’s Guan ware?

Southern Song poet MA Zu-chang said that the glazes of the Song Guan ware were made out of jade stone. ZHOU Hui of Southern Song dynasty also pointed out that Ru ware of the Huizong period was also known for incorporating jade into its glaze.

Huizong imperial kiln had another secret, its magical firing process was highly advanced and innovative, resulting in its unique natural color scheme and the ‘iron foot’ style, alluding to its dark brown color unglazed foot.

Huizong Guan ware could be categorized into Celadon wares, subtle shades of green ranging from light to dark appeared randomly during the firing process. The luscious jewel tones were also very much to the taste of Huizong, who devoted much of his life to the pursuit of art.

In “Li Ji” (Book of Rites), Confucius said that there are 11 virtues represented by jade: benevolence, intelligence, justice, propriety, music, loyalty, credibility, heaven, earth, morality, and truth:

“It’s because men of olden days regarded it as a Symbol of the Virtues: its gentle, smooth, glossy appearance suggests charity of the Heart; its perfect compactness and extreme hardness represent the sureness of Intelligence; its angles, which do not cut, although they seem sharp, suggesting Justice; it hangs down as though sinking, suggesting Ceremony; when struck, it gives a clear note, long drawn out, suggesting Music; its flaws do not hide its excellences, nor do its excellences hide its flaws, suggesting Loyalty; it gains our confidence, suggesting Credibility; its iridescent brightness represents Heaven; its admirable substance, born of mountain and of water, represents the Earth; as articles of regalia it suggests Morality; and that the entire world treats it as item of value suggests Tao or Truth; thereby Jade is valuable.”

In “Shi Jing” (Book of Odes), Confucius wrote:

“When I think of a wise man, his merits appear to be like jade.”

These classic Chinese literature transcended the aesthetics of the jade like qualities and appearance of Emperor Huizong’s Guan ware.

4. Crab Claw Marks and Iron Foot – Key Features of Northern Song Guan Ware

The ‘Crab Claw Mark’ was a term used to describe a texture feature of Song dynasty Guan ware and Ru ware, alluding to the tiny air holes on a sandy beach, caused by crabs which burrowed deep into the sand for protection from the sun and predators.

This Huizong Guan ware bowl has many crab claw marks or detectable pits in its glaze, which are the birthmarks of authentic Northern Song Guan ware.

To identify real Huizong Guan ware, one needs to bear in mind a few key features: a). pinkish green colored glaze is considered top grade; b). the glaze also has lighter and darker variations; c). crab claw marks; d). iron foot.

The ‘Iron Foot’ refers to the dark brown color of the exposed unglazed foot of a ceramic ware, it has to be developed naturally during the firing process, instead of being given a color wash.

5. The Good, the Bad and the Future

Legend has it that people who could identify Northern Song Guan ware are the true noblemen of the country. So how rare is the Huizong Guan ware? Huizong imperial kiln was only established to produce Guan ware for ceremonial purpose and the emperor’s personal use, its products were never intended for sale to the public in the marketplace, unlike the majority of Ru ware of the same period. Therefore very few people even had the chance of catching a glimpse of all of its beauty and glory.

Later Chinese dynasties, Yuan, Ming, Qing, Republic of China, all made tremendous efforts to mimic Huizong Guan ware, nonetheless failed or paled in comparison with the real deal. For about a hundred years, after the fall of the Qing dynasty, auctioneers and museums mistook the reproductions of the Song Guan ware as authentic Song dynasty imperial kiln productions. Lately, some have made corrections of these misconceptions.

The good news is that now we can make the good judgement based on the real thing, an authentic Northern Song dynasty Emperor Huizong Guan ware, decorated with a dragon mark, with every known feature a real Northern Song Guan ware would need to have.

Nine hundred years after its birth, we are proud to present this amazing masterpiece to the world!


Recently an American client brought several Chinese antiques to show me, they were all collected in the early 20th century.

After further examination and research, I came to the conclusion that this is an extremely rare Northern Song dynasty Guan ware made for Emperor Huizong, the first known piece of its kind with the dragon mark and a significant discovery in world ceramic art history.

The importance of the discovery of this rare piece would be hard to emphasize, it would be a cornerstone piece for the research of Northern Song dynasty imperial kiln.

A beautiful art is usually created out of many inspirations and influences, historical or from the same period, it would never be an isolated occurrence. In order to fully understand one particular art form, we need to broaden the horizon and tackle the subject from related angles and perspectives.

The above article is an attempt to explain the cultural background in the creation of the legendary Northern Song Guan ware, I referenced historical texts in Chinese literature, poetry, aesthetics, philosophy and ceramic workmanship to reveal the principles behind Emperor Huizong’s unique artistic styles.

Please feel free to contact me if your museum is interested in hosting an exhibition.

Tiffany M. Wang
Email: info@BeyondDelish.com


王者之瓷 – 一件珍稀的宋徽宗官窑龙纹碗

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一、“王者之瓷,社稷神器” – 论宋徽宗官窑器的起源
二、敦兮其若朴,旷兮其若谷 – 论徽宗官窑器的道家思想
三、谦谦君子,温润如玉 – 谈北宋官窑的釉质釉色
四、蟹爪纹,紫口铁足 – 谈北宋官窑器鉴定要点
五、识得官瓷面,江山坐一半 – 论北宋官窑器的鉴定误区

Northern Song Emperor Huizong’s Dragon Bowl | 北宋徽宗官窑龙纹碗

一、“王者之瓷,社稷神器” – 论宋徽宗官窑器的起源




Portrait of Emperor Huizong | 宋徽宗




二、敦兮其若朴,旷兮其若谷 – 论徽宗官窑器的道家思想





自然真切,不刻意修饰是宋官窑器艺术魅力经年不衰的原因之一。庄子云:“真者,精诚之至也。不精不诚,不能动人。” “真者,所以受于天也,自然不可易也。故圣人法天贵真,不拘于俗。”

北宋官窑器的审美意识蕴涵着庄周美学之精华。庄子说:“夫虚静恬淡寂寞无为者,万物之本也。” “淡然无极而众美从之。此天地之道,圣人之德也”


老子 《道德经》云: “曲则全,枉则直” 解释为能柔曲因应则能自我成全,懂得枉屈绕行则能迅捷直达。庄子云:”天下有常然。常然者,曲者不以钩,直者不以绳,圆者不以规,方者不以矩,附离不以胶漆,约束不以纆索。故天下诱然皆生,而不知其所以生;同焉皆得,而不知其所以得。”

三、谦谦君子,温润如玉 – 谈北宋官窑的釉质釉色


南宋诗人马祖常云“贡篚银貂金作籍,官窑瓷器玉为泥”,说的是北宋官窑器不惜成本使用玉粉入釉。这与汝窑记载相吻合,南宋人周煇在《清波杂志》中说:“汝窑宫中禁烧,内有玛瑙为釉。” 北宋官窑汝窑玛瑙入釉,使得北宋瓷器呈现出美玉般特殊光泽。




四、蟹爪纹,紫口铁足 – 谈北宋官窑器鉴定要点




曹昭在《格古要论》中关于汝窑的记载:“汝窑器出汝州,宋时烧者淡青色,有蟹爪纹者真,无纹者尤好”。明代高濂在《遵生八笺》里云:“汝窑余尝见之,汁水莹厚如堆脂,然汁中棕眼隐若蟹爪”。清人谷应泰《博物要览》等书都提到过汝窑 “汁中棕眼隐若蟹爪”。

五、识得官瓷面,江山坐一半 – 论北宋官窑器的鉴定误区

北宋官窑器几人有幸一睹风采?北宋官窑素有 “识得官瓷面,江山坐一半” 之说,说的是官窑器难得一见,为国家礼器和祭祀用器,同时为宋徽宗个人专属器具。北宋官窑器是历史上唯一没有在市场上流通过的瓷器。清代学者陈浏在其《陶雅》一书中说 “宋官窑者绝不经见,世人罕能识之者”。









Tiffany M. Wang
电子邮箱: info@BeyondDelish.com