Guan kilns refer to official kilns directly run by the government,
and the products of which were exclusively supplied for the imperial courts or
governmental officials. Guan kilns started in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), and
can be further categorized into Northern
Song Dynasty (960-1127) Guan kilns and Southern
Song Dynasty (1127-1279) Guan kilns, respectively in Bianjing (present-day
of Central China's Henan
Province) and Hangzhou
of East China's Zhejiang
The earliest record of the Northern Song government's establishing porcelain
kilns in Kaifeng appeared as follows in Random Notes While Basking in the
Sun by Gu Wenjian of the Song Dynasty: "In the Reigns of Zhenghe and Xuanhe
(1111-1125), potteries were set up in the capital to manufacture porcelains.
They were called Guan (government) kilns." Their outputs were exclusively for
The actual kiln site has not been discovered, due perhaps to geographical
changes in the vicinity of Kaifeng where throughout time, the sediment deposited
by the overflowing and shifting Yellow
River had buried the civilizations of the Tang (618-907), Song and following
dynasties several meters underground. However, quite a number of vessels of Guan
ware were preserved by the imperial courts of different dynasties. Emperor Qianlong
of the Qing
Dynasty (1644-1911), who prized Guan ware, wrote poems in its praise and had
the bottoms of Guan porcelain vessels inscribed.
The porcelain of Guan ware used china clay with a fairly high iron content,
the paste showing the color of iron black. The rather thick glaze applied gave
it the lustrous, bright finish of fine greenish white jade.
Its color was paler than the celadon from the Ru Kiln. As the glaze was fired at
high temperature, it melted and streamed down the vessels, leaving the glaze on
the mouth-rims thinner, hence showing the paste color.
Also, the mouth-rims were separated by a vitreous glaze,
giving the color a purplish tinge. The foot-rim was unglazed with the
iron-colored paste fully exposed, showing its special feature of "purple
mouth-rim and iron foot" -- important in identifying Guan porcelain. Another
characteristic of the ware is crisscross, fairly large crackles (decoration
patterns of very small surface cracks) like overlapping ice cracks.