The legend of Brother Kilns

The longquan celadon is one of the notable varieties of the traditional ceramics of China. This legend was about how two brothers, Zhang Shengyi and Zhang Sheng’er, of Longquan County, Zhejiang, in the Southern Song Dynasty improved celadon. The legend has it that the Zhang family was engaged in porcelain-making from generation to generation. According to their father’s last wish, the two brothers ran their respective kiln and tried hard to make innovation. Beginning with colors, Zhang Sheng’er analyzed seriously all the colors man could see in the sky and on the earth and came to the conclusion that cyan was the basis of all colors, the essence of all colors and the most beautiful color, as it pleased both the eye and the mind. After discussion, the two brothers decided to take cyan as the fixed color of the Zhang family to make porcelain. When he happened to see a green plum tree standing gracefully erect by the kiln shed, Zhang Sheng’er thought the cyan of plums, he had them simmered into thick juice, blended it into glaze and applied it onto the porcelain base. Finally celadon, which was bluish, came into being and caused a great sensation. After seeing it, Emperor Gaozong (1127-1131) of the Southern Song Dynasty was so delighted with it that he could hardly bear to put it down on seeing it and issued the imperial decree to change the porcelain kiln of Zhang Sheng’er into a government-run porcelain industry and conferred the title of the “Diyao Kiln” (The Younger Brother’s Kiln) upon it.

 

Zhang Shengyi also cherished high ambitions in his life, trying to burn out a kind of crackle porcelain, which had always been believed to be something bestowed by deities, as an artifact. In order to be disclose the secret of porcelain crackling, he kept to himself and never got married. After serious studies and investigations, he found that for gaining a few pieces of crackle porcelain the people of his time often threw a living person into the blazing kiln. The blood and moisture of the living person caused the crackling of the porcelain. When blood congealed, the color was purple. That is why the color o crackle porcelain was always of a little blood red. Besides, when the porcelain base came across moisture, there was no time for it to shrink and hence crackling in polygonal shape. As Longquan was available with a special kind of clay with the color of a little blood red, the key issue was moisture and the right amoun of water injection. Zhang Shengyi persisted in doing contrast test but failed again and again. Once in a severe winter, when taking a bowl of noodle to him for eating, his brother’s wife Wu Zhenzhen found him injecting water into the kiln. It came naturally to her that her brother-in-law was trying to put out the fire in the kiln, so she lent him a hand. Unexpectedly, a kiln of crackle celadon full of fish-scale cracks cane out, seeming cracked but not broken. Indescribably wonderful crackle porcelain! Zhang Shengyi’s crackle celadon created a sensation of the court above and the masses below. Immediately his kiln was decided to be one of the five famous kilns of the Song Dynasty and its products were exclusively for the use in the imperial palace and export. As Zhang Shengyi was the elder brother of the two brothers, his crackle celadon was also named the “Geyao Kiln” (The Elder Brother’s Kiln) celadon.

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geyao ding