Ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia:
Collections in the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

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Ceramics in Southern Vietnam

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During the first millennium of the Common Era, the delta region of the Mekong River was part of the sphere of influence of pre-Angkorian and Angkorian Khmer culture. The most famous delta site of this phase is Oc Eo, a port city shown by material evidence to have been connected through trade to India and the Roman world. The site became well known after Louis Malleret published the results of his excavation there (Malleret 1957).

The Hauge Collection includes many stoneware and earthenware ceramics acquired in the delta and interpreted as "Oc Eo" by association with similar pieces that Malleret had published. Close reading of Malleret shows that those pieces were surface finds, for the most part, and recent research by Cort and Lefferts has confirmed that most unglazed stoneware of those types was made at kilns operated by Vietnamese potters along the coast of central Vietnam (and probably transported to the delta as containers for various commercial goods). Malleret also published varieties of small paddle-formed earthenware bowls that probably represent vessels made recently by ethnic Khmer potters living near the Cambodian border. (At present, the Khmer potters specialize in clay stoves and cooking vessels of various sizes.) A small number of hand-built earthenware vessels still retain the possibility of association with the period of the Oc Eo culture, between the second century BCE and the twelfth century CE (Hirano 2005).

The population of the delta changed with the southward movement of the ethnic Vietnamese. Chinese merchants were encouraged to settle in the delta region in order to confirm Vietnamese authority, and the presence of merchants encouraged the immigration of potters, notably from Guangdong province. From the eighteenth century onward, such potters and their descendents, replenished by new immigrants, operated kilns in the provinces adjacent to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and produced unglazed and glazed stoneware after the models of Shiwan ware from Guangdong (Luong and Diep 1990, 1991; Nguyen-Long 2003). These products were dispersed into the delta by way of the network of canals and natural waterways developed under French colonial rule (Khmer earthenware is marketed in the same way), and they were also distributed northward up the coast.