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

Print | Back to Normal Layout


  • Porcelain with pale blue transparent glaze
  • 15.2 x 13.9 cm
  • Shaowu ware
  • late 16th-18th century, Ming or Qing dynasty
  • Origin: Shaowu kilns, Fujian province, China
  • Provenance: Thailand
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, and Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2005.51


"Gunpowder jar" or "bullet jar," with thick rim (lightly ground down), angular shoulder, bevelled foot and concave base. Luting ring mark at midpoint of body indicating that body was formed in two stages. Vessel is heavy for its size, with thick lower walls.
Clay: light grey stoneware.
Glaze: pale bluish-green, glossy, translucent, crazed; base unglazed.
Decoration: series of incised rings below neck.

Curatorial Remarks

1.  (Candy Chan, intern, 29 March 29 2002)  This jar is named "bullet jar," possibly made in Guangdong, South China. These jars were found throughout Southeast Asia and dated to 17th–19th century (Lam et al. 1985, 120, 148, pl. 256).

Jars of this type were recovered from the Vung Tau Shipwreck in 1989 at the southern coast of Vietnam. This deep-sea vessel carried a large number of ceramics made in Jingdezhen as well as other southern kilns of China during the Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662–1722), destined for Southeast Asia and Europe. These heavily potted jars have grayish, greenish and bluish glaze; undecorated; the mouths were sealed by oil paper and textile (Jorg and Flecker 2001, 151). They were made in great quantity in South China for export to Southeast Asia as containers for salt, food and liquid (ibid., 90–91, 151, fig. 94).

Lam, Peter Y. K., and The Southeast Asian Ceramic Society. 1985. A Ceramic Legacy of Asia's Maritime Trade: Song Dynasty Guangdong Wares and Other 11th to 19th Century Trade Ceramics Found on Tioman Island. Kuala Lumpur: The Southeast Asian Ceramic Society.

Jorg, Christian J. A., and M. Flecker. 2001. Porcelain from the Vung Tau Wreck: The Hallstrom Excavation. UK: Sun Tree Publishing Ltd.  

2.  (Louise Cort, 19 April 2002) Three jars of this type are in the Morse collection of Japanese ceramics at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Morse catalogue number 932 and two others). Morse reported (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. c.1980, 82–83) that no. 932 was identified by Japanese connoisseurs as "Matsumoto ware," made near Hagi in southwestern Japan. After I pointed these pieces out to James Watt, then curator of Asiatic art, in 1984, he wrote:

"This is a curious class of ware which I first saw in some quantity in Taiwan junk shops in 1968. Later, in 1979, I saw the same in the Memorial Hall to Zheng Chenggong (alias Koxinga to historians of an earlier generation) in Xiamen (previously known as Amoy) on the Fujian coast. I have forgotten whether it was in Taipei or Xiamen that the explanation was offered that these jars were gun powder containers used by the troops of Koxinga. I do remember thinking in Xiamen that the gun powder hypothesis, at least the association with Koxinga, did make some sense. Koxinga sailed from Amoy in 1661 to take Formosa from the Dutch. As Taiwan was unimportant in the sea trade from the South China coast in the seventeenth century (or, for that matter, any earlier century in historic times -- as opposed to prehistoric times), the most likely explanation for the deposit of so many of these Fujian jars on Taiwan would be a mass invasion. Also, an attribution to the seventeenth century would not be entirely inconsistent with the looks of these jars. 

"I would imagine that it was during the same turbulent period that these jars found their way to Japan. In any case, romantic history aside, it would seem that these jars were utilitarian wares made in seventeenth century Fujian and used by pirates, merchants, warriors, and other seafarers who took them to Taiwan and Japan." (James Watt, letter, 31 July 1984)

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. c.1980. Nihon no tōjiten: Bosuton Bijutsukan shozō Mōsu korekushon (Japanese ceramics from the Morse Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

3.  (Louise Cort, 23 April 2002)  The sale of the Vung Tau cargo (Christie's Amsterdam, 7 April 1992) included a total of 1096 jars of this type (lots 940–956, described as "baluster vases"), all of the same size (h.18 cm). According to the introduction to the catalogue, the Asian ship that sank off the coast of southern Vietnam seems to have been bound for Indonesia (probably for Batavia on the island of Java) along the well-established sea route. The Vung Tau wreck is dated circa 1690.
Jars of this type of coarse, clear-glazed porcelain of a larger size (height 26-27 cm.) were recovered from the wreck known as the San Diego, which sank off the coast of Batangas, the Philippines, on 14 December 1600 (Desroches et al. eds. 1996, 226–227; cat. 33).

Desroches, Jean-Paul, Gabriel Casal, Franck Goddio, and the National Museum of the Philippines, eds. 1996. Treasures of the San Diego. Manila: National Museum of the Philippines.   

4.  (Louise Cort, 10 July 2002) According to Mrs. Tran Thi Thanh Dao, several of the Vung Tau shipwreck jars are now in the collection of the Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City. 

5.  (Louise Cort, 27 January 2003) Jars of this type are discussed in Ch'en 2002. Ch'en discusses the various oral traditions surrounding the origin and use of this type of jar; presents excavated examples from Taiwan, China, and shipwrecks in Southeast Asia and South Africa; presents examples from sites dating between 1600 and 1764 and pieces bearing Chinese reign inscriptions ranging from Chongzhen (1628–1644) and Daoguang 15 (1832); examines possible kiln sites in southeastern China that may have produced the jars; and considers the possible uses.

Ch'en Hsin-hsiung. 2002. "Anping Jar: A braun-white Glazed Porcelain Jar that many found in Southeast Asia." Tōnan Ajia kōkogaku [Journal of Southeast Asian Archaeology] (Japan Society of Southeast Asian Archaeology) 22: 107–127.

6.  (Candy Chan, Research Assistant, March 24, 2003) A similar jar dating to 17th–18th century is in a private collection in Indonesia. Adhyatman states that these jars are used as salt containers in Sumatra. (Adhyatman 1981, 366, pl. 325).

A similar jar was found on Xisha Islands in 1975 and was identified as Longquan ware of the Yuan dynasty (1280-1368) (Guangdong sheng wenwu guanli weiyuanhui et al 1991, 113).

A jar of this type is in the British Museum, London. Harrison-Hall mentions that it was recovered from the Hatcher shipwreck dating to c.1643 and probably destined to Indonesia (Harrison-Hall 2001, 467, pl. 16:15).

A jar of this type is in the collection of the Chaoan County Cultural Centre in Guangdong province, South China. It was collected at the Bijiashan kiln in Chaozhou town. This Northern Song kilnsite is also acknowledged as "Shuidong yao" (River east kiln) (Guangdong sheng bowu guan bian 1981, 36, pl. 27:6).

Sherds of this jar type were unearthed on Penghu Islands in Taiwan. Liu dates them to the Southern Song (1127–1279) and the Yuan (1271–1368) periods, and points out that the luting mark on the body is a distinctive feature of southern Chinese ceramics production during that time. He also compares the sherds with the so-called Anping jars unearthed in Anping, Tainan province, and suggests that the production of the Anping jars began in the Southern Song period and lasted through the early Qing period (Liu 1994).

Adhyatman, Sumarah. 1981. Keramik kuna yang ditemukan di Indonesia : berbagai penggunaan dan tempat asal (Antique Ceramics Found in Indonesia : various uses and origins). Jakarta: Ceramic Society of Indonesia.

Guangdong sheng wenwu guanli weiyuanhui et al. [Guangdong cultural relics management committee], ed. 1991. Nanhai sichouzhilu wenwu tuji (The Collection of antiquities from Silk Road on South China Sea). Guangdong: Guangdong keji chubanshe

Harrison-Hall, Jessica. 2001. Catalogue of Late Yuan and Ming Ceramics in the British Museum. London: The British Museum Press.  

Guangdong sheng bowuguan [Guangdong Provincial Museum]. 1981. Chaozhou Bijiashan Songdai yaozhi fajue baogao [Excavation report of a Song dynasty kiln site in Bijia Mountain, Chaozhou]. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe.

Liu Liang-yu. 1994. "Some Specimens of Trade Ceramics Unearthed in Taiwan and Penghu—A Discussion of Certain Questions Concerning Kiln Origins". Pp. 226–252 in International Symposium on Ancient Chinese Trade Ceramics: Collected Papers. Republic of China: National Museum of History.   

7.  (Candy Chan, Research Assistant, April 14, 2003) Similar jars were also found in 1976 in the shipwreck of the Witte Leeuw, which was on its way back to the Netherlands in 1613 when it sank near St. Helena, southeast of Africa. These jars were categorized as "Swatow ware" in the catalogue due to their coarseness, but the provenance was stated as uncertain (van der Pijl-Ketel ed. 1982, 215–216).

van der Pijl-Ketel, C.L., ed. 1982. The Ceramic Load of the Witte Leeuw (1613). Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum.

8.  (Louise Cort, 17 September 2003). The distribution at sites in Southeast Asian of the "anping jar" is discussed in Sakai 199, 102–117.

Sakai Takashi. 1995. "Anping tsubo no bōeki—17 seiki no Tōnan Ajia Bōeki nooto (Trades of "Anping Jar"—Notes on the Southeast Asian trade in the 17th century)." Tōnan Ajia kōkogaku [Journal of Southeast Asian Archaeology] (Jounral of the Japan Society of Southeast Asian Archaeology) 15: 102–117 (English captions to plates), 115–116 Indonesian summary).

9.  (Louise Cort, 17 November 2003) Another jar of this type in the Morse Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is listed in the Morse catalogue as no. 1843 and identified as the work of the 17th century potter Gombei in Matsue city, Izumo province. Since Gombei is said to have come from Hagi, this suggests a general misidentification of such jars in Japan as Hagi-related ware because of their glaze. A tea bowl in Korean "salt-jar" (shioge) shape (Morse no. 1846) bears a similar glassy, blue-gray glaze.
The jar no. 1843 is equipped with a wooden plug with a hemispherical top, suggesting that it was used for storing tea (perhaps sencha, given its small size?).

The rim of the jar is cut off level in a manner similar to the Hauge jar, suggesting that this was a standard way of finishing the jar, and thus that the Hauge jar rim was not ground down at a later date.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. c.1980. Nihon no tōjiten: Bosuton Bijutsukan shozō Mōsu korekushon (Japanese ceramics from the Morse Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  

10.  (Louise Cort, 28 January 2005) A newspaper article about a jar of this type is presented in Dupoizat 1988, 4. An article in Fujian ribao (Fujian Daily), 1985.1.31, illustrates a jar (h. 15 cm), one of many found several decades earlier by fisherman along the coast in Taiwan near a place called Anping bao, location of a fort. The jars, termed guoxing bing, had been used to store gunpowder used on board ships during the battle led by Zheng Chenggong, aka Guoxingye.  The jar featured in the article had been given to an eighth-generation descendent of Zheng Chenggong, named Zhenglao, who had preserved it in the Philippines. Hearing of plans to construct a monument to his ancestor in his native village, he had donated the jar.

Dupoizat, Marie-France. 1988. "Recherches sur les Jarres en Asie du Sud-Est". Ph.D. Thesis, L'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

11.  (Louise Cort, 14 October 2005) According to archaeologist and ceramics specialist Morimoto Asako, Fukuoka, this type of bottle is known to come from the Shaowu kiln in Fujian province. The kiln made white porcelain from the Southern Song through Ming dynasties. White bowls from one kiln within the group, Sidu—distinguished by the cut of the footrim, carved out with a point in the center (called eguri-kodai in Japanese)—are the most abundant type of porcelain of the second half of the 14th century in Japanese excavation sites. The white ware excavated from sixteenth-century layers in Hakata comes from this kiln. There is no glaze on the bottom. Bottles of this type were made over a long time. They are excavated in western Japan at sites in Hirado and Nagasaki.

12.  (Louise Cort, 22 December 2005) Changed Origin from Guangdong or Fujian province to Fujian province. Added Shaowu kiln complex. Changed Date from 17th–18th century to late 16th–18th century.

13.  (Louise Cort, 30 January 2006) Jars of this type have been found (as of 1990) at three sites in Vietnam—from the Vung Tau shipwreck of a vessel of the British East India Company, which disbanded in 1705, giving a latest possible date for the jar; from another shipwreck in the same Con Dao island chain, off Hon Cau island, that dates to circa 1690; and from excavations at the port city of Hoi An, from a stratum dated to the first half of the 17th century (Kikuchi 1997, 175).

Kikuchi Seiichi. 1997. "Hoi An shutsudo no tōjiki (Ceramics excavated from Hoi An)." Betonamu no Nihonmachi—Hoi An no kōkogaku chōsa [A Japanese Town in Vietnam—Archaeological investigations of Hoi An]. Shōwa Joshi Daigaku Kokusai Bunka Kenkyūjo kiyō (Showa Women's University Institute of International Culture Bulletin) 4: 173–181 (Chapter 7, part 1).

14.  (Louise Cort, 26 May 2007) Eight jars of smaller size, and two of larger size, from the Con Dau shipwreck are in the collection of the Ba Ria Vung Tau Museum.

15.  (Louise Cort, 27 August 2007) A jar of this type is in the collection of the National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh (kha 480/H. 545). It was acquired at Ponhea Leu, Kandal province, in 1925 and identified as "Chinese."

16.  (Louise Cort, 21 November 2011) Two bottles of this type are in the collection of the Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore. One (1998.690), incrusted with sea shells, came from the Vung Tau wreck and was a donation of Mr. Hallstrom. The other (CO 292) bears dark stains and was acquired as an "oil jar."

17. (Louise Cort, 12 July 2011) The finds of this type of jar on Taiwan as well as in Guangdong and Fujian provinces are discussed in Hsieh 1998, pp. 230-234.

Hsieh Ming Liang 1998. "Zuoying Qingdai Fengshanyao jiucheng juluo chutu taoci buji." Taiwanshi yanjiu 3-3: 229-244.

18. (Louise Cort, 21 November 2011) Two bottles of this type are in the collection of the Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore. One (1998.690), incrusted with sea shells, came from the Vung Tau wreck and was a donation of Mr. Hallstrom. The other (CO 292) bears dark stains and was acquired as an "oil jar."

19. (Louise Cort, 7 April 2014) A second bottle of this type in the National Museum of Cambodia (kha 272) (h. 15.5 cm) is reported to have been found at Wat Pouveal, Battambang province, according to the online database of the museum's collection.

field notes

Submit Comment 0 comments total

No field notes found.