Jianzhan 建盞

Jianzhan from the late Song Dynasty.

This bowl is known as a jianzhan, or 建盞 / 建盏 in Chinese. Specifically, it is called a hare's fur jianzhan, or 兔毫盞 / 兔毫盏, thus named for the appearance of rust-coloured streaks on the glaze, which resemble the fur of the hare.

I should probably write a proper post briefly introducing jianzhan and tenmoku in general — by far my favourite family of ceramic vessels — but the topic is very complex and I'm not sure if I'm ready to broach it yet.

Meanwhile, here are some photos showing some details of the tea bowl.


Traditional Han Clothing

A short introduction to Han ethnic clothing and the importance of its conservation.

1. What is traditional Han ethnic clothing?
Traditional Han ethnic clothing — commonly called hanfu 漢服/汉服 — is the ethnic dress of the Han Chinese, 漢人/汉人, or 華人/华人.

2. What era is it from?
Through the ages, Han Chinese have been wearing their ethnic dress up until the Qing Dynasty 清朝 (1644 — 1912), when the Manchu 滿族 regime made it illegal for Han Chinese men to wear their ethnic dress. This was to force the Han Chinese to submit to Manchu rule under the Qing court.

3. What about the qipao/cheongsam 旗袍/長衫/长衫 and magua 馬褂/马褂?
The cheongsam, qipao, and magua belong to the ethnic dress of the Manchus, who were part of the Eight Banners People 八旗, hence the name given to their garments旗袍, the pao/袍 of the Qi/旗 people.

4. So Manchus are not Han Chinese?
Manchus and Han Chinese belong to different ethnicities.

5. So the qipao and magua is not Chinese either?
The qipao and magua belong to the Manchus, and therefore should not and cannot ever be used to substitute or represent the ethnic dress of the Han Chinese.

6. So why do people wear the qipao and magua today?
During the Qing Dynasty, the Manchu rulers made it illegal for Han Chinese men to wear their own ethnic dress under pain of death. Anyone who violated the precept would be beheaded. Today’s custom of wearing the qipao and magua is a carryover from the Qing. The ethnic dress of the Han Chinese today should be based on the form of hanfu from the Ming Dynasty 明朝, the last of the Han Chinese dynasties.

7. Why the Ming Dynasty?
Because we should pick up where we left off. The Ming Dynasty was the last of the Han Chinese dynasties. Hanfu evolved through the ages up until the Qing where it was then outlawed. But the rule did not apply to monks and religious, which is why Buddhist and Taoist monks today wear robes that look very much like garbs of the common people of the Ming Dynasty.

8. Can we choose to wear clothes from the Song Dynasty, Tang Dynasty, or any of the dynasties that preceded the Ming?
No. Doing so would basically be cosplaying.

9. Why not?
Because hanfu evolved through the ages right up to the end of the Ming Dynasty. Therefore, hanfu conservation and promotion in the modern day should pick up from that point in history. Not even people living in the Ming would have worn clothes from the Song or Tang or Han or Qin dynasties — it is utterly silly and ridiculous. Unfortunately, we see many hanfu enthusiasts wearing garbs said to be patterned after hanfu from earlier dynasties. In actual fact, these robes are made after their figments of imagination or costumes they see on TV or in movies. It needs to be reiterated unequivocally: Any form of dress from any dynasty preceding the Ming is obsolete, and while they may still carry cultural significance and value, the conservation of hanfu today may only be based on the garments we inherited from the Ming.

10. So why/how is Ming-style attire relevant today?
Following the demise of the Ming Dynasty and the birth of the Qing regime, the Manchu rulers forbade Han Chinese men from wearing their own ethnic dress. But fortunately the rule did not apply to opera troupes and religious clerics. This means that the use of Ming-style garments did not completely disappear from the face of this earth — it lived on in ways that we don’t usually pay attention to. Every race has its own ethnic dress — the Malays have their baju melayu, the Japanese have their kimono and the Koreans have their hanbok. We have our Han ethnic dress, our hanzhuang/hanfu 漢裝/汉装 漢服/汉服, which we Han Chinese must preserve and continue to promote and wear. Because we are not, and we cannot ever be, a naked race.


Kokedama

Having a ball of a time.

I've long wanted a very plain and simple-looking plant for the tea table, and I think I've finally found something I'm quite happy with.

What you see in the picture is called kokedama, or 苔玉 — literally moss (苔) ball (玉) in Japanese — a variant of bonsai cultivation that dispenses with the pot altogether.

To my knowledge, there are at least two theories concerning how kokedama originated. One story goes that some time in the early 1600s, bonsai growers started to remove their bonsai from the pots in order to appreciate them in their raw natural state, giving rise to the nearai bonsai tradition. Soon, people discovered that these pot-less bonsai plants lost moisture too quickly, so they started to wrap layers of moss around the roots to prevent them from drying out — and thus kokedama was born.

A different story was told to me by my kokedama teacher Tony Yau. In those days, bonsai pots could cost a lot of money, causing a situation where some growers showed off their pots more than their plants. Disgusted by such ostentatious conduct, some bonsai artist made up his mind to showcase his bonsai without their pots. This raw unadorned presentation captivated the imagination of bonsai lovers, who felt it embodied Japanese aesthetic ideals, and proceeded to develop it into a form of bonsai cultivation in its own right. This might also explain why kokedama is sometimes also known by its less politically correct term — "the poor man's bonsai."

Of the four kokedama you see in the picture, three were made by me; one of the smaller ones was made by my teacher when he took me through a step-by-step process. I found the bamboo at a pop-up store run by an elderly lady in Tanjong Pagar.

Blood-stained Bamboo

The legend of xiangfei bamboo, 湘妃竹.

It's funny how things you spend a long time searching for turn up at the most unexpected places. Here's a xiangfei bamboo (湘妃竹, literally bamboo of the consort of River Xiang) tea scoop (茶則). There's a tragic legend as to how this mottled bamboo got its name.

Sometime around 2200B.C., villagers in the area of Hunan were terrorised by nine malevolent dragons. Hearing this, Emperor Shun decided to personally put a stop to the dragons' mischief. But fighting the nine dragons took a toll on Shun, who, having successfully rescued the villagers, himself died from exhaustion and old age. Years passed but word of Shun's death never reached his two consorts E Huang and Nü Ying. Fearing the worst, the duo decided to make their way to Hunan. When they arrived, they saw a majestic tomb overlooking the village, and enquired a passerby to whom it belonged.

"It is Emperor Shun's," came his reply. "He gave his life to save our village."

E Huang and Nü Ying were devastated. By the banks of the river, the two consorts leaned themselves against some bamboo plants and embraced each other. There, they wept so unconsolably for seven days and seven nights that they shed tears of blood. Completely drained, they passed away, leaving nothing but their bloodied fingerprints on the stems of the bamboo.

This story also inspired the guqin melody 湘妃怨 Xiangfei Yuan.

Personal Touch

There are many like it. But this one is mine.

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Finally, a personalised Yixing zisha (宜興紫砂) teapot, made from zhusha (朱砂) clay. Inscribed on the bottom of the pot is the time it was made, followed by my name in Chinese.

As it appears, zhusha exists in a few subregions in Yixing, but it's apparently not as readily available as it was in the past. This teapot is fashioned using zhusha mined in the region of Hongwei.

I don't yet have details about the firing; I'll update when I hear from the potters.