In the mid-9th century, the Tang Dynasty grandees were repulsed by the southern Chinese potters’ gaudy colour and decoration experiments. Anything different than green (replicating jade) or white (replicating silver) belonged in tombs.
Far away Arabs immediately recognized the new work’s value. Shiploads of southern Chinese stoneware, mostly bowls, were sent to the Abbasid Caliphate in massive re-useable ceramic jars. These jars had auspicious inscriptions, regularly in Arabic, scrawled along their outside. Arabic used to be the ‘official language’ of the entire trade network connecting southern China to the Persian Gulf and beyond. Arab potters noticed Chinese stoneware encroaching into their home market. They replied by way of inventing an easy white tin glaze for their very own earthenware.
A world of colour beyond somber Chinese greens and whites were now possible, Cobalt blue was the first new hue, accompanied by many others. Then someone in Basra invented lusterware, actually replicating copper and silver. They sent it back to China, along with Mesopotamian cobalt, to try this new look on white Chinese stoneware glazes. The first Chinese blue and white used to be in all likelihood painted by resident Persians.
Whole mountainsides have been deforested to feed the kilns. The growing impact of ‘aliens’ led to a vicious reaction, with significant looting and killing of resident overseas traders. Colourful, decorated ceramics dried up. The incoming Song Dynasty reverted to safe, comfortable celadons and whites. The world had to wait another 5 hundred years for Persian traders to ask Yuan Dynasty potters to put Mesopotamian cobalt on their new porcelain.
‘Blue and white’ as we now understand it exploded onto the world stage, blossoming over the subsequent three hundred years into pottery history’s single most recognized chapter.
Stoneware is a rather broad term for pottery or other ceramics fired at a relatively high temperature. A modern technical definition is a vitreous or semi-vitreous ceramic made primarily from stoneware clay or non-refractory fire clay.