A Spectacular Archaeological ‘Jun-Glazed’ Dragon Head Ewer with Dragon Handle

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A Spectacular Archaeological ‘Jun-Glazed’ Dragon Head Ewer with Dragon Handle


Modelled after past relic form in elegant ovoid body tapering towards splayed foot to a tall waisted neck and lobed cup-shaped flaring mouth, set on the domed shoulders with a short spout in the form of a dragon-head and two lugs on each side of the shoulder flanked by a dragon head handle grasping the angular rim of the ewer, covered overall in a thick a rich mottled blue-grey glaze thinning to an olive colour at the rim and edge of vessel suffused with purple bubble splashes tone, the glaze falling short of the above unglazed dark-brown foot ring revealing greyish body with the rust-colored from the archaeological river site.


As the most spectacular of one of the Five Great Kilns of Song dynasty wares, ‘Jun’ wares with a wide range of shape and glaze tones were manufactured and developed in Henan province from the end of the Northern Song dynasty (960 – 1127 AD) to at least the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The glaze color tones of Jun wares are different appearances as the result of temperature of the kiln changing color tints, where this technique is known as ‘yaobian’ or furnace transmutations.

This ewer represents a further development of Northern Song Jun ewer that was modelled in reminiscent of the past relic. As monochromatic ware of Song dynasty, Jun ware like the present piece is relied on aesthetic forms and the glaze effects. This Northern Song dynasty ware’s shape can be traced back to earlier prototypes in Chinese ceramics history. The shape of the present ewer derives from low-temperature celadon lead-glaze ‘Chicken-head ewer with dragon handle’ ewer of Northern Qi北齐 dynasty (550 – 577 AD). The prototype was excavated in Zibo, Shandong, from the tomb of Lou Rui (570 AD), Prince Dong’an of the Northern Qi in Taiyun, Shanxi (see fig. 1).1) Another from the tomb of the Northern Wei emperor Xuanwu (500 – 515 AD) in Luoyang, Henan province.2) ‘Chicken-head ewer with dragon handle’ ewer was then developed in low-temperature lead-glazed ‘sancai (three-colored), white, blackish-brown or green glaze wares in different styles during Tang dynasty (618-907). For example, a white ewer splashed with green glaze modelled with dragon-head spout and feline-shaped handle of Tang period was discovered from Belitung Shipwreck in Indonesia island in 1998 (see fig. 2).3)

In ancient China, the type of water ewer was placed in tombs of the deceased. Gradually, it changes in its function, from funerary vessel become a vessel used to dilute wine and to pour ablutions. Since the economy developed fast during the Song dynasty, people’s lives were quickly enriched. This wine vessel coated with a remarkable thick a rich mottled blue-grey glaze was for accessories and tea-drinking ceremonies showing society’s passion to create a quality life during the Song dynasty. This unusual ewer shape in Jun glaze is probably one of wares commissioned by the most notably Huizong emperor 宋徽宗 (1080-‐1135) of Song dynasty who notoriously adopted the past cultured tastes for educated elites and popularized them at his court. Emperor Huizong was a great connoisseur of tea and he was particularly enthusiastic about art. Jun ewer with dragon-shaped handle of Song dynasty like the present dramatical piece is rarely published.

The present piece was found in 1991 from Batang Hari river in Jambi – Sumatra, a former Sriwijaya empire. Srivijaya empire, located in the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, was Established in 600 AD and ended in 1400 AD. It appears that the first polity of Śriwijaya was the polity at Palembang, South-Sumatra from roughly 650 to 1025 A.D, and the second polity of Śriwijaya was the polity at Jambi from 1079 to 1400 A.D. In 1025, Cola empire under Rajendra Chola I from Sri Lanka (South India) sacked Palembang, a capital of Sriwijaya empire. In 1079 – 1082, the Sriwijaya elites established a new imperial capital, Melayu-Jambi, whose location in the Batang Hari River system offering the better contact with its overseas traders and elites and had more direct access than Muse River system.

Some historians acclaimed that between 1079 and 1082, the capital of Sriwijaya empire moved from Palembang to Jambi, and tributary mission to China in 1079 and 1088 were now sent from Zhanbei (Jambi). Zhou Qufei (1179) and Zhao Rugua (1225) both comment on the fact that ‘Sanfoqi’ (the Chinese name given to Malayu-Jambi) compelled ships to enter its harbor to trade. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Melayu is the name of a Kingdom ruling over the Jambi area.4)

According to Wolters in “Fall of Srivijaya”, from the late 11th century, small North Sumatran ports and Kedah also began to trade independently and, some cases, to send envoys to China. Underlying these centrifugal trends was rising post-1050 for Indonesian produced in Indian Ocean and in China, with the latter paying for forest goods and other exotica through massive exports of bronze cash and ceramics. Starting from 1050 AD but more especially after 1127 AD, when Southern Song dynasty tried to compensate for its loss North China by encouraging private overseas trade, the number of Chinese merchants in Southeast Asian waters rose sharply.5)

Therefore, researching the periods of Chinese artifacts, we should research the history of trade and diplomatic affairs between China and other Asia countries, especially Java and Srivijaya kingdoms. We also should research the history of ups and downs of Srivijaya and Javanese kingdoms. The struggle for hegemony in these trade routes was very close to the prosperity and important roles of Malacca Strait in maritime trade and diplomatic relations at that time. The artifacts, Chinese ceramics that were found in Srivijaya and Java was considered as a close relevancy to the role of these trade stripes. By the excavation and finding of these artifacts, it was an important hint that Palembang and Jambi regions in Srivijaya kingdom were important stripes as trade points besides a Buddhism Ramayana center at that time.6) It is difficult to separate from what happened between China dynasties and Srivijaya along with Java empires in the past to what seemed to happen with these artifacts. They should involve a certain method that is so-called ‘Ethnography study’. This method will trace the artifacts’ roots back throughout the years with the help of the past people and culture. This method will be also able to trace history roots of the artifacts bequeathed in the centuries or years ago by studying their history, where these artifacts are found.


  1. Zhongguo chutu ciqi quanji [Complete Collection of Ceramic Art Unearthed in China], Beijing, 2008, Shandong volume, pl. 35.

  2. Kaogu (Archaeology) Journal, the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 1979, no. 9, pl. 4, fig. 6

  3. Regina Krahl, Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds, Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; National Heritage Board (Singapore); Singapore Tourism Board, 2010, p. 253

  4. Timothy P. Barnard (ed), Contesting Malayness: Malay Identity Across Boundaries, Singapore University Press, National University of Singapore, Singapore, 2006, pp. 62 – 63.

  5. Victor Lieberman, Strange Parallels: Europe, Japan, China, Southeast Asia in Global Context, in 800 – 1830, Volume 2, Mainland Mirrors: Europe, Japan, China, Southeast Asia and the Islands, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2009, pp. 775 – 776).

  6. Amerta, National Archaeological Research Center, Department of Education and Culture, Edition 7, 1984, pp. 8 – 9


A Spectacular Archaeological ‘Jun-Glazed’ Dragon Head Ewer with Dragon Handle