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Ceramics Repair in China

repair pottery with metal cleats

China has extensive history in pottery repairing.  At the time, mending and re-using was a common virtue and were practiced both by the commoners and the imperial court. 


While there was a wide variety of methods developed by the Emperor's court, repairing cracked pottery with metal staples/clamps was the most popular among civilians.  It was considered as the strongest and most durable.  At the time, it was more for practical reason and whether it was aesthetically pleasing was not of consideration.


Until late Ming dynasty (15th century), metal-clamping evolved from pragmatism to become an aesthetics, signifying antiquity, which collectors of the time raved.  Many cracked vessels with metal clamps were depicted in Ming's document, paintings and wood carvings, as an ambience of scholastic and cultural appreciation.  Signs of repair became the symbol of preciousness.  With the extensive cultural exchanges between China and Japan at that time, it is not difficult to imagine this may also have influenced Japan's aesthetic preference in ceramics appreciation.  

Qing's Emperor's Taste & Cultural Preservation

Qing dynasty ceramics are intricate, colorful and ornate. The emperors of Qing dynasty (16th to 19th century) were advocates of fine ceramics and had ordered extensive archival on repair methods and artifacts.  The idea was also to preserve old artifacts that can no longer be produced in their own era.  At the time, a range of repair methods and material were experimented and used by the court artisans including egg-white mixed with rice, copper bracing, tar, lacquer, wax, ginger juice, rice starch water, metal nails...etc.  Artisans with explicit skills also creatively re-purpose a broken teapot as a vase by adding customized metal parts.  

Mending with gold existed in China, mainly as gold-smithing (making crowns and braces) but it was never documented extensively as compare to other methods done by the court during the time. 

The development of a range of repair methods from Ming (1368-1644) to Ching (1644-1912) Dynasty shows the change in preference, appreciation and taste. The two different approaches developed were: to highlight the imperfection with decorative metal braces, or to completely disguise any sign of repair.   Neither one is any less appreciated in terms of artisan's skills.  Decisions were driven by both function as well as personal preference and aesthetic appreciation of the time.

Bibliography:  "Cultural History of Ceramics Repairing" 陶瓷修補術的文化史 by Professor Ming-liang Hsieh


Ceramics Repair & Buddhism

One of the earliest documentations about ceramics repair was found in a Buddhism precept doctrine 四分律(Shibun Ritsu) dated 400AD.  Buddhist monks have to practice self-discipline and abstinence under the guidance of this doctrine.  Their limited allowable possessions are called 三衣一鉢 (3 garments and 1 bowl).  It stated that a monk's bowl, used mainly for food-begging, has to be repaired for at least 5 times before one can request a new one.  If any crack is below the length of 12 inches while showing no sign of leakage, replacement of the bowl is consider a violation of the precepts. 


Frugality is a virtue, repairing is a norm.  

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