Chinese lacquer-painted woodenbowl discovered in the Hemudu remains in
In the Neolithic Age, lacquer was still at an exploring stage. From the Xia, Shang and Western Zhou dynasties down to the Spring and Autumn Period, lacquer ware had experienced its initial prosperous period. During the warring states period and han dynasty, tree cultivation started to be taken seriously, conducive to lacquer production on a grand scale which lasted for centuries. The classic historical records writes that Chuang-tzu (c.369-286 B.C.), the great philosopher was once an official administration was established to take charge of lacquer production, which was managed under strict organization with elaborate division of labor. The inscriptions on Han Dynasty lacquer utensils excavated in Rakrang of Korea in 1932 tell in detail the date, location, division of work and names of officials involved in the manufacturing. According to the record, division of labor was clear and definite, in which lacquer body preparing, lacquer coating, painting, bronze buckle fixing, finishing, etc., each was done by specific craftsmen. In addition, there were workers specialized in making lacquer, providing materials, etc.
In the early Warring States Period, lacquer ware body was made of wood, which is thick and heavy. Later on, other materials (gray ash generated from the sumac reinforced with flax fibers), tough oxhide, etc. The state of
On the basis of the Warring States Period, lacquer craft attained new progress in the Han Dynasty, production scale expanded and production area more extensive, centered on the Shu and the Guanghan prefectures of
When it came to the Eastern Han Dynasty, lacquer manufacture entered a period of slow progress, though not without some noteworthy results. In the Tang Dynasty, the gold and silver peace level-off craft was a marked achievement. The process is first to have thin silver and gold sheets made in the shape of characters, birds animals, flowers, etc. affixed to smoothed lacquer body, and then apply two or three layers of lacquer on the body when it is dried, then grind the body till the golden and silvery patterns appeared. Finally polish to make a finished product. Lacquer articles made under such technique, though costly and time-consuming, are highly refined, with golden and silvers luster pleasing to the eye. It is recored in the ancient books Miscellaneous Notes of Youyang and Deeds of An Lushan that Emperor Xuazong of the Tang Dynasty and hisconclbing Yang Yuhuan had bestowed to his patronized official An Lushan lacquer articles manufactured using the above-said craft. In the Song Dynasty the gold inlay craft was initiated, the process of which is to carve patterns on the surface of the lacquer and then fill gold powder into the intaglio. At that time, lacquer ware was produced not only by the government, but by ordinary people. In the masterpiece painting Pure Brightness Day on the River, one can detect private-run lacquer store in
During Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, a new upsurge in lacquer ware production arose. Governmental and non-governmental undertakings coexisted and co-developed. The carving paint technology had achieved brilliant results in which fluid and smooth patterns were formed on thickly spread lacquer using a special cutting skill by a bunch of outstanding craftsmen. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, the lacquer technology, combined with architecture and furnishings, turned from the sphere of practical use towards adornment, producing some four hundred varieties under fourteen major categories including overspreading, tracing design in gold, carving-inlay, etc.
During the Yongle Period (1403-1424) of Ming Dynasty, a lacquer-making institution serving the royal court exclusively called Guoyuanchang was established in which two kinds of lacquer, the carving paint lacquer and the inlaying lacquer were exquisitely produced, known as royal production. In the meantime, production among the common people was also popular with a host of outstanding craftsmen revealed, such as Jiang Hui from Suzhou, a dab at gold-lacquer, Yang Xun who went to Japan to learn Japanese lacquer technology, and Zhou Zhu who was skilled in the “hundred-treasure inlay” technique. Moreover, in the Ming Dynasty, the sole extant ancient book about lacquer technology – Lacquering was written by Huang Dacheng, a master artisan in lacquer work from Xin’an (present-day Xin’an County, Anhui Province). In giving an account in detail of lacquer making procedures, materials, implements, color lacquer formula, decoration methods, etc., it well inherited, summarized, and developed China’s lacquer technology.
Based on the achievements of Ming Dynasty lacquer work, a number of manufacturing hubs appeared in the Qing Dynasty, each specialized in an individual species with local flavor, such as carving lacquer in