Antique Chinese Pottery


 In the world of Japanese bonsai, classification of Chinese antique pottery is categorized by the period it was imported to Japan. Chinese bonsai pots imported in the early years of the Meji era (1868-1912) or earlier is referred to as kowatari. Imports during the later years of the Meji era (1868-1912) and the Taisho era (1912-1926) are referred to as nakawatari. Imports during the years (1923-1941) are referred to as Shinto. Lastly pots that were imported for a brief time after 1975 is called shin-shinto. Contemporary pots imported from China are called heisei-watari.

Now here is an important idea to make note of. These classifications, nakawatari, kowatari ect. are estimations of the pots age. These classifications only refer to the period when the pot was imported.  Proper estimation of a pieces age is done individually on the pot by examining the pot’s condition, clay color, glaze, shape, patina, kiln chop and many other details.

For example when examining antique kokudei, kowatari kokudei are almost all unsigned (no kiln chop). A signed kokudei kowatari pot would be extremely rare to find and thus this could be used as a tool for determining the importation period for kokudei. 

Some people solely wish to use kiln chops for determining an antique Chinese pot’s age or value. This is understandable as many antique Chinese bonsai pots with kiln chops are common amongst the nakawatari or later importation periods. Here is a warning, kiln chops do not always accurately determine when pots were made or the value of the pot. It is poor judgement to solely judge a pot with a kiln chop as more valuable than one without. The estimated value of a bonsai pot is made by determining the quality of the piece rather than the presence or lack of a chop. Relying on a pot’s chop for establishing value is a risky ordeal. If one only looks at the chop and not the piece itself, they may be buying a Chinese replica/ fake. These replicas may have the same shape, appearance and kiln chops.

Translations are Copyright (2/24/2021) by (Paul Stephan)

When it comes to classifying antique Chinese pottery there are several important categories to consider…

Shidei (Purple clay)

Commonly from the Yixing region during the Qing (1644-1912) and as far back as the later Ming dynasty (1368-1644)

Shudei (Vermillion clay)

From the Shusan and Dingshan kilns outside of Yixing. Produced during the Qing (1644-1912) and as far back as the later Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

Koudei (Red clay)

Many made in the Yixing area. A rare clay that was only used mostly by highly skilled artists. These are not as common and highly sought after in Japan.

Toukadei (Peach blossom clay)

Rare and generally the pieces found are kowatari


The most desirable clay type of the antique Chinese. Some of the best pieces were made 200-350 years ago. 

Kokudei (Black clay)

A clay created by adding different substances and adjusting firing conditions. This change in clay composition and firing conditions causes absorption of charcoal in the kiln making the clay dark. These are rare antique Chinese pots. 

Hakudei (White clay)

Uncommon clay that was used in the Yixing region

Nanban (Southern barbarians)

This type of antique is in reference to works that came from areas in Southern Asia that exclude the Tang empire region, Korea and India. Here is a map for reference(the area highlighted was the Tang empire). The pots have a gritty appearance and were made to withstand cold temperatures. The pots often are shallow.

Kinyou (Sky blue)

These pots have a baby blue or “sky blue” colored glazes. This is a commonly seen glaze from China.   

Ryokinyou (Robin’s egg glaze)

A beautiful blue with a speckling/dotted pattern. Creation of these works originate from the Yong Zeng period (1638-1735) to the Qing dynasty (1644-1912).

Shirokouchi (White Couchin)

Cochin ware was commonly imported to Japan from Southern areas of China. Many pieces were also made in Yixing. Pieces were created during the tail end of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). This type of glaze is more common amongst the Antique Chinese imports and there are many Kowatari pieces.

Ao-Kouchi (Green)

Many of these pots are from Yixing. Pieces were created during the end of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to the Qing dynasty (1644-1912).

Ki-Kouchi (Yellow)

Many of these pots are from Yixing. Pieces were created during the end of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to the Qing dynasty (1644-1912).


Pots made from the Jiangxi province in the city of Jingdezhen. Nanjing is where the pots were distributed and has been the main porcelain production center of China for hundreds of years to the modern day. Production in this area began in the song dynasty (960-1279). A wide range of porcelain ware was made in this region making it world renowned for its “white gold”. Today Nanjing is still an epicenter in China for upcoming ceramic artists.

Namako Yuu (Sea Cucumber Glaze)

A commonly seen antique Chinese glaze.

Soba Yuu (Buckwheat glaze)

This occurs when iron is crystallized in the kiln. Antique Chinese Soba Yuu were made in the Yong Zhen (1638-1735) and Qianglong period (1736-1795) during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912).

Canton (Guangdong)

These are pots from the kilns along the coast and rivers of Canton (Guangdong). These pots are famous for their distinctive glazes. The most seen glazes are blue, green and lapis lazuli. It is said that these glazes inspired Heian Tofukuji.

Celadon Porcelain

One of the most ancient forms of Chinese porcelain ware. Celadon porcelain was the evolutionary step before modern porcelain and originates as far back as 1600 BC. The modern porcelain we see today was invented around 100 BC.

Raozhou kiln

This kiln originates from the area Jingdezhen in the Jiangxi province. This was a royal kiln that would create porcelain ware for royalty as far back as the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368).

Nian kiln

This is another royal kiln from the early Yong Zeng period (1638-1735) during the Qing dynasty. Nian Xiyao an artist of the Nian kiln made many works for the royals of the time. 

Reference material:

盆器大図鑑3 |盆栽鉢の集大成