Semiotic Research: Understaing the East Asian Ceramic throughout the cultures by comparing countries of the art accurs

Semiotic Research: Understanding the East Asian Ceramic throughout the cultures by comparing countries of the art occurs.

Dain Yang

As no human being can exist on a certain period and cultural bases, no art cannot be created against a particular culture and times. All types of art have been serving the role of a medium that conveys certain values of when they created and where they created. In other words, understanding culture and times will help us understand art better, but also through art we can understand cultures and times.

Analyzing or understanding the art can interpret as a type of communication between spectacular and the work about the culture. In VMFA, the strongest communication that I had, occur in the East Asian gallery. Frankly speaking, to me, who grow up in the East Asian culture, the galley is not one of the best places to appreciate the genuine values of the East Asian ceramic. It is interesting, however, in a different way.  East Asian artworks were more likely to consider as an object that is used in real life than just a form of art being appreciated. So thus compare to other galleries, I think East Asian galleries’ way of approaching artwork has the meaning of understanding practical.

One of the few items we must meet every day in our daily lives is the dishware, and most of the dishes are ceramics. Besides ceramics, a work of art closely associated with its daily life, are projecting East Asian culture and history directly and indirectly. Understanding enriches ceramics of the three countries Korea, China, and Japan, could be considered as understanding the whole culture of East Asia. As in these three countries have similar cultural characteristics because of frequent exchanges in the past, ceramics also developed together but also in a different way. Thus, it will be a pleasure to compare the differences and similarities while appreciating East Asian ceramics.

1. China

As expected, the differences well recognized by the patterns and shapes. First of all, in chines ceramics, it could appreciate splendid and detailed decoration. Especially, in the time China occupied a huge territory, and at the same time the splendid aristocratic culture was established, and ceramics were further developed, so you can see the aristocratic culture well in China’s ceramics. Personally, the Chinese pottery felt so different from those of Korea and Japan that the human figures are were depicted, unlike others. It described as a folkloric, which also captures the lifestyle of the time.

Vase with Figures in landscape (17-18th century Chinese, Qing dynasty)Chinese figures Landscape The conversation piece is shown in this vase shows China’s unique culture boldly, that directly includes clothing, lifestyles, and architecture of the Qing dynasty. It was important to express the figure very realistically in East Asian art. Because the figurative sine to demonstrate the personality and dignity of the person not only about Exterior features. Indirectly, the blue and white technique of the Qing Dynasty ceramics well appeared. Cobalt Blue, which considered a valuable commodity in China, was introduced to China by Muslim merchants in Persia and is still considered the most iconic color of Chinese ceramics to nowadays. If you look at the vase depicted in blue on a white background, you can find the key feature of Chinese ceramics. The combination of white and blue colors.

2. Korea

In Korea, blue is also very meaningful. When discussing color “blue,” it represents a symbol of the integrity, virtues of the leadership in Korean culture. Therefore meaning behind the color and the hue was different from China. If we look at the Goryeo celadon, we can see how Korean see a blue color. It is created with the Sangam technique, which is a unique technique of inlaying patterns on the surface of the celadon, representing the Korean porcelain’s own identity. Although it has a color close to the green, Goryeo celadon, called blue porcelain in direct translated to Korean, since blue and green have similar pronunciation in the Korean language that inspires by a Chinese character. Moreover, the historically blue color act as a symbol of integrity, virtues of the leadership in Korean culture.

Bowl with Chrysanthemum DesignIn particular, Goryeo celadon, it’s design was diverse from splendid to very simple. Most of the patterns revealed in Korean ceramics have plants, insects that are related to religious or the symbols of the duties of the ruling class. “Korean vessels were decorated with …floral patterns using the lotus leaf and flower, peony and chrysanthemum flowers, and birds such as waterfowl. Many motifs, especially cranes and clouds, are also associated with Buddhism (the state religion of the time).”(Cartwright)

Korean Ceramics during Joseon dynastyAs Goryeo declined and begins with the Joseon Dynasty, white porcelain appeared in Korea which is similar to Chinese porcelain. As the nation changes over the Korean Peninsula, the nation’s ideology and religion will also transform. This led to the emergence of white porcelain, a symbol of purity and humility. Similar to China, some white porcelain had a white background and a blue pattern. What sets them apart from China is that the patterns of pottery were more about plants than about people or landscapes.

Historically and culturally, there were four iconic plants in Korean ceramics. Among many flowers and plants, these four plants are selected and called a “Sagunja”(Four noble plants). According to the article, “The four plants are plum blossom, orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo, and have remained an important theme in Asian still-life paintings. These “noble” plants and their characteristics are said to have something in common with human virtue, including righteousness, strength, purity, and modesty.” These plants have long been symbolic signs in the East and have become code for conveying meaning from many artists.

3. Japan

Large Apothecary Bottle (1660-80, Japenese Edo period.In Japanese ceramics, compare to China, more flowers and plant patterns were described. Since Japanese ceramics were more influenced by Korean ceramics than Chinese ceramics. “Because of the influx of potters from the Korean Peninsula at the beginning of the Edo Era, the first examples of porcelain were successfully created…However, it was clear that the patterned porcelain brought in from Jingdezhen, China was known as something new and vastly different from the other types of porcelain up to that time.”(Explore Japanese Ceramics)

Flask (1930-46 Japanese, Showa period However, in the case of Japanese ceramics, they used relatively colorful colors. Although Eastern countries prefer simple color expressions compared to Western art. However, among three-country that introduce, Japanese express clearer colors on ceramics, as can be seen in Ukiyo-e painting. In my opinion, the emerging of the vivid color in ceramic in Japan was due to the fact that Japan was freer from the Confucian culture that admired purity rather than the splendor of modesty as a virtue compares to Korea. As a result, many attempts have been made to introduce different colors into ceramics. “As well, techniques of adding pictures after the application of glaze were often used, and there were developments in aka (late 19th-century woodblock prints established by Kakiemon Sakaida), colors, and furthermore, techniques often used to draw with many colors such as dark green, purple and yellow. The pottery started emerging with a different feel compared to its predecessors.” (Explore Japanese Ceramics)


Culture is affecting art since culture and art have developed in an indispensable relationship. Analyzing and observing this relationship is interesting and helps to understand art deeply. In the VMFA East Asian gallery, I appreciate the ceramics of the three countries which is the part of East Asian culture but can be the whole. I think this experience is a great opportunity to appreciate and understand each ceramics through its cultural and historical background. In particular, even though the shapes of pottery and baking methods were developed similarly, I could learn how the cultural difference can be differently expressed through the shapes and colors of the ceramic with the “symbol”. Realizing the fact that the symbolic figures or objects can interpret in the culture, so even in similar cultures, it can have different meaning behind the artwork was pleasing.


Cartwright, Mark. “Korean Celadon Pottery.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, October 21, 2019. celadon- pottery/.

Admin of web. “History.” Explore Japanese Ceramics, February 2, 2010.


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