Ancient Chinese ceramics showcase maritime trade

MANILA (XINHUA) – Bobby Orillaneda, a senior researcher of the Philippine National Museum of Anthropology, fell in love with ancient Chinese ceramics in 1999 when he joined a shipwreck excavation in Palawan, an archipelagic province in the Southeast Asian country.

As a ceramic researcher and head of the museum’s maritime and underwater heritage division, Orillaneda said China’s ceramics collections of the museum date back to nearly 1,000 years ago or the Southern Song and Yuan dynasties.

The ancient Chinese ceramics, most of which were found in the Philippines either inland sites or in shipwreck sites, are “very good evidence of the thriving maritime trade between China and the rest of the world, including the Philippines”, he told Xinhua in an interview.

“Most of the collections here are from the port of Quanzhou since the 13th Century, when there was increased maritime traffic among China, the Philippines, and the rest of the Southeast Asian region.

“Ceramics from different areas of China would be carried to Quanzhou first and then shipped towards different destinations such as here in the Philippines,” Orillaneda said.

Dating back to China’s Song Dynasty (960-1297) and Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Quanzhou witnessed a prospering maritime trade and economy, serving as a bridge for cultural exchange and mutual learning between China and the rest of the world.

Recovered ancient cereamics being displayed at the Philippine National Museum of Anthropology. PHOTO: XINHUA

Starting from Quanzhou, silk, porcelain, and tea were ferried out of China, while spices, exotic plants, and other rare treasures were shipped back.

Shipwrecks excavated in Quanzhou Bay and the South China Sea also testify to the prosperity and vibrancy of the port, such as the wreck of a sailing ship with a wooden hull unearthed in Houzhu Harbor in Quanzhou Bay.

This three-masted ocean-going commercial vessel seems to have been originally built in Quanzhou in the 13th Century, and at the time of the wreck, it was returning from Southeast Asia loaded with spices, medicines, and other merchandise.

Deeply engrossed in the study of ancient Chinese ceramics, Orillaneda said that out of all the collections in the Philippine National Museum of Anthropology, his favourite one is a blue and white porcelain bowl made during the Yuan Dynasty.

“It is recovered from a late 15th-Century shipwreck here in Palawan, but this one is quite different because it is made during the Yuan Dynasty, which is about 100 years earlier than the shipwreck,” Orillaneda said.