About this object

History of use

Chinese ceramics were important trade items in Southeast Asia during the 11th - 16th century C.E. Due to their physical characteristics - resonance, vitreosity, durability - Chinese ceramics became fully integrated with the ideology and ritual in Philippine societies and played an important role in all aspects of cultural life (Langrick, p.61). Their functions were varied and included utilitarian, ceremonial, religious roles, as heirlooms, in mortuary ceremonies as burial goods and as items of prestige. As burial goods, imported Chinese ceramics constitute the vast majority of goods excavated in the Philippines. Buried with the deceased, they acted as indicators of wealth, protected the departing spirit from evil and served as provisions for the afterlife. Turned-over plates and bowls were used to cover certain parts of the body - the head and neck, hands, pelvis and feet - establishing a protective area around the body. Much of the excavated ceramics are consciously miniaturized replicas of larger, more functional vessels. These miniatures served as symbolic substitutes as provisions for the afterlife. In addition, small jarlets and bottles and other containers were used for ritual substances (oils, herbs, aromatic resins) and for food offerings necessary for the departing spirit. It is also important to note that much of the trade ceramics excavated in the Philippines show little or no evidence of usage before burial. According to Medley, Ding Ware was made from sometime in the second half of the 10th century through the Song (960-1279 C.E.) and Yuan Dynasties (1260-1368 C.E.) and perhaps later. The name derives from Ding-Zhou in north China where it was first produced. From the condition of trade ceramic pieces shown in published sources and in the Tecson collection, it appears that most of the wares were kiln seconds or rejects. They were nevertheless regarded with high esteem and actively traded.


This box is part of a collection of Chinese ceramics found in burial context in the Philippines and was excavated at a burial site in Lumban, Laguna Province, Philippines. Repairs were done by specialists employed by archaeologists and the Philippines National Museum. They were artists by training.

Cultural context

exchange; status; ceremonial; mortuary

Iconographic meaning

In many indigenous groups of the Philippines, supernatural power was attributed to Chinese ceramics because of the ringing sound emitted when lightly tapped and their vitreous, shiny glazed surfaces which impart an impermeable quality. The ringing sound was seen as a magical voice able to attract the attention of powerful ancestor spirits. Their impermeable and seemingly imperishable surfaces were believed to have great protective power against all kinds of influences, from evil spirits to poisons (Langrick, p. 55-56).

Specific techniques

It is probable that the lid and body had been sliced apart.

Physical description

Round covered box with straight sides. The lid has a slightly convex top. The lid is just slightly larger in outside diameter than the body. There is no ridge on the lid or body onto which the lid can sit. It has a low foot. The body is covered with a grey-blue glaze except for the foot, base, top rim of body and rim of lid. These unglazed areas are fired a buff colour and where the glaze ends is a clear line of orange. There are dark spots on the lid where grit has stuck. Inked letter and number on the underside.