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. Shu-fu Ware in the Philippine context is described in Addis as being manufactured in Jingdezhen in the county of Fuliang in China and as having at least two of the following characteristics: slip decoration in the interior impressed by a mould; a neat, splayed, square-cut foot and an opaque, milky, pale bluish-white glaze (p.4-5). Addis dates Shu-fu Ware to the Yuan Dynasty (1260-1368 C.E.) and perhaps later.


This dish is part of a collection of Chinese ceramics found in burial context in the 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

The dish was probably thrown, wire cut and then impressed onto a mould creating the cavetto design. The piece was then glazed and fired. Addis especially points out the foot of this group of dishes and distinguishes it from a classical Sh-fu foot which slightly splays outwards, is completely covered with glaze on the outside, strong, solid and neatly cut on all surfaces (p. 4-5). Rather, this type of Sh-fu dish has feet which are about 1/4 inch high, not at all splayed and having bases which are either not cut at all, being left crudely flat, or is very shallow and roughly cut leaving a coarse foot rim about 1/4 inch wide (p. 9).

Physical description

Round shallow dish broken, reassembled, and repaired. There are several visible cracks and one large missing piece at rim. The rim consists of eight foliated bracket-shaped lobes. This foliated effect echoes in the cavetto design of eight moulded double panels. Each panel contains emblems which are faintly discernible. The exterior surface is plain. Glaze is thickest around the rim. Centre has grit and sand integrated into the glaze. The foot ring is unglazed and shallow and there is a set of inked letter and numbers on the underside.