Glass in China and Japan.

The Living Age 2138, 13.6.1885

From the Pottery Gazette.

(Tekstiin lisätty kappaleita lukemisen helpottamiseksi. // Some paragraphs added to the original text for making reading easier.)The extreme antiquity of civilization in China is proved (if proof be wanted) by the fact that parts of the "Shoo-King were undoubtedly written more than 2,000 years B.C., when the Chinese were already acquainted with writing. In these books are allusions to glass, which yield unmistakable evidence of its antiquity. Thus we find it stated that the emperor Shun, on receiving the crown from Yaou, who abdicated 2145 B.C., "examined the gem-adorned turning-sphere and the gem transverse tube, that he might regulate the seven directors, or regularly governed bodies."

The writer of this must have had some constructed instrument connected with astronomy in his mind's eye. The "Shoo-King" is full of evidences of a very high state of civilization in China; thus in one book we are told the wild tribes brought tribute of oyster pearls and strings of pearls not quite round, to Yu, 2004 B.C. It the Chinese understood glass-making they would soon begin to copy these pearls; and we find under Ou-ti, about 140 B.C., a manufactory where false pearls were made of lieou-li, a species of glass made from an herb, probably fern.

Our great ignorance ot ancient Chinese literature makes it difficult to collect true information on many points. We know they understood the art of glazing pottery at a very early date, and on this account were possibly more careless about glassmaking. Porcelain was invented, it is supposed, about 185 B.C.; the writing on the bottles found in tombs was used in the century before our era. The martyr god of porcelain was a potter who threw himself into the furnace one day, when from want of fuel the failing fire would have spoiled the contents of the kiln — an unexampled instance of devotion to his art.

The celebrated patra or alms-bowl of Buddha is alluded to by a Chinese writer of 1350, quoted by Mr. Nesbitt: 'In front of the image of Buddha is a sacred bowl, which is made neither of copper nor iron; it is of a purple color and glossy, and when struck it sounds like glass." This bowl may have been brought from the West to Ceylon, but it proves an acquaintance with glass on the part of the Chinese writer.

A Portuguese traveller in China, G. da Cruz, writing to Sebastian, king of Portugal, about 1500, says at a banquet given by a very rich merchant "the house was built with a loft and very faire, with many faire windows and casements, and all of it was a mirror;" what the mirrors were made of he does not explain, nor if the casements were filled with glass, but this is one of the earliest notices concerning life in China, as the Arab El-Edrisi, 1154, does not seem to have been himself in China; he says "Djan-kou is a celebrated city, the Chinese glass is made there." Djan-kou has not been satisfactorily identified with any existing city, but the passage shows that Chinese glass was supposed to exist. M. Libarte thinks it probable that fine porcelain and not glass is really meant by El-Edrisi, but an Arab of the twelfth century is unlikely to have made any confusion between the two substances, with which he must have been perfectly familiar. Mr. Nesbitt, who has collected together many allusions to glass in the writings of the early Jesuit missionaries, says the words po-li were in use for a glass at a very early time.

Nearly all French writers on glass allude to the tale of a piece of crystal being taken in China for the real material of which heaven is made. The original narrator of this account is Father Ricci, who left Europe 1583 A.D. and spent some years in China; he states that he gave a prism of glass to a native convert, one Chuitaso, who put it into a silver case with goid chains, and "adorned it further with a writing that it was a fragment of that matter whereof the heavens consist. One was said to offer him five hundred pieces of gold soon after for it, which till Father Matthew had presented his to the king he would not sell; after that he set a higher price, and sold it." We may suppose from this that colorless brilliant glass was unknown to the Chinese.

The Russian ambassador, E. Ides, who went to China, 1693, says he was taken by command of the emperor to see various sights, among them some "jugglers, who, after many other diverting tricks, played with round bails of glass as large as a man's head at the point of a sharp stick, tossing them several ways without breaking them or letting fall, so it was really surprising." He was also taken through the markets and to various shops, especially a toyshop; the owner had a fine garden, and among other things showed him "a large globe full of fish about a finger long, whose scales appeared as if made of gold, but when the scales fell off they were a beautiful crimson."

Japan has so long been a sealed book to us that it is nearly impossible to find any information as to glass made there. Captain John Saris, who sailed 1605 ("Purchas's Pilgrimmes"), advises that merchants should take to Japan drinking glasses of all sorts, cans and cups, beer glasses, gilt beakers, and looking glasses of the largest sorts." This would lead us to infer that those articles were not made in the country.

Kaempfer, who published his history of Japan in 1727, does not mention glass beyond that required for glazing the porcelain, which he describes as most prized when nearly transparent. The labor required to achieve this transparence was so great as to give birth to the old saying "that human bones are kneaded into China ware." He gives a singular account of some very curious ancient tea-bottles called maatsubo (best of vessels); they are shaped like small barrels with a short neck, are transparent, very thin, and ot a white color tinged with green.

The Japanese believe they give a high flavor to tea kept in them, and assert that old tea recovers its virtue if put into a maatsubo bottle. They are found by divers sticking to the rocks of the submerged island of Maori, near Formosa. The bottles must be taken off with great care for fear of breaking them; they are much disfigured by shells, coral, and submarine substances growing on them, which are never quite scraped off, as proof ot the genuineness of the article. Merchants give high prices for broken ones, which they mend beautifully. No one dares to purchase the whole bottles found; they are reserved for the emperor's treasury, who has inherited from ancestors so many as would amount to a large sum of money if sold.

The island of Mauri is supposed to have been submerged by the anger of the gods; some scoffers having painted the faces of the idols red, no one escaped save the Prince Peiruun and his family, who reached China, where the day of their arrival is still kept as a festival — the people row about in boats, and call on "Peiruun." Much interest was excited a few years ago by an account of the exhibition of many antique articles at Nara, the ancient capital of the mikados of Japan, near Kioto, the present capital.

Mr. Campbell describes this exhibition. It is supposed that each mikado had put aside some important treasure and dated it, before the removal of the government at the end of the eighth century to Kioto, where it has remained ever since. Among these treassures is a glass ewer about a foot high, which is entered in the original list of the articles deposited in the sort of barn where they have been preserved.

As no certain knowledge of glass-making in Japan exists, it has been suggested that this ewer was imported either from China or by Arabs before the eighth century, and being considered a curiosity was deposited among the treasures. It is possible that before long some Japanese writer may be enabled to throw some light on the whole subject of glass in his native country. A recent traveller describes a very curious vitreous sponge with threads which seem as if composed of spun glass, found on the eastern coast of Japan.

- M. A. Wallace-Dunlop

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