BEFORE the Spanish arrived and the galleons sailed back and forth across the Pacific, China had long been bartering goods with the Philippines: food and pearls, silk, hemp, and tortoise shells, and, most notably, pottery and ceramics. Found in the remains of the Breaker Reef shipwreck in Palawan, for instance, are pieces of earthware painted with leaf designs from the Song to Yuan periods (11th to 14th centuries). These remnants of our history with China are on view at the Ayala Museum until Oct. 1.

Speaking before an audience representative of both countries during the launch on Sept. 4, Zhao Jianhua, ambassador of Peoples Republic of China to the Philippines, told the audience that the exhibit is proof of our long relationship.

“This is a vivid demonstration of the friendship between the Philippines and China,” he said, noting that in earlier times, both countries “engaged in a peaceful manner.” The exhibit is an indication that “the Philippines was important part of our ancient maritime trade,” he said.

There are 150 pieces – ranging from pots to plates – in the exhibit Fujian Ware Found in the Philippines (Song-Yuan 11th-14th Century). Some are vessels for tea, while others are for food. Some have three-dimensional dragons on them while others are painted with leaves. Some are simple while others are more elaborate. The vessels produced in this periods are generally brown ware (made with iron clay), green ware (made with manganese), white ware (made with calcium), and qing bai, or a white ware with hints of blue-green.

WUYISHAN KILN ware painted with floral designs and a thin green overglaze, 12th-13th century — NICKKY FAUSTINE P. DE GUZMAN

The Chinese pottery making started during the neolithic period. The show, which only covers a fraction of China’s long history, highlights the gradual development of skill and materials used in that period. (The blue-and-white ceramics that are arguably the best known and most popular examples of China’s pottery, thanks in part to the galleon trade, are not part of the exhibit.)

China’s Fujian province was a premier ceramic producer in the Song-Yuan periods, and its fragile wares would be traded in our islands, particularly Palawan, 700 to 900 years ago, part of the thriving maritime trade in the South China Sea, or what Filipinos now call as the West Philippine Sea.

Current maritime disputes aside, there was a free trade policy before during the Song dynasty (960-1278) to Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) at the city-port of Quanzhou, in Fujian province. Fujian’s economy grew thanks to the ceramic industry, and its products were exported through Quanzhou to different parts of the world including in Palawan, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and India. Quanzhou became the premier trading port in China during the Song Dynasty, and enjoyed this status until the Yuan period.

Fujian was home to many kilns centers, each of which produced its own distinct product. For instance, the Wushiyan kiln produced ceramics painted with floral designs and with a thin green overglaze, while the Huanxi kiln produced white and qingbai wares, and the Cizao kiln’s products featured combinations of green and ochre glazes. Most of the kilns produced distinct designs inspired from the everyday life. As the maritime trade grew, China managed to influence global ceramic creation, including, for instance, in Spain and Morocco, which developed extensive traditions of colorful ceramics. – Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman