Blog 53: An Introduction to Ruyao (Ru Ware)
Updated: Oct 19, 2018
Ruyao ware (Chinese: 汝窑, meaning: Ru Kiln) is the crown of “five royal kilns of Song Dynasty (960-1279)”. It’s named after its city of origin Ruzhou (Chinese: 汝州, meaning: state of Ru). Ruyao has a unique status in the history of china-making, and it’s one of the most sought-after collectibles in the world. Today, let’s talk about Ruyao, our favorite teaware.
There’s one sentence that summaries the value of a Ruyao ware: owning a piece of Ruyao is more than the richest of the rich. The Ruyao kiln was transitory in the history. Some historians suggest that as a royal kiln, Ruyao only existed for about 20 years. Because of its exceptionally short life span, there are fewer than 100 pieces have survived the rise and the fall of many dynasties. There is a total of 67.5 known pieces in the world today (yes, we have to include one half piece in the count). 53 of them are preserved in public museums and the rest are in the hands of private collectors. The last public auction of a Ruyao piece was in 2012. After 34 biddings, it was sold at HKD 207.86 million (USD 26.8 million).
It’s not just the rarity that makes Ruyao precious. Actually, Ruyao represents one of the highest technique achievements of china-making. Ruyao has a distinctive greenish blue color. This color is bright but not dazzling. Its clay and glaze are extraordinarily fine and smooth. Ruyao is praised for its “jade-like” quality. Special to Ruyao ware, an unused Ruyao has a clean and spotless surface. After using it for a while, crackles would start to grow underneath the surface. Literatures though the history have described these crackles as “pear skin”, “crab claw”, and “sesame flower”.
The making of Ruyao ceased after the collapse of Song dynasty in 1279. The original Ruyao Kiln was also completely destroyed, and all techniques for Ruyao making were lost. Although the following Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), Ming dynasty (1368-1644), and Qing dynasty (1644-1912) tried to reproduce Ruyao, they all ended up failing. During 1938-1941, Mr. Shao-chu Li, a Ruzhou native and Ruyao pioneer, attempted to rebuild Ruyao kiln on its original site and reproduce Ruyao. Unfortunately, most of his efforts turned out to be fruitless. However, Mr. Li’s experiments provided critical references for future researchers. In 1952, then premier Mr. Enlai Zhou directed a Ruyao research on the national level. A significant amount of resources were put into the research. In 1958, researchers finally produced a green Ruyao ware. Years later, blue ones were also successfully reproduced. After decades of perfecting their techniques, in 1983, experts finally announced that the reproduced Ruyao ware reaches and surpasses the quality level of those produced in Song dynasty nearly 900 years ago.
If you search online, you’d probably find a lot people debating whether the modern Ruyao can match the original Ruyao. Personally, I think many debates on this issue offer very few fact-based opinions. Here, I’d like to offer my point of view as well. (Of course, we’d like to remind you that since we manufacture and sell our own Ruyao ware, our opinions can be subjective, but we’ll try our best to provide you fact-based opinions.)
I’ve had the privilege to see some real original Ruyao ware from Song dynasty up close. I noticed that there are 2 common flaws on most original Ruyao wares. The first one is the imperfection in the shape. Most original Ruyao ware are slightly out of shape. For example, a round shape is not a perfect round. Despite this doesn’t affect their aesthetic value at all, the small deformation is visible to human eyes. The second flaw is the uneven thickness of the glaze. Once again, this small flaw is visible to human eyes. These flaws are objective existence. We don’t have to argue or dismiss them just because the original Ruyao wares are old.
In modern Ruyao, these flaws are corrected with better tools and supplementary conditions. If we have to ask whether a modern Ruayo can 100% match an original one, the answer is always definitive: NO. Because no matter what we do, we simply cannot create a 900 year old teaware today. But, if we are only comparing the quality and the techniques, modern Ruyao ware can be as good, if not better, as an original one.
Ruyao has a rough and complicated history. It was at its full glory for a very short period of time, then it was lost for hundreds of years. How many poets and scholars in the history yearned for seeing and feeling a Ruyao? As tea lovers, we’re truly the lucky ones that have the opportunity to once again appreciate this wonderful teaware and become the guardians of this magnificent progress.
I hope you enjoyed today’s blog. As always, if you have questions or suggestions, please leave a comment, tweet us @valleybrooktea or email the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also follow us on Instagram @valleybrooktea and join our mail list to get our daily tea updates and our latest promotions!