God of The Kiln【Tong Bin】
650 cm x 1100 cm
Arches Watercolor 300g/m
God of The Kiln【Tong Bin】
Folklore and history blend together in the figure of the legendary “God of The Kiln”. The basis for this figure, Tong Bin, was originally a highly skilled kiln technician. He was responsible for the firing of porcelain pieces during the reign of the Emperor Wanli, of the Ming Dynasty, in the ancient capital of Chinese ceramicware Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province. One day he received an imperial order to fire an ornate Blue Dragon vessel of prodigious size and exquisite craftmanship. The massive vessel was subjected to the firing process for an unheard-of length of time, yet still it could not be finished. The court eunuch Pan Xiang, who supervised the construction, mercilessly abused and persecuted the porcelain workers for this. As pressure mounted to unbearable levels, Tong Bin became increasingly concerned for his fellow workers. Finally, in a gesture of protest, he leapt into the kiln, accelerating the combustion with his own flesh and bones. At last, the grand Blue Dragon vessel was retrieved from the kiln, perfectly finished.
Tong Bin’s sacrifice rescued the kiln workers and aroused significant public indignation. In order to appease the public, the government built a shrine for him, praising Tong Bin as the “God of Wind and Fire”. Since then, the porcelain industry in Jingdezhen has come to revere him as the “God of The Kiln”.
This painting depicts the very process of Tong Bin’s fiery transformation into the mythic kiln god. The mortal Tong Bin, depicted at the bottom of the image, is seated on a coiled dragon, serene and collected as he is being consumed by flame. The dragon’s upper body rises with the white flames. This is a visual metaphor which communicates that the Blue Dragon vessel was successfully fired through Tong Bin’s willing sacrifice.
The transfigured kiln god above is immense with four pairs of arms: one pair tempers the flame, another
guides the evaporation of water, yet another polishes the earthen element of the clay, and another implores luck. Fire, Water, Soil, and Luck, are four indispensable elements for firing a kiln. In addition to their representation through the kiln god’s hands, they also appear in different symbolic forms in this painting.
The painting focuses on depicting the heat and aggression of fire and the gaseous flow of the wind to express the kiln god’s essence as the “God of Wind and Fire”. By means of the inherent contrast of the top and bottom sections of the composition, it is implied that even a lowly and negligible mortal can release energies of tremendous power through nobility of spirit; such is the essence of a God.