Deciding what to collect and what not 
depends largely on individual taste

Not all Chinese ceramics may be desirable for a collection

Whether an item is collectable or not is really up to the individual collector. This page mentions a few items that many western collectors may prefer to omit, but which they do not recognize. Some are sold under names that do not reveal their original purpose.

The actual usage of such items is sometimes not recognized or intentionally misrepresented by sellers. I think rather the former, because seller often do just not have the background or cultural knowledge to know what certain items were used for.
For the benefit of non-Chinese collectors I list here a few items that are looked at differently by each individual collector. Some collectors may want to omit these from their collections.

Items with painted or inscribed text either on the back, bottom or interior (e.g. on inside of lid) do require knowledge of written Chinese, in order to recognize what the item or text was actually intended/used for.
When considering what to collect, you may want to make an informed decision regarding the items listed below, rather than collecting indiscriminately all and everything, without knowing what it is.

Chinese Urinals

These items are often misrepresented on websites as “ewers”. Chinese chamber "pots" are not really pots, and they do not resemble the western variety. Actually, they served for urinating only. Thus, although there are different shapes, they have some unique features which allows you to recognize them. 

Urinals come in various forms and colors. The common features are:

- Longitudinal or round shape, but some are rectangular

- No lid or opening on top

- Handle on top of item

- Has a short, very wide spout

(Actually, that "spout" is the place were the urinating is done.)

These pots have been in use for a very long time (over a thousand years); they do exist in drab colors or simple glazes from a thousand years ago, and also in more recent underglaze blue decorations.

Some dealers in the west offer them for sale under
the name “ewer” or "water pot".

(1) Click the link on the right for an example of an urinal: item no. 27.
(2) Click here and few the right column of the first image. These are all urinals. These are just a few shapes, some may be completely circular instead of longitudinal.
(3) Copy the following Chinese characters "虎子  夜壺" and do an image search on a search engine. You will get the general idea how this type of item looks.


There exists another, open type that was supposedly for use by females only, but it is rare.


Spittoons are also known to have existed far over a thousand years. Usually they have a round body and a funnel shaped top. A number of them was made of a removable upper part (funnel) and lower part (container).

This type of item highly resembles another vessel that was used to discard used or ground tea leaves in the Tang dynasty etc..

The opening at the lower end of the funnel (connection to the container) on top is often somewhat smaller. The diameter of that portion is however not a reliable feature for distinguishing between the two, in my view.
Vessels for discarding tea can occasionally be seen on ancient paintings, where they are held by an attendant.


Epitaphs come in various shapes and forms. A common factor is that some were especially made to order for affluent people, who could afford this. Firing a single porcelain item would have been expensive, in those times, when commoners hardly could afford plain porcelain.

Most epitaphs made to order were made in underglaze blue, during and after the Ming dynasty. Sometimes several tablets with text were needed to record the whole history and family of an influential person, or their career. Sometimes there was only one.

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Epitaphs can also be found on everyday items, usually scratched or incised into the glaze, occasionally written in black on an unglazed area. The flat interior of plates, which were new and probably obtained explicitly for this purpose is often found. Sometimes items that were originally used by the deceased are inscribed. That again may be a plate, but one thing that frequently contains epitaphs is the inside the lid of the seal ink box, that belonged to the deceased. These appear especially frequent with a type of blue and white porcelain originating in the early 19th century.

Of course, epitaphs inscribed on such a way would usually be short and simple, as space was limited on such items. They were then put into the tomb with the departed. Naturally, all authentic epitaphs are from burial sites, and if an epitaph has a date, then all other burial items inside the tomb can be reliably dated too. That is the way it should be... unfortunately, there do exist fake epitaphs too.

Funeral or Burial Wares

Burial wares are items that were entombed with the departed. Many of these can be considered ritual wares. We have to imagine that the tombs in these cases are rooms, either with or without entrance, where the coffin, epitaph, funeral wares, etc. were also placed. According to customary practices in some areas, even today, the coffin is walled in with bricks above or below the ground, so there may be spaces for such wares and epitaphs.

Burial wares consist of a variety of items:

  • Vessels made specifically for burial
  • Animal figurines
  • Human figurines, including tomb guardians *
  • Food items made of clay, etc.

* Interring of burial wares is possibly a more human continuation of ritual sacrifice customs existing thousands of years ago, when living members belonging to an influential deceased person's household were forced into the tomb with the departed.

Song dynasty funerary jar

This is actually burial ware (Song dynasty)

Collecting Taboos

Some Chinese collectors do have their own taboos in view to what they collect. This usually concerns items that relate to their beliefs of faith, especially if they are followers of daoism (Taoism). The daoist population generally appears to be a bit more superstitious. They will avoid collecting items like censers, figurines of deities,etc., especially if these have been in actual use, out of concern that they may be imbued with the spirit of users, deities, etc.

Cultural info:
As a matter of fact, figurines of deities are usually made to go "live" in a ritual, inviting the deity to enter the figurine, before it is used on an altar. Once the use of such a figurine is discontinued, another ritual is required to ask the deity to leave. Many daoism believers are afraid that the deity might still be present in an antique figurine, and avoid collecting such figurines. 

In the case of censers the assumption is that the censer is imbued with the spirit of those who burned incense in it, when praying. Of course, such concerns do not arise if an item is new.

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