* The foundation of other handicraft villages around Hanoi and the Red River delta
In 1010, the king Ly Thai To relocated the capital from Hoa Lu – a
military capital to Thang Long – the central of the Red River delta.
His lucid decision opened a brilliant development for the country, not
only in agriculture but also in transportation and trading.
Together with the king, a lot of craftsmen moved to the capital,
firstly for the demand of the new capital construction project. Later
on, attracted by its central and convinient location, they decided to
settle their family around the new capital. Many handicraft villages
were formed around the citadel and along the Red River, such as wood
carving village, paper village, conical hat village, silk village,
paper fan village, noodle village,…
* How many pottery villages in the Red River delta and how is their difference?
– There’re more than one pottery villages around the Red River delta:
- Thổ Hà village: red glaze and plain pottery
- Phù Lãng village: deep yellow glaze pottery
- Chu Đậu village: white-and-blue glaze pottery
- Bát Tràng village: white glaze pottery
* When? Where did the villagers come from?
According to history documents, Bát Tràng village was established
around the 14th -15th century by people came from Bồ Bát (Ninh Bình
– When Thang Long emerged as
an economic and cultural centre of the whole country. The capital’s
development requirement attracted traders and craftsmen from many
provinces to the streets, markets and ports. The neighboring villages
gradually catered to these requirements by specializing in the
production of handicrafts or trading activities.
* Why they decided to locate their village here?
– When these people firstly moved to the capital, they quickly found this area was as perfect stop to form a pottery village:
were a numerous deposit of white clay, a good material for the
production of ceramics (they also named it Bạch Thổ phường, which means
White Clay district).
- Its location was
just on the Red River bank, conveniently for transportation a
commercial activity.Up to now, there’re still a lot of boat waiting at
the village port to load their products and transfer to other provinces
by river way.
* How the village develops? Bat Trang pottery in Vietnamese history
Bat Trang pottery were famous for its quality and unique glazes
(cracked glaze, white-and-blue glaze). Bat Trang wares are widely
consumend inside the country, and have, at times, exported to many
countries of East Asia, Southeast Asia, and to a number of other
– By the end of 14th century,
in China the contemporary power pronounced a policy that prohibited
individuals from trading overseas, which created a wider market
opportunities for Bat Trang ceramic wares in Southeast Asia.
By the end of 14th century, Bat Trang transformed itself from an
ordinarary ceramic producing village to a famous centre which was
selected by to supply tribute to the Ming court.
In the 15th – 16th century, Bat Trang became prosperous, thanks to many
relax policy of royal court to encourage cottage industries and
trading. Bat Trang products were variety and widely distributed.
* When did it reach the peak of development and when and why did it decline?
In the 17th century, Bat Trang reached its peak of developments, mostly
thanks to the promotion of commercial relationship between Vietnam and
Japan in Hoi An, large quantities of Vietnamese wares were imported to
– According to some Japanese and other scholars it was Vietnamese ceramics brought by the red-seal ships (châu ấn thuyền)
to land of the rising sun which influenced a number of Japanese kilns
and creat a ware that adapted the Vietnamese style and that is referred
to by the Japanese as “Kochi ware”
the end of 17th century, the Southern royal system applied a
‘closed-door’ policy, in addition with the abolishment of Qing court in
China, the export and trade of Vietnamese ceramics in Southeast Asia
declined rapidly, a number of ceramic export centre collapsed, for
example Chu Dau wares.
– During the 18th
– 19th century, affected by the above events, the export of Bat Trang
wares decreased. But it still retained and remained a famous
traditional ceramic production thanks to large domestic market
In 1958, during an excavation of the Bac Hung Hai canal which ran
across the southern part of Bat Trang, vestiges of the old Bat Trang
village were discovered lying some 12-13m deep in the ground. They
comprised dwellings, a brick-paved yard and a road way, and several
– During the French domination, Bat Trang village still maintained regular production.
In 1958, a number of ceramic enterprises (hợp tác xã) were formed and
still supplied products for domestic market and just exported to some
– After 1986,
since we applied the ‘Market Economy policy’, there were major changes
took place in Bat Trang. A number of enterprises dissolved or
transformed into shareholding companies.
Since 2000, the pottery producing in Bat Trang has been revived and
spread to neighboring villages, they pay more attention on decorative
products than kitchen wares.
* Why the streets are so long and narrow? And how villagers use up every centimeter of this village?
In the old days, Bat Trang was located outside the dike bordering the
river with a fairly with a fairly wide alluvial plain. However, erosion
by the Red River has taken away much of its land so the villagers had
to make the most of its land to satisfy residential and ceramic
– The mostly paved
narrow village streets are lined with the high walls that surround the
brick houses densely packed side by side. It’s totally different from
most of other villages in the North of Vietnam, which often have their
own bamboo hedges and trees, entire land in Bat Trang village was
devoted to housing, storage of clay and other raw materials and fuels,
workshop, drying yards, and kiln construction.
The village area is so tiny and cramped that these people even don’t
have enough land for burying dead peoples. Bat Trang has to rent a
cemetery in a nearby village.
* The famous Bat Trang bricks and a typical surrounding wall in Bat Trang village?
The wall surrounded each house in this village was built by the famous
Bat Trang bricks and always has 2 layers and empty in the middle. This
skill make their house stronger, warm in the winter as well as cool in
– In the ancient time, the
villagers often kept their money and treasure inside a brick hole
inside the walls and mortared it so only the holder knew how to find it.
Inside the different types if Bat Trang kiln, square tiles measuring
around 30x30x3.5 cm were often used to form makeshift saggers to
protect the pieces during firing. After being exposed several times in
a high temperature kiln, these tiles became as hard as stoneware, which
made very good construction materials. For that reason, they’re also
another famous product from Bat Trang. People often used them as paving
for yard and road, in the construction of houses, bridges, especially,
in the old days, people sometimes used them for a wedding offering.
* How villagers fight against robber?
With income received from ceramics and other trading activities, the
living standard in Bat Trang was, in comparison to agriculture
villages, relatively high. Moreover, its location just right on the
river bank, which is ideal for trading but also attracted gangs of
robbers. To help themselves form the outside attached, people:
Built a village with zigzag streets, which many blind alleys
the village, they built a lot of gate. When the robbers attached, they
just closed the gates and quickly run inside their house. From their
house, villagers would through some really huge stone to block the way
of attacking or escaping for robbers.
* Local lifestyle:
Besides engaging in ceramic production, some inhabitants of Bat Trang
carry out trading activities mainly in ceramics, fish sauce and other
essentials for village consumption.
production as well as in life the people of Bat Trang process a high
community spirit and a sense of protection of their professional
rights. The production process has been specialized and tasks are
assigned to individual groups known as trade guilds. Each clan has
their own product and they’ve never copied from each other.
Craft secrets, particularly those relating to glaze making, are closely
protected. They are passed on to the sons only and it has been
stipulated in the village regulations.
* What’s communal house? Its purpose?
– Like the City Hall in Western cities, Communal house is a common house for all villagers. It’s
* Who was it dedicated to?
The communal house of Bat Trang was built in 1720, facing the Red
River. The communal house is dedicated to the worship of 6 local
genies, who was the first clans settled in this area and formed Bat
Trang pottery village.
* About its restoration?
The communal house stood just on the riverbank, so it was damaged every
year due to flooded season of the Red River, which caused a lot of
landslide. Long time ago, the communal house was totally destroyed but
villagers didn’t got enough money to restore it.
Since 1990, when the pottery handicraft was revived in Bat Trang and
their living standard has been upgraded, the villagers start donation
money to rebuild their communal house.
– This project finished by the end of 2006.
* The Bat Trang festival?
Each year, Bat Trang village annual festival is celebrated on the 15th
day of the second month of the lunar year. It normally lasts for 7
days. The festivities are preceded by the water procession during which
a boat is dispatched out to the Red River. On board the boat is a jar
made by a Bat Trang potter. At midstream, a member of the Nguyen Ninh
Trang family has the honour of scooping river water into the jar. This
water is used to wash the sacred tablets.
The water procession itself is a traditional agricultural rite fairly
common in Vietnam and also in Southeast Asia countries. Besideds the
ceremony of worship, games are also organized such as human chess,
singing poems, cocks fighting.
5. Production process of Bat Trang ceramics?
* Clay preparation
– Clay treatment and mixing
first important basis for establishing ceramic kilns is the source of
clay, and the clay must be prepared carefully in any ceramic making
activity. The preparation process varies according to the requirements
of the end-product.
- In Bat Trang, the clay
is prepared through an immersion system which normally comprises four
storage tanks positioned at different elevation levels: beating tank
(bể lắng) (keep clay for 3-4 months), filtering tank (bể lọc), drying
tank (bể phơi) and warming tank (bể ủ). This process removes all
impurities, and finally leaves a deep layer of clay which is rich in
aluminum and mangan, ideal composition for making pottery. Depending on
the product, kaolin may be added in the preparation process.
next step is shaping product. The traditional method used in Bat Trang
was throwing on the potter’s wheel. The product was created either by
shaping the clay by hand or by coiling, both done on the wheel.
particular products which required skillful and technical details, the
craftsmen use a applying mounding (đắp nặn) method. In this method, an
object may be made in whole or in several parts which are put together.
- The most popular shaping method recently is
pressing mould, made of plaster. The mould construction varies from
being simple to complicate depending on the shape of the object.
– Drying and correcting
wet and newly formed object can easily become distorted. It must be
allowed to dry evenly so as not to crack or become misshapen.
next stage requires covering the object, correcting and decorating.
Depending on the object, decoration may include hand-drawing by hair
brush, or used ready-made polychrome transfers to apply on fired object
and re-fire again in low temperature in a tunnel oven.
other forms of decoration includes application of a running glaze,
which when fired melts, creating an interesting pattern on the objects’
body; or motifs that are apply or incised. Applying is formed by
attaching the material to the desired area on the object and then
cutting and trimming. Motifs may also formed by deep incision on the
surface of the object.
* Glazing pottery
– This is the true secret of the craft. Glaze making requires the
processing and mixing of raw materials according to correct
– General speaking, glaze is a combination of many
components: white clay, baked lime, rice husk ask, decomposed rock,
finely ground red rock, and slip. The crackled glaze appeared since the
16th century, it was obtained from baked lime, rice hush ash and kaolin.
– There are two method of mixing glaze, dry and wet. In Bat Trang, they
normally use the wet method: they blend together the components which
have been well ground then add water and stir thoroughly until
dissolved. The mixture is allowed to settle. The glaze is obtained
after eliminating the clear water on the top and the sediment that has
settled at the bottom. Since the 16th century, Bat Trang potters had up
to 5 different glazes, in which the most popular one was ash glaze, and
the most famous ones were light blue glaze and cracked glaze
After completing the shaping of an object, the potter will apply the
glaze before firing. The object must be cleaned with a feather duster
first, then those pieces with a colored clay body will be covered with
a slip made of white clay before applying the glaze. It is necessary to
check the glaze quality and classification beforehand.
properties must be determined accurately to ensure compatibility with
the clay body, requirements of the object, climatic conditions and
weather at the time of application. Glaze application is done by
pouring, or spraying for a larger object and dipping for a smaller
object. This requires both technical and artistic know-how.
– Formerly, Bat Trang potter used several kinds of kiln: frog kiln,
toad kiln, sectioned kiln and stepped kiln. In the last twenty years,
they’ve turned into box kiln (also called vertical kiln) as it can
occupied the list area: around 5m high and 0.9m wide and lined inside
with fire resistant bricks in the same way as a house wall. It can
attain a temperature of 12500C. Because of its simple construction,
small size and low operating cost, it’s highly suitable for family
– The firing process needs many stages of preparation,
each stage was taken care of a professional group: group of woodcutter,
group of putting pottery into saggars, or group of packing saggars into
kiln… For the box kiln, all objects are placed inside coverless
cylindrical saggars. They are stacked from the kiln floor up. Spaces
around the wall and between the saggars are filled with blocks of
– Firing is the most important phase which determines the
success or failure of a kiln. For this reason the commencement of
firing becomes the most sacred and important time for the potter. The
eldest master craftsmen will light three incense to pray to heaven and
earth and the fire god for assistance. The control of the fire by
gradually increasing the temperature to the maximum level and then
gradually reducing the temperature after the objects are sufficiently
fired is the secret of the success in this stage.
– The firing
process of the box kiln has become much simpler because upon completion
of packing the loading of fuel is also completed. The kiln opening is
sealed with fire-resistant bricks and wood is used to start the fire.
As the fire catches on to the coal it spreads upward inside the kiln.
When the coal is totally consumed the firing is completed. The firing
period lasts about 3 days and 3 nights. However experienced, it’s
difficult for the craftsman to control firing in the box kiln, that’s
why Bat Trang’s products are not as good as they were before.
Using charcoal for firing is the most economic material. However, it’s
terrible polluted to the village environment. Recently, some families
in Bat Trang try to use gas for their kiln. But this expensive fuel is
just suitable for big and luxurious products.