Ningbo boasts a long history of lacquerware making. In the 7000-year-old Hemudu Culture Site, a vermilion wooden bowl was unearthed, an evidence of this antique process of lacquerware making in Ningbo.
China was the first country to use natural lacquer in the world, the use of lacquer is recorded in Han FeiZi (280 BC-233 BC), which says：“ In ancient times, Yao abdicated the throne to Shun. People cut wood to make utensils. After cutting and polishing, apply lacqure on it， and it is taken to the court as food utensil,…... King Yu used it for worshipping, making it black outside and red inside……” Japan also has documents which says: “The use of Lacqureware originated in ancient
China. ” According to extant historical records, Ningbo became a lacquerware production site with its own styles in the Tang Dynasty, and since then has exerted big influence inJapan.
In the Tang Dynasty, lacquare production in Ningbo already achieved high level. In the Ming Dynasty, the production level became higher. According to A General History of Zhejiang: “During the Xuande Years of the Ming Dynasty, Ningbo was famous for its illuminated painting and gold lacquer.”
Ningbo lacqureware uses the Chinese raw lacqure as its raw material, wood or bamboo as its base plate. It falls into three varieties: relief patterns, flat patterns, and sub-patterns. Relief patterns are artcraft landscape miniatures heaped on lacqure coating; when the heaped landscape miniatures get tough enough, gold color will be applied; flat patterns are paintings made on lacqure coating; sub-patterns are decorative patterns made under the lacqure coating. Poet Bai Juyi of the Tang Dynasty praised lacqureware in this way: “ Jewels, diamonds , and micas get here for a meeting place, like a cornucopia of treasures vying for brilliance."
Lacqureware from Ningbo was introduced toJapanin the Tang Dynasty, and the technology was developed there. Master Monk Jian Zhen before lived in Ningbo for some time before he departed forJapan. He gathered lacquerwares here and brought them toJapan. So the lacqureware technology was used in the making of Buddha statues for the Toshodai Temple. Later along with the increase of cultural exchanges,ChinaandJapanlearned from each other in lacqureware technology. The skills of material selection, process operation, and even designa and patterns used by Japanese in refined lacquer, green lacquer, liquid gold decoration, mother-of-pearl inlaying, and mica application are very similar with those used in Ningbo. The famous ancient warehouse Syosoin in Nara of Japan now still contains many lacquarewares of the Sui and Tang Dynasties from Ningbo. In addition, the Buddha statues and furniture made with ramie lacquer were also introduced toJapan, which influenced the craft skills used in Buddha and furniture making there and gradually evolved to be a unique Japanese craft skill----Maki.
Ningbo’s lacquerware has experienced ups and downs during the thousands years of development. Since the founding of the PRC in 1949, the craft has been further developed, and today lacquerware has been an important export of the city. The products include screens, stools, tea tables, fruit trays, TV closets, cupboards, bookcases and writing tables, etc, all with carvings vivid, colorful and elegant.