The Vietnamese ceramics in the Asia Society's collection date from the 15th and 16th centuries, although the country first began production of glazed ceramics about two thousand years ago. Most of the collection's Vietnamese ceramics, which are stoneware, are painted with an underglaze blue. The Ming-period Chinese annexation of Vietnam from 1407 to 1428 and the imperial Chinese prohibition of the ceramic trade from 1436 to 1465 spurred the development of the Vietnamese ceramic industry in the 15th century. The introduction of the blue-and-white technology is the most noticeable effect of these two historical events. Originally used in Vietnam to replace the black underglaze iron decoration common on ceramics made during the 13th and 14th centuries, underglaze cobalt blue quickly became the most common color for painting Vietnamese ceramics.
Although the Chinese annexation of Vietnam may have provided the technology for blue-and-white wares, economic competition was an important stimulus in their development. By the 15th century, blue-and-white wares were the most popular ceramics in the world. Active markets for them existed in East Asia, throughout Southeast Asia, and in the Middle East. The Chinese prohibition of exporting ceramics for almost thirty years during this time of high demand provided an ideal opportunity for the Vietnamese ceramic industry to expand, and the Vietnamese reliance on Chinese prototypes was most likely a deliberate attempt to capitalize on the contemporary desire for Chinese-style wares.