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Ancient art form strives to thrive

PORCELAIN has been and always will be synonymous with China. It was somewhere around the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) that true white porcelain clay came into use in northern China.

For centuries, Chinese made the world's finest china, featuring delicate textures, pleasing colors and refined shapes. Collectors regard many porcelain bowls and vases produced during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) as artistic treasures. Painting over the glaze with enamel colors became a common decorating technique.

Today, Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, remains a national center for porcelain production where skilled craftsmen and artists have passed their techniques from one generation to the next. The "porcelain capital" attracts artists from around the world to learn its craft. Porcelain is once again generating more attention in the art world.

In Shanghai, it's not difficult to find porcelain art - some reproductions, some modern takes on classics and some quite avant-garde. But the most creative, distinctive, decorative, Chinese-inspired pieces are found in boutiques scattered here and there. The well-known shops, including Blue Shanghai White, Asianera, Spin, and Platane, are keen to revive the traditional craft and develop contemporary styles. In meeting the challenge of modern art by merging it with traditional culture, Chinese porcelain art looks toward new creative horizons.

A modern touch at Asianera

Chinese-American Grace Liu is keen to revive the craft of hand-decorated porcelain. She founded Asianera in 1995 as a small studio workshop. Now Asianera's fine bone china tableware can be found in retails shops in China, the United States and Australia.

Asianera's concept is to develop a totally new contemporary style instead of making replicas of antiques.

Elements from many aspects of Chinese culture such as antique textiles, clothing, art and fine crafts blend to create a Western sense of style.

It is the uniqueness of each hand-painted piece that gives it value. If you look at each piece and compare it with a similar one, you will find subtle differences in shading, coloring, brushstroke, and a delightful little surprise in an added motif here and there.

Asianera boutique at Shanghai 1933 displays different series such as "Boutique Magnolias,'' "Botanical Garden,'' "Chinese Goldfish,'' and "Plum Blossoms.''

Inspired furniture made with porcelain

Blue Shanghai White was founded seven years ago by Hai Chen, one of China's foremost contemporary ceramicists.

Her concept is to use ancestral Chinese methods to create timeless blue and white porcelain pieces with a twist of modernity that makes an interesting alternative to the mountains of mass-produced chinaware. At her artsy boutique on Fuzhou Road, the first floor is a showcase for her range of porcelain cups, teapots, bowls, plates, trays and lamps. Prices for the smaller items start at 60 yuan (US$9).There's also hand-painted fine quality porcelain and aged wood furniture pieces.

The second floor is dedicated to showcasing contemporary artists' paintings, installations and other creations.

Blue Shanghai White's new range "Cooling Summer'' is an unusual combination: bamboo tables and chairs with porcelain tiles handmade by craftsmen in the countryside near Jingdezhen. The pieces feature blue and white ceramic tiles hand-painted by Hai Chen.

Opening hours: 10:30am-6:30pm

Address: Unit 103, 17 Fuzhou Rd

Tel: 6323-0856

Handmade china from Jingdezhen

Jingdezhen Porcelain Artware shop has been selling high-quality porcelain pieces for 52 years on Shaanxi Road N. The shop features Jingdezhen porcelain pieces with classic blue and white designs. Every piece is handmade in the Jingdezhen, one of the cradles of Chinese porcelain and ceramics.

Jingdezhen has been known as the porcelain capital and ceramics cultural center of the world since the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (AD 907-979). Works, which have been exported around the world, are so exquisite that they have by described as being "as white as jade, as bright as a mirror, as thin as paper, with a sound as clear as a bell."

In the shop porcelain vessels in many forms are decorated with both very traditional patterns and modern designs using Chinese elements, such as dragons, clouds, plum blossoms, orchids, bamboo, birds, landscapes and other features. Porcelain statues of the Expo mascot Haibao are available at prices starting from 158 yuan.


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