The story appears on

Page B2

December 29, 2014

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Art and Culture

The enduring value of Chinese antique porcelain

Related Photo Set

WHEN it comes to fine ceramics, famous European names such as Rosenthal, Royal Doulton, Royal Albert, Wedgwood and Waterford are brands that spring to mind. The name Jingdezhen, the capital of China’s pottery industry in Jiangxi Province, is largely unknown to people outside China despite boasting a porcelain making history of more than 1,000 years.

But the glory of Chinese ceramics is deeply carved in a bygone era. The name “china” is derived from the name of the country and comes from the transliteration of Changnan, which was the old name for the town in today’s Jingdezhen (Jingde Town). During the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), people combined the advantages of celadon from the southern Yue kiln and white porcelain from the northern Xing kiln with the high-quality earth of the Gaoling Mountain in Changan Town to produce a type of white and green porcelain.

This porcelain was smooth and bright, and earned another name, artificial jade. It became famous both in China and elsewhere. It was exported to Europe in large quantities since people there didn’t know how to make porcelain until the 18th century.

Porcelain’s identity is so intertwined with China that it is still called “china” in everyday English usage.

China is richly endowed with the raw materials needed for ceramics and high-fired and low-fired ceramics are the main branches of porcelain.

Some experts believe the first true china was made in Zhejiang during the Eastern Han period. Shards recovered from archeological sites in the province indicate craftsmen used a firing temperature ranging from 1,260 to 1,300 degrees Celsius. During the Sui and Tang periods (AD 581-907) a wide range of low-fired and high-fired ceramics were produced. These included the well-known Tang lead-glazed sancai (three-color) pieces.

The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) witnessed an extraordinary period of innovation in ceramics. Kilns investigated new techniques in design and shapes, showing a predilection for color and painted designs. They also were open to foreign forms. For example, Emperor Yongle (1402–24) was especially curious about other countries and enjoyed unusual shapes, many inspired by Islamic metalwork.

In addition to these decorative innovations, the late Ming period underwent a dramatic shift toward a market economy, exporting porcelain on an unprecedented scale. Kilns in Jingdezhen became the main production center for large-scale porcelain exports to Europe starting with the reign of Emperor Wanli (1572–1620).

Jingdezhen, the cradle of “China’s china” has been a central place of production since the early Han Dynasty. In 1004, Jingde established the city as the main production hub for Imperial porcelain. During the Song and Yuan dynasties, porcelain made in the city and other southern China kiln sites used crushed and refined pottery stones.

But Jingdezhen’s expertise has gradually dimmed and today it is a base for mass production of daily utensils. Yet collectors know the true value of antique ceramics from China. High quality pieces are sought fiercely when they appear at auctions. For example, a small ceramic cup (鸡缸杯) was auctioned for 281.2 million yuan (US$36.2 million) this year.

Today some wealthy collectors like to show off among friends. If they can cite the different characteristics of ceramics from different kilns, then he is considered “a person with taste and culture” in the eyes of the others. Here are some tips to differentiate different types of china.

Jian teaware

Jian blackware mainly comprises tea sets and was made at a kiln in Jianyang of Fujian Province. They reached the peak of their popularity during the Song Dynasty. The cups made at Jianyang are bluish-black in color, marked like the fur of a hare. Jian tea sets from the Song Dynasty were also greatly appreciated and copied in Japan, where they were known as tenmoku.

Ding ware

Ding ware was produced in Dingxian, Hebei Province. Ding ware was the finest porcelain produced in northern China at the time, and was the first to be used by emperors. Its paste is white, generally covered with an almost transparent glaze. The Ding aesthetic relied more on elegant shapes than ostentatious decoration. Designs were understated, either incised or stamped into the clay prior to glazing. Due to the way the dishes were stacked in the kiln, the edges remained unglazed and had to be rimmed in metal such as gold or silver when used as tableware.

Ru ware

Ru ware was produced in northern China for imperial use. Ru pieces have small amounts of iron oxide in the glaze that oxidizes and turns greenish when fired in a reducing atmosphere. Ru ware pieces range in color from nearly white to a deep robin’s egg and often are covered with reddish-brown crackles.


Jun ware

Jun ware was characterized by a thicker body than Ding or Ru ware. Jun is covered with a turquoise and purple glaze that is so thick and viscous looking that it almost appears to be melting off its substantial golden-brown body.

Guan ware

Guan ware, literally means “official” ware, thus certain Ru, Jun and even Ding ceramics could be considered Guan in the broad sense of being produced for the imperial court. Strictly speaking, however, the term applies to porcelain produced by an official, imperially run kiln. This category did not start until the Southern Song Dynasty.

Ge ware

Ge literally means “big brother” ware. According to a legend, two brothers made ceramics in Longquan. One made typical celadon ceramics, but the elder brother made his own style in his private kiln. It became known as Ge ware.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend