china jingdezhen:Porcelain History
China is a country, which is famous for its porcelain, and the town of porcelain is Jingdezhen. The porcelain is a great invention of China and an important symbol of China’ ancient civilization. And Jingdezhen is the representative of China. Jingdezhen is known as the “town of porcelain” and is not merely famous for its porcelain making; the more important is the porcelain it produced enjoys great prestige in the whole world.
Jingdezhen is located in the northeast of Jingxi province and supervised by Fuliang in history. In East Jin Dynasty, it was called Xinping town. Then its name was changed into Changnan (also known as Taoyang) in Tang Dynasty. The name, Jingdezhen, started in Jing De period of Song Dynasty.
According to the historical records, Jingdezhen has a history of making porcelain for 2000 years since Han Dynasty. During Han Dynasty, on the base of workmanship of Shang and Zhou Dynasty, people in Jingdezhen made “blue pottery with glaze”. During Jin Dynasty, a craftsman named ZhaoKai made great contribution to the progress of porcelain quality in Jingdezhen region, so he was called the “the master of porcelain making”. With the development of times, prosperity of the economy in east China, and the improvement of technique of making porcelain, Jingdezhen porcelain was sold all parts of China. In AD 583, the emperor of Nan Dynasty, Chen Shubao ordered to make porcelain pillar for the villa in Jingdezhen. Before long, the emperor, Yang of Sui Dynasty asked for the lion and elephant ceramic product for the palace. These prove that the skill of porcelain manufacturing industry in Jingdezhen reached a relative high. And the products had much influence, which attracted the attention of rulers of dynasties.
After the foundation of Tang Dynasty in the reign of Li Yuan, Jingdezhen (also known as Changnan) made much progress in its ceramic production. Two famous men, TaoYu and Huo Zhongchu, appeared. According to the records, during the Tang Dynasty, Jingdezhen native, Tao Yu, took the ceramic which he called “like jade” to the ruler of kingdom. In this way, Changnan ceramics were known all over the China. Tao Yu, a native of Zhongxiuli, Jingdezhen. His ceramics had the character of plain color, oily soil, thin and transparent. From the record, we can see that from the Han Dynasty to Tang Dynasty, Jingdezhen had been engaged in ceramic production, entering the stage of porcelain from making pottery. The porcelain of Tang Dynasty had greater influence in China. During Tang Dynasty, famous writer, Liu Zongyuan wrote About the porcelain to praise the Jingdezhen ceramics for Yuan Cui, the governor of Rao Zhou area.
The above-mentioned is just the records. Where is the recorded Tao kiln, and Hou kiln has not been known. During the 50s of 20th century, the kiln sites of Wu Dai were found in Huangnitou,Baihuwan,Tengmeiting, Hutian and so on , which prove that during that period of time, porcelain were mainly celadon ware and white ware, and the celadon wares were more than white. The porcelain included plate, bowl, pot, dishes and so on. Some were thin and some were thick. The wares with a little bit green, were like the jade.
During Wu Dai, besides celadon wares, Jingdezhen was also the earliest and largest in the southern China. Besides producing the celadon wares, Jingdezhen was the first place to produce white wares, and there were a largest number of kilns here. From the unearthed materials, the white porcelain is pure enough, up to 70 degree, to reach the modern standard. The quality exceeded the famous Yue kiln, and Jingdezhen was No. 1 in the field of ceramics at that time.
As for Jingdezhen, Song Dynasty was a period of time with special significance. The very name, “Jingdezhen” originated in Song Dynasty. The Jingdezhen Ceramics by Lan Pu made a clear introduction on that issue. In Song Dynasty, there were 5 famous kilns: Ru, Guan, Jun, Ding, Ge kiln. The bluish white ceramics of Jingdezhen became the outstanding representative nationwide at that time. During the reign of Zhengzong, Jing De, of Song Dynasty, the emperor Zhao Huan ordered the Jingdezhen to produce porcelain for imperial family, with the character “ made in Jing De period” on the bottom. Because of the beauty and exquisite, Jingdezhen porcelain became famous throughout the country, and everyone called his porcelain “Jingdezhen porcelain”. During the end of 11-century or the beginning or 12 century, for the frequent wars, the famous kilns in the north declined. After Song Dynasty moved their capital to the south, the political and economic centers were also moved to the south. A lot of craftsmen from the north came to Jingdezhen, which made breakthrough in the workmanship and scale. Jingdezhen entered a fast development stage, and became the “the town of porcelain”. According to the book Tao Ji written by Jiang Qi, at that time, Jingdezhen had 300 kilns, which presented a picture of porcelain making everywhere. The famous female poet, Li Qingzhao of Song Dynasty once mentioned the “jade pillow” in her poem, which was just the product made in Jingdezhen at the time.
From the point of history of making porcelain in Jingdezhen, Yuan Dynasty was an innovative period, besides continuing making the bluish white porcelain on large scale, on the bases of SongDynasty, its great achievement was to have invented the blue and white porcelain, which still enjoy the high reputation.
In 1929, an Englishman, Hobson found a Jingdezhen blue and white ceramic, which was engraved “zhi zheng 11year, Yuan Dynasty”. Evidences show that at the beginning of 14 century, Jingdezhen could produce the high-quality blue and white ceramic products. Before Yuan Dynasty, the decoration of ceramics was dull. The blue and white started a new era of porcelain, and became an epoch-making incident in porcelain history of China. As soon as it appeared, the blue and white developed in a fast speed, which pushed the porcelain making into an unprecedented situation of prosperity. The Jingdezhen porcelain preserved in the museum show that the workmanship was matureand the quality reached a high level.
When the blue and white was in its day, the porcelain workers of Jingdezhen in Yuan Dynasty also invented the underglaze red porcelain, which was known as a great invention. People drew the copper red glaze on the porcelain body, and then put on the transparent glaze, fired in reducing atmosphere at high temperature. At last, the decoration showed the color of red. Because of the difficulty of making at that time, the output of underglaze red blue and white was low. A red underglaze blue and white ware preserved in Jiang xi province museum is the only one made in Yuan Dynasty now. In addition, Jingdezhen had also produced red, green, yellow, three color glaze, eggshell, copper –red glaze, blue glaze and so on. As for the process of the porcelain making, the important improvement in Yuan Dynasty was that people learned to add kaolin clay to the original pottery stones, which then increased the rate of aluminum. In this way, it raised the firing temperature , reducing the deformation rate and created the good condition for making large-scale implements.
Yuan Dynasty did not rule China for long, but production of porcelain in this period developed fast. During the Ming Dynasty, Jingdezhen had been the center for porcelain making in China. The porcelain was in large amount, of high quality, and wide in variety. in respect of decorating alone, besides the blue and white , glaze color porcelain emerged and showed great momentum. According to the book Chinese Ceramic History: the invention of color porcelain is a milestone in China’s ceramic history.
Jingdezhen ceramics in Ming Dynasty were best at that time from the point of quantity, quality, design and variety. Scientist Song Yingxing of Ming Dynasty wrote in his famous book Tian Gong Kai Wu: several prefectures all together could not beat Jingdezhen in the aspect of porcelain production……. And if there is something famous throughout China, it is Jingdezhen porcelain. From the various records, we can see how brilliant the Jingdezhen porcelain industry of Ming Dynasty was. On the variety and color , its varieties were colorful and unprecedented. At his time people in Jingdezhen invented the thin-body porcelain, the porcelain writing board with different size, and the imitation porcelain. Many famous porcelain artists developed at that time. For example, Wu Hao was famous for his thin-body porcelain wares. The “egg bowl” was considered to be one of the greatest products in the porcelain history. Zhou Danquan was famous for his imitation porcelain, which was like genuine and pursued by collectors heatedly at that time. another Cui Guomao was even popular. His works which imitating the Xuan De and Cheng Hua kiln wares were called “ Cui kiln Wares”
Because of the reputation of Jingdezhen porcelain, Jingdezhen, along with Hankou of Hubei, Foshan of Guangdong, Zhuxian of Henan, was called as one of the “four famous towns” in China.
In the history of porcelain making in Jingdezhen, a major issue that can not be neglected was that the establishment of Imperial Porcelain Factory(IPF).In order to meet the demands of emperor and the palace, in as early as Yuan Dynasty, a special agency serving the imperial family, the Fuliang Porcelain Office, was set up in Jingdezhen. During the Hong Wu period of Ming Dynasty, the emperor Zhu Yuanzhang established an ICF in Jingdezhen to produce wares for palace, diplomatic use, and used as gift.
The IPF relied on the authority of the emperor, gathering many craftsmen who were familiar with and good at the porcelain making. Meanwhile , IPF invested a lot of money and used best material in the process of porcelain production. In this way, the IPF produced quite a number of excellent porcelain wares. This porcelain had complete varieties and styles, of course the high quality. Some of them were considered to be the national treasure. This IPF set up in 14th century, lasted 500 yeas, 27emperorsfrom Ming to Qing Dynasty. It also made great contribution to the development of porcelain and the improvement of quality in Jingdezhen.
Because of the wars at the end of the Ming Dynasty, Jingdezhen porcelain in early Qing Dynasty showed signs of decline. But after the 19th year of Kangxi (A.D1680), porcelain production not only revived, but also made some progress. By the hard work of the potters and craftsmen, porcelain wares made in Jingdezhen reached its peak during the period of Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong of Qing Dynasty. As Shen Huaiqing put it: Changnan (Jingdezhen) porcelain were popular all over the world. The number of people in the business of porcelain industry reached tens of thousands. In the 51st year of Kangxi (AD1712), a French missionary “ Yin Hongxu” said in a letter: in the past, Jingdezhen had only 300 kilns, but now, it has 3000. TangYing wrote in his book: Jingdezhen was only a small place with an area of tens of li, but its porcelain attracted businessmen from all the parts of China. There were more than 200 kilns and tens of thousands of people are relying on the porcelain. Jingdezhen porcelain in Qing Dynasty had merely inherited the craftsmanship and variety of Ming Dynasty, but there were many inventions and creations. For example, the blue and white at Kangxi period presented the color of gem blue, much purer and bright than that of Ming Dynasty. The blue glaze of Yongzheng period reached its ripest stage. And what is more, many new glazes were invented at the time. In addition, during the reign of Kangxi emperor, Jingdezhen resumed the production of copper red glaze, which was nearly lost since Ming Dynasty. In a word, the porcelain in Jingdezhen of Qing Dynasty reached an unprecedented level in its quality, modeling, and glaze color.
Tang Ying, the ceramic superintendent, made significant contribution to development of Jingdezhen porcelain in Qing Dynasty. He superintended porcelain producing in Jingdezhen for 15 years, which made him the longest and most achieved porcelain official. During his 15 years staying in Jingdezhen, Tang Ying did not place himself above the workers, instead, he learned modestly from them. When he first got to Jingdezhen, he knew nothing about the porcelain making. After 3 years’ working and studying with the craftsmen, Mr. Tang became an expert at the porcelain making. Meanwhile, Tang Ying summarized the porcelain—making technique scientifically. He wrote some books about the porcelain, for example, On Pottery Issue, Illustrated Pottery Making, How to Make Pottery, Submitted Papers on Porcelain and so on. Especially the Illustrated Pottery Making was an important works on ceramic craftsmanship and culture. The porcelain under his superintend were called “ Tang kiln”, which reached a unprecedented level in manufacturing and quality. The Jingdezhen porcelain written by Lan Qing in Qing Dynasty highly praised Tang Ying: Mr Tang was familiar with the clay, selecting the material carefully, so his works were the best among the best. In addition, other superintendents also made some contribution to the ceramic development in Jingdezhen. Zang Yingxuan, the superintendent from the 19th to 27th year of Kang xi period , was another example. His guided porcelains were called “ Zang ware”, which had a complete set of colors. Liang Tengquan, the governor of Jiangxi province of Kangxi period of Qing Dynasty, also responsible for superintending the Jingdezhen porcelain producing. He was enthusiastic about in the research of porcelain. Nian Gengyao of Yongzhneng period of Qing Dynasty superintended to invent many new color glaze. In addition, a foreign artist also made contribution to the Jingdezhen porcelain. He was an Italian, with a Chinese name as “Lang Shining”, coming to China as a missionary in 1715. then he was employed into the palace to be a full-time picture artist. He created many porcelain writing and other porcelain works for the palace. His combination of Chinese and West painting style had much influence among the young generations.
With the changes of times, porcelain industry in Jingdezhen suffered setbacks. After Qianlong of Qing Dynasty, for various reasons, porcelain making in Jingdezhen began to decline in the aspect of quantity, quality, variety, and modeling. Especially after the Opium War, the porcelain production suffered a lot of damages for the reasons of wars, instability of the political environment, and the flood of foreign products. The IPF lasting for 500years was closed at this period of time. During the Republic of China, especially the Anti-Japan War, Jingdezhen was bombed many times by Japanese planes. Porcelain industry suffered massive damages: only 33 kilns in Jingdezhen could produce porcelain. Everything was in danger. But in those depressed days, the porcelain industry made some progress in operation. Especially the 2nd year of Xuantong at the end to Qing Dynasty, Jiangxi Porcelain Industry Company was founded in Jingdezhen, indicating porcelain production in Jingdezhen entered the stage of enterprise and manifesting the rudiment of capitalism. The company practiced the comparative pluralism in design. It also made a series of technological innovation , experimenting the machine production, decal decorating wares, and substituting firewood with coal. During the Republic of China, the ceramic reformer, Du Chongyuan, put a lot of energy into the porcelain industry in Jingdezhen. He advocated revitalizing the Jingdezhen porcelain. He employed the talent people from outside, training workers and so on. All these measures greatly impelled the revitalization of Jingdezhen. As for the porcelain fine arts, the Scholar School, with Cheng Men, Jin Pinqing, and Wang Shaowei and as its representatives, pursued a simple and elegant style instead of gaudy style of old dynasties. Wang Xiaotang, Pan Fuyu used famille rose to paint porcelain, which expanded the concept of color. Around 1930s, Wang Qi, Wang Dafan, Deng Bishan, Wang Yeting, Cheng Yiting, Liu Yiucen, Xu Zhongnan, Tian Hexian eight people hold a get-together regularly in Pearl Mountain, learning porcelain fine arts from each other, discussing the ornamental skill. They were called “ zhu shan ba you”( eight friends at Pearl Mountain). These people all with excellent craftsmanship enjoyed high reputation. Each had his own specialty and unique style. Their influence pushed the famille rose of Jingdezhen into a new height.
China is the first country to invent porcelain, so foreign people call us “the country of porcelain”. In English, the word “ china” means porcelain, and at the same times the country “China”. The porcelains of Jingdezhen, the “town of porcelain” spread all over the China as early as Tang and Song Dynasty. Especially the name of the town was changed into “Jingde”, its influence and competitive powers were greatly expanded. Jingdezhen could compete with Guan, Ru, Ding, Ge, Jun, 5 famous wares. In Yuan Dynasty, Jingdezhen porcelains became even popular. In Ming and Qing Dynasty, Jingdezhen overwhelmed in the porcelain market in China. According to the records: the ceramic businessmen all bought porcelains in Jingdezhen, then sold them in other places to earn big money. There was a international market in Changan, the capital of Tang Dynasty. Foreign people were interested in the porcelain, which were new to them, so they bought them actively. Jingdezhen porcelain first were sold to Asian countries. According to Nations Records of South Song Dynasty: among the 56 countries and regions at that time, the porcelains for trade were mainly from Jingdezhen. Meanwhile, Jingdezhen porcelains reached the Europe too. At first, Dutchmen went to Guangzhou of Fijian to buy Jingdezhen porcelains. Since the porcelain industry of Jingdezhen expanded fast in Yuan, Ming Dynasty, exporting porcelain became more and more, including the blue and white wares invented in Yuan Dynasty. Philippine, Indonesia, India, Japan, and Malaysia all excavated Jingdezhen blue and white wares of Yuan Dynasty. During the early years of Ming Dynasty, San Bao Eunuch, ZhengHe, traveled to the west seven times, leading the largest ocean fleet at that time, reaching more than 30 countries, such as NanYang archipelago, Persia, Arab. The Jingdezhen porcelains on the ship were its important goods, and foreign people were very interested in them. In addition, people in the America, Africa, and Austrialia were also fond of Chinese porcelain. It is recorded that during the Longqing period of Ming Dynasty, one or two millions of silver dollar of Banco de Mexico flowed to China every year, a great part of which were used to buy Jingdezhen porcelain.
Of course, everything has its ups and downs, so Jingdezhen porcelain experienced its rise and fall. But Jingdezhen never ceases to make the porcelains. Why? There are several reasons.
” Water facilitates the pottery”, excellent natural condition is the prerequisite of development of porcelains in Jingdezhen. Jingdezhen is located in the Northeast of Jiangxi Province, belonging to the subtropical monsoon climate area. The rainfall, the source of water, illumination and forest reserves are sufficient; ” kaolin ” produced nearby is the high-quality raw materials for porcelain producing, for this kind of porcelain clay in the world is all named after this clay.
East River, south river, West River and little north river, flow through the urban area from north to south, leading to Poyang Lake, at last entering the Yangtze River. Jingdezhen has a ready condition for porcelain production in terms of temperature, illumination, source of water, raw materials, fuel and transportation, which promote the development of porcelain production in this region. Jingdezhen has a long history of making porcelains, accumulating abundant experience handed down from generation to generations. Technology is overall and superb; the division of porcelain procedure is very complicated, which needed as much as 72 processes to finish a product. The kiln is being transformed constantly, becoming better and better. Meanwhile, because of historical and social reasons, a large number of porcelain craftsman flew into Jingdezhen, for instance, at end of Northern Song Dynasty, the north craftsman from the famous kilns, for example, Ru, Ding, Jun, ran to Jingdezhen. When Southern Song Dynasty extinct, the regional chinaware kilns of northern China was destroyed, so a lot of technological craftsmen fled here again. In this way, Jingdezhen attracted outside skill constantly. With its own technological foundation, Jingdezhen provided more colorful porcelains. At the same time, its output and quality were greatly improved.
People of Jingdezhen were known as ” combination of five parts ” which means with Jingdezhen as its center, people from the nearby counties Leping, Qimen, Boyang, Fuzhou, Nanchang, Yugan, Jiang Yu, Shangrao assembled to Jingdezhen to make a living. These people offered a large amount of cheap labor for producing porcelain in Jingdezhen, which is an important factor of impelling the Jingdezhen porcelain into prosperity.
After Tang and Song Dynasty, the Jingdezhen porcelain became more and more well known because of its output, quality, and the reputation. It expanded the market, and also attracted the attention of imperial family. The emperors set up the IPFs to produce device for the palace special use in Jingdezhen. The emperor invested lavishly here. The market and the government offered the sufficient money for porcelain making. What is more important is that large quantities of porcelain wares were sold to foreign countries, obtaining a large amount of foreign currency. Because the fund is relatively sufficient, Jingdezhen was capable of producing and enlarging its capacity constantly.
Superior natural conditions, its superb skills of porcelain making, the sufficient talent labor, and abundant capital recourses are the several important factors to impel Jingdezhen to making porcelain for thousands of years.