Book: Ceramics - Art or Science? Author: Dr. Stan Jones

8. Ceramic Development in China

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For all the adversity, Transitional style porcelain was thicker, heavier and better quality than Kraak wares. Some items were well up to “Imperial” standard, having a well-prepared body, well-made shapes and painting of a high standard. The glaze was exceptionally good, without the edge problems of Kraak ware. Also the potters had time to experiment. They introduced a combination of blue and white ware with anhua carving, which produced items that were elegant and not ostentatious.

Ming Chongzhen sleeve jar carved with tree - courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques

Ming Chongzhen sleeve jar carved with tree
- courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques

Typical porcelain from this period was blue and white wares decorated with figure scenes in landscapes with cliffs, clouds and vegetation, including tulips.

Transitional blue and white tankard for the Dutch market - courtesy Glade Antiques

Transitional blue and white tankard for
the Dutch market - courtesy Glade Antiques

The Chinese, not the Dutch, introduced tulips as decoration as they were an oriental motif, but it was a useful coincidence. Romantic scenes as well as myths and legends were also popular motifs, especially the story of the moon goddess. Polychrome overglaze enamel was also popular, with or without blue, but having green as a predominant colour. In this period the colours were bright and clean, imparting a gaiety not always seen in Wanli and late Ming.

Chongzhen polychrome porcelain for Japanese market, bowl with scholar and assistant, and dish with phoenix amongst peonies (for food in tea ceremony) - courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques

Chongzhen polychrome porcelain for
Japanese market, bowl with scholar and
assistant, and dish with phoenix amongst
peonies (for food in tea ceremony) -
courtesy R&G McPherson Antiques

The examples with green as the predominant colour are forerunners of the “famille verte” of the Qing Dynasty. Inscriptions were also used, some long and poetical. Some were dated, helping to date other examples well into the Kangxi period. There were new shapes not previously encountered in Chinese ceramics, such as sturdily constructed ovoid vases, and tall and waisted ones with a flared mouth. One could find normal Chinese literati decorated on very un-Chinese shaped containers, such as beer mugs, along with decoration such as Western houses - all to suit customer’s commissions.

8.35 The Fall of the Ming

The Ming rulers were under constant harassment during the 16th and 17th centuries. As mentioned previously it was made worse because the empowered bureaucrats squabbled with ministers, so decision-making was ponderously slow. In the 16th century plague returned and at the end of that century Korea had to be defended from the Japanese – at considerable cost. By the early 17th century crop failures, corruption and external attack from resurgent Mongols, and Japanese pirate invasions laying waste and looting large areas of the east, southeast and south coasts, beset them. From 1600 there were also attacks by descendants of the Jin in Manchuria. They captured North East China up to the Great Wall, but were unable to breach it. In 1633 they completed their conquest of Inner Mongolia, recruiting large numbers of Mongols under the Manchu banner. In 1636 the Manchu ruler Huang Taiji proclaimed the Imperial Qing Dynasty at Shenyang in Liaoning Province, which had fallen in 1621. Korea was defeated by the Qing at the end of 1637.

From 1626 to 1644 there was again agrarian unrest. Two major revolts, one by Zhang Xian between 1641 and 1647 in the Central Region and the other in the North East by Li Zicheng between 1641 and 1645 led to the final demise of the Ming Dynasty. On May 26th 1644, Peking fell to Li Zicheng and the Ming Emperor committed suicide. Seizing their chance the Manchus, with help from a Ming General, crossed the wall and quickly overthrew Li’s short-lived Shan Dynasty. Various cities held out against them until 1662 when the last “Southern” Ming Emperor was killed. The Manchu (Qing Dynasty) then ruled China until 1912.

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Author: Dr. Stan Jones  © Copyright 2010 -
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