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Li Hanlu

The value of Blue and White Porcelain

The value of blue and white porcelain

The function and the meaning of handmade decoration,

with reference to the pattern of blue and white porcelain


1.The auction

Caused the art heritage of blue and white porcelain in domestic art area in China

There is an old saying in China that says, “one hand alone can't clap.”

The Chinese Yuan dynasty’s blue and white porcelain “GUI map cans down Yuan blue and white” was sold for around 230 million Yuan at Christie's London auction on July 12, 2005. This became the highest auction record for Chinese ceramics and works of art in the world.

From a commercial point of view the auction of blue and white porcelain is a success of a Chinese product in the capitalist market. I cannot deny that the “auction effect” has made our cultural heritage not only accepted at home, but it has also made it available to people from all over the world.

When millions of people began paying attention to it, we woke up from a state of apathy.  

I would not say this was because of our unresponsiveness to our surroundings but I am sure that now we have the ability to do negligible contribution for China as an artist, designer, and a patriot forces. Even if this contribution is insignificant in the eyes of other people and look too weak to be a driving force.

However, precisely because in the course of history our predecessors have left us the footprints of blue and white porcelain skills, they created one of the best designs in China that people come from far and wide to see. Nowadays buyers would like to pay super high prices for it and in that short moment they snatch the Chinese design.


In order to save our cultural heritage and make our citizens aware that our traditional culture is being endangered now, artists and designers have already started many projects in all kinds of domain.

In art, fashion and industrial design, designers and artists have made many artworks trying to transfer the language of blue and white porcelain to ordinary people. There is one piece of artwork that was made by Gao Shaokang: Blue and White porcelain series—boilerplate, "Peacefool World."

His work was created for the Xihai Revolution centennial, there were one hundred skulls forming Chinese auspicious patterns, and he gave the name as “Peaceful world”.

He mentioned:

“This poster does not directly point to the Xinhai Revolution, but is a reflection of Chinese contemporary culture. The meaning of Chinese traditional pattern is exceedingly large, but there was the death taboo: they hid the bad social news (Inferiority of its development) and focused on reporting the good and peaceful news. When you open a channel on television, there is a scene of peace and harmony. Does it try to lie to others or are people fooling themselves? A peaceful world, or a peace-fool world, is this an attitude we Chinese people have towards the world?”


Although the content is full of irony - he chose blue and white porcelain as a medium to express his theme and topic – still what he did has influenced me quite strongly, and even more, it made me start to think about the meaning behind the auction mentioned above. Why has blue and white porcelain become a popular object to collect in modern society? Do people collect a vase, a pot, or they are collecting a Chinese artistic value?


2. History

1.“What was the Value of porcelain in (the history of) China?”


To some extent, the blue and white porcelain has evolved to a completely sign on behalf of the Chinese culture. Next, let's explain what is blue and white porcelain.

The so-called blue and white porcelain, refers to a cobalt draw patterns directly on the porcelain body, then put the transparent glaze once-fired at high temperatures, showing the effect of blue and white porcelain underglaze color. Blue and white porcelain in bright colors and elegant, smooth shiny glazed indemnity for a long time is still fresh. The drawing process of blue and white porcelain, Chinese painting, pen and ink effects with artistic charm vividly manifested it, is a major feature of the art of Chinese blue and white porcelain.

Although different brush, craftsmen, painting materials and molding technology can be distinguished in blue and white porcelain, but it is a typical art form which extending from different domain, to historical and contemporary.

Blue and white porcelain development is not a single existence. It began in the Tang and Song dynasties, in Yuan Dynasty it slowly went to mature; at one of four towns “Jingdezhen” during the Ming Dynasty blue and white porcelain celebrated its peak time. Meanwhile, the period of the Yongle, Xuande (Ming dynasty) blue and white porcelain again, archived a development of golden age, to known as the exquisitely making skills, in Kangxi (Qing Dynasty) the colorful blue and white porcelain also stayed a short peak time. While due to the development of porcelain of Fencai in Qing Emperor Qianlong period gradually sliding into recession, although once flourished in the late Qing Dynasty (Guangxu period), ultimately, cannot extend the Kangxi period’s ascendant. Overall, this period of Guanyaomaking in high quality, the porcelain made by Minyao is casual, free and easy, freehand screen. Beginning in the late of Ming dynasty blue and white painting gradually absorb some of the elements from the Chinese painting techniques.

Blue and white porcelain is famous for its fresh and crisp, colorful, unique in Yuan Dynasty. Today why the Yuan blue and white Porcelain is so expensive? This has to start talking about the family background of the Yuan blue and white porcelain.

The Yuan Dynasty has a very brief history, only exists 98 years, our understanding of the blue and white went on a big step forward because of the Yuan blue and white appeared, and a lot of people think that the Yuan Dynasty blue and white porcelain is the origin period. However, a truly mature and perfect blue and white Yuan seems to challenge the conventional history of the development of Chinese porcelain. Scholars, Huang Hsiu pure introduced a blue color pillow piece found in 1975 in Yangzhou, triggered the argument Tang blue and white.

In 1975, the Nanjing Museum found a blue material plotted pattern pillow piece in the late Tang underlying Yangzhou Tangcheng ruins. Subsequently in 1983 and in 1990 twice found that lead the cultural sector has been more evidence.

The blue and white porcelain burning in Jingdezhen presents a variety of styles, mainly because of the strong inclusiveness of Yuan ethnic, the absorption of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism. Yuan blue and white with other porcelain themes performance is not the same, its subject matter, especially flowers, hornworts, animals, beasts, dragon and phoenix and even the character, it paints everything. Yuan blue and white early themes are broadly flowers, feathers, beasts, dragons and phoenixes, late of dramatic stories, painting figures and later focused on the characterization, which mainly affected by the impact of Zhu Yuanzhang’s keen. Before the emperor did not win the war, he was long stationed in Jingdezhen and the ceramic production may also have influenced the character pattern works began to increase as a result of his concern.


2.Yuan blue and white porcelain: calm and moving (color)

Tang blue and white to Yuan blue and white stride, scholar Wang Chuncheng made a metaphor of the transfer from carbon ink to pure blue ink,

 “From brilliant blue and white of the Tang evolved into the calm Yuan blue and white, this is not a metamorphosis. And all this with is extremely related with the raw material of the blue and white porcelain. Blue and white porcelain, “blue and white” word seems quite figurative, “blue and white, is just two simple colors without any philosophical meaning…”


3.Expensive source (price)

1993-1996, University of Oxford, Department of Archaeology, Dr. Jiang Qixi, have inspected the Museum of Turkey, Iran, Japan, and he concluded:

“Now as we all known (Yuan blue and white) is only left 300 pieces in the world... ScholarWang Chunping pointed out that the reason why Yuan blue and white is so popular now, has to thanks for the international auction market. Can be inferred that Yuan blue and white at that time already appeared as an important work of art exists in that society; from a historical look at the clues that survived Yuan blue and white at the time was a rare product ... "


The charm of Yuan blue and white porcelain is more to be regarded as the product of a multicultural exchange in that period.

The appearance of blue and white porcelain in Tang Dynasty, have been affected by the gray Persian Tauranga places. And when it went to the Mongols, this like of blue has become an advocate. Mongolia was in a very close relationship with Western world. In the early 13th century, Genghis Khan and his successors repeatedly conquered Central Asia, West Asia, to get through the traffic arteries of the Chinese and Western cultures. Large number of Arabs, Persians and Turks Whom respected for Islamic culture have come to China, and bringing the Western culture. In fact, both the exotic cultural exchanges, and the cultural exchanges between North and South, are all the manifestation of the Yuan Dynasty cultural inclusiveness. Scholar Wang Chuncheng think it is because of this culture’s inclusive that Yuan blue and white has eventually become the world's wonderful design.


For most of Chinese people in nowadays, the traditional blue and white porcelain’s value has changed in a slowly process. From my point of view there is a general timeline:

Family: Ancestors worship (abstract spiritual fulfillment), to rituals (food, figurative actual utility), and now the individual taste (collection. No one will really use it for dish or flowers)


4.“The New Delft blue”

Hugo Kaagman’s work is a mix of Western, non-Western, bourgeois, the traditional and the modern, avant-garde, mocking and critical, while respecting the artistic aspect of the craftwork.

In 1983 he received the City of Amsterdam's first official mission: to create a graffiti art on a wall in the provisional Waterlooplein market. Several trips to Morocco and Senegal influenced his work and oriental decoration patterns appeared in his work. He mixed this in a creative way with traditional Dutch craftsmanship and then furiously made use of this concept he, somewhat mockingly, calls "Shocking Blue".

“One day I went into a souvenir shop that sold the usual Delft blue., I realized that form of old Delft blue is only for foreign tourists, Dutch people are not really attracted to it … It’s part of my culture, I mean, we can go without high-technology, without popular singers or actresses, but we cannot carry on without history…so I went to South Africa and when I came back I developed my own project with a zebra pattern….”  

“…Although at the beginning of my career, my works were not accepted by the Dutch people…I, myself was also struggling with this art form for a very long time… Rock graffiti combined with outdated Delft blue? “You crazy?...” every time when I displayed my work in my studio I would always got this “complaint”…it’s fine, no matter whether you accept it or not, because our history is there, you cannot ignore it, if we want to keep it and accepted by more people you had better do something with it now, and there is always someone will be the first to experiment…”


4. “Me and Blue and white porcelain complex”

Personally, I am not keen on any price tag; while I am more interested in the handmade pattern and texture of blue and white porcelain, it is not just about casual plants and flowers, every part of the pattern represents a special meaning, these decorative patterns with their interesting content have been handed down through the ages by craftsmen from ancient times on.


Why do I emphasize the handmade patterns and images?

In 1880 - 1910, William Morris said in the Arts and Crafts movement,

“The contradictions of modern society, the ugliness of life, are the inevitable result of the mechanical and material civilization exuberance. Our minds and spirits have become barren because of the material civilization. If we give beautiful and art things to people’s heart, moisturize it, the social problem will be solved naturally.”

“…Almost all the designs we use for surface decoration, wallpapers, textiles, and the like, I design myself. I have had to learn the theory and to some extent the practice of weaving, dyeing, & textile printing: all of which I must admit has given me and still gives me a great deal of enjoyment….”


He believed that art and design should work for civilians, that they should be handmade and honest. Daily household appliances, furniture, clothing, etc., should be both cheap and beautiful. The arts and crafts movement subsequently became an important aspect in art history.

Thus, both our ancient craftsmen and William Morris himself were using the handmade patterns as their medium to represent their thoughts and the culture as they saw it.


Broadly speaking, whether decoration is good or bad depends on its functionality. Its functionality can be displayed through a variety of media to express different meanings. Different visual and sensory hobbies lead a consumer's purchase desires. Hand-painted decorative patterns also reached another function: person-to-person communication, 1 on 1, or 1 to more than one pair of two-way communication. When the carpenter and designer works on a hand-painted pattern, this pattern would has its own unique background story, and this pattern starts to have meaning, the product becomes a tool for communication between the designer and the customer. When the other person sees the product and starts to use it, the pattern again plays an interactive role in both ways.


How then did the Chinese blue and white porcelain patterns and textures achieve their communication from ancient times to modern days?


“The golden age”

In the15 century, with the advent of the Ming Dynasty in 1368, the Court, especially under the Hongwu and Yongle Emperors, shunned blue and white porcelain for a time as being too foreign in inspiration. Blue and white porcelain however came back to prominence with the Xuande Emperor, and again developed from that time on.




To be continued…

1.     “The rise and heyday of Porcelain”

2.     “Europeans recognize China”

a. "Zheng Zhilong and Zheng Chenggong"

b. “Chinese blue and white porcelain status and influence in the history of the world "

c. “Strong tendency of "pragmatism"

7. “The third generation designers in contemporary mainland of China”

8. “A successful 3D graphic design product—Blue and white porcelain”