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China’s Porcelain Capital


Jingdezhen City in Jiangxi Province

Jingdezhen China is the porcelain capital of the world. Considered one of the first industrial cities,
Jingdezhen has created high quality porcelain wares for over 1000 years. China has established this
tradition as a defining aspect of its cultural heritage. So much so that the past imperial governments have
invested in it’s growth and protection. Due to government changes in 1989, a private market economy
developed creating unprecedented capitalistic tendencies over night. This has forever changed the
Jingdezhen people involved with the porcelain industry.
“the township (zhen) of the Jingde emperor”

as named in the Song Dynasty (960-1279)

Jingdezhen was named after the Song Dynasty emperor Jingde when he noticed the appealing wares being
produced from the small village in northern Jiangxi province. The local industry came to be officially
overseen by the government in the Yuan Dynasty. This initiative became the major export business for
Chang River

Transportation of raw porcelain material and finished


Jingdezhen banks on the Chang River. A major thoroughfare for delivering the raw materials needed to
make porcelain as well as establishing trade routes for the finished wares. The Chang River runs to Lake
Boyang, from there merges with the Yanzi River. This passage lead to trades routs developing at first to
the Middle East, Korea, Japan, South Asia and Southeast Asia. By the sixteenth century, these trade routs
expanded to Europe and the Americas.
Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368)

Mongol Invasion.

Imperial court sets up porcelain industry as major export


At the same time trade routs were being developed during the Yaun Dynasty, Mongol invasions were
spreading more and more widely in the north. Hearing the rumors of Jingdezhen’s economic success,
many of China’s northern potters moved south. Their talents and techniques were absorbed into the
small village. The migration from the north had a major influence on the rapidly growing industrious
town. Each step of the manufacturing process became specialized and unique to that individual. Indeed
to each family name, as generations of family members became more an more involved in the process.
Gaoling (High Ridge) Mountain Range

Porcelain is Kaolin and Petuntse (China stone), both

Feldspar minerals, mixed together.

Just 40 kilometers northeast of Jingzeden, the two main ingredients which make up porcelain are mined in
the Gaoling Mountains. Kaolin, whose name derives from it’s location, when mixed with China stone,
called petuntse, give Jingdezhen porcelain the characteristics that have defined it’s wares above the rest.
Not all porcelain is white. Kaolin veins can run from brown too orange in color. The whiteness of the
kaolin mined in the Gaoling Mountains suggest purity. When used thinly, the finished ware can even be
translucent in light.
Processing Porcelain and Throwing Pots

The minerals from the mountains are sent down stream to Jingdezhen via the Chang River. Once there,
the porcelain making process proceeds. The bricks of minerals are first pulverized by large water driven
pedestals. Then, by letting the heavy matter settle to the bottom of the pool, the necessary ingredients
could be skimmed off the surface. Lastly, the main minerals can be mixed together to make the wet
unfired clay. At this time it can be used to throw pots on the potters wheel. This inventive clay mixing
practice is still utilized today in contemporary Jingdezhen.
Preparing the Cobalt Underglaze used for decorating.

Another inventive technique which makes Chinese porcelain ware admirable and highly sought after is the
use of underglazes. That which is most familiar and popular is the mineral Cobalt. It is applied with a
brush onto unfired clay called greenware, then covered with an opaque white glaze. The wares require
only one firing. The white glaze turns clear and the bright blues of the cobalt design shin through. The
contrast between the pure white clay body and the blue underglaze has defined what is called Blue and
White Porcelain since it’s development in the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Qing Dynasty Zhen Yao egg-shaped Kiln design

During the Qing Dynasty, high firing techniques were developed which gave the wares of this time their
specific and unique looks. Controlled kiln temperatures from up to 2300 degrees Fahrenheit were first
implemented to achieve these results. this temperate was necessary to vitrify the porcelain body, under
and over glazes in one chemical reaction. Firing lasted several days, and were maned by round the clock
teams. Large quantities of pine wood were used as fuel for the kilns.
Ming and Qing Blue and White
Porcelain (?)

Due to geographic location, which lead to new advancements in material technologies, Jingdezen saw a
boom in it’s industrial, economic and cultural growth. China was the leading design and craft culture of
ceramics at the time. Regardless of government change, the imperial court maintained and protected
Jingdezhens infrastructure. Up until 1989, the year of the Tiananmen Square Revolution, the porcelain
capital of China had depended on the Chinese government.
That same year “the reform era government closed the last ceramic factory operated or managed by the
central, provincial or city governments”. (according to Maris Gillette) This lead the ceramic industry
entirely up to private entrepreneurs.
21st century Jingdezhen

Since the early 1990’s Jiingdezhen has had a private market based economy. Capitalistic gain has been
the major concern and drive for the porcelain working population. Witnessing the increasing desire for
Chinese cultural commodities, such as the definitively perfected wares of the Ming and Qing Dynasty, by
outside countries, the industrial town has taken to sustaining it's self with the reproduction of these types
of porcelain wares. Replication is nothing new to this town. What has changed is the governments
complete withdrawal from overseeing standardization of local tourist sales as well as international
auctions. This has created many mixed feelings of authenticity of not only the wares the local potters
make but also of themselves. This weighs heavy on a culture steeped in honorability.
Same material,
same pots?

The industrial production of Jungdezhen looks much the same as it did generations before. One could
assume this based on the basic material and technical cultural awareness ingrained within the process
required in it’s livelihood. In 2006, more than half of the employed population was involved in the
porcelain industry either directly or indirectly. Replication, although not the sole market of porcelain
wares in the city, is a major trade. Replicating pots of the Blue and White variety is done, simply because
they are the most desired. Contrastingly, making a replica of a mastered form is not as easy as it looks.
There is a tradition of learning by imitating the works of masters, but the contemporary practice of
replication may no longer hold these same values of education.
High, medium and low replica techniques.

In general low quality replicas are defined by using techniques that were not used for the original. Slip
casting, using a liquid clay to create the form of the pot as a cast and decal transfers of traditional
underglaze designs are seen as low quality replicas. Not to say that these wares do not bring in profit, on
the contrary quantity over quality does pay. Often these factories house all the necessary process
requirements under one roof; subsequently employing many many people, each with a specific duty.
Medium and high quality wares, utilize traditional building processes and when possible, firing
techniques. Usually there are only a few employs, mostly close family members.
Reference materials for authentic replication

It is generally accepted that studying reference materials for making replicas is okay. These materials can
include images from books and manuscripts as well as referencing authentic wares in the local museums.
As the city is steeped in artifact, the very ground is a treasure of pottery shards that can also be
considered as reference points. This form of copying is considered because these types inspirations are
removed from the source of the maker. Copying is considered okay if it is strictly anonymous.
Intellectual property / copyright laws?


The current government turns a blind eye to counterfeiting, even when there is knowledge that the
replicas will be sold at auctions as fakes. It is perceived that the value of economic growth out weighs the
deception of the customer. Usually customers, often auction house owners themselves, know that what is
being bought is a fake. As long as every one knows that what is being sold is a replica, then there is no
deceit. A problem arrises within the local community if one person copies directly from another.
“Killing the Pig”

The saying Shazhu literally translated means “killing the pig” or taking excessive advantage of a
customers ignorance. Counterfeit wares are purposely made to look dirty. This can be done a number of
ways such as by burying the wares in the ground to stain them or actually glueing dirt to them. The
customer expects time period evidence as verification of authenticity so the counterfeiters give it to them
in not so subtle ways. There is some confusion between replicas, which seem to be based in respected
historic studying which is openly explained, and the idea of counterfeits. The latter appear to be made
knowingly deceptive, but are not intended to be purchased by locals, but rather to tourists and auction
houses whom they are conspiring with.
Not a guaranty of authenticity - a business strategy.

False provenance is also a business technique used to drive up sales of counterfeit wares. Having a
reputable institution say a ware is authentic, appears to justify that objects higher asking price. Or as the
ware moves from rich owner to richer owner through sales transactions, the object’s economic value
excellerates as well. Not to mention the status of the current owner. The deliberately deceitful strategies
of selling counterfeits for outstandingly high prices, have created a mind set in the maker which does not
have them completely convinced that their wares have any intrinsic value. By knowing that they are being
finically manipulative, they are denying the original materials quality meanings of purity and translucency-
anthropomorphically speaking. Porcelain possesses the qualities of honesty.
Making more makes the better maker.

According to Maris Gillette, director of documentary film Broken Pots Broken Dreams, “In Jingdezhen,
ideas about markets as impersonal, market actors as self-interested, and market transactions as deceitful
arose with neoliberal capitalism in the late 1990s. Porcelain entrepreneurs viewed people operating on
the market as atomized individuals who were unaccountable to one another and so prone to deceit in
pursuit of profit. Indeed, Jingdezhen residents spoke as if everyone was cheating and lying to get ahead.”
Amy Hanser adds, “ the lack of connection between buyers and clients stimulates anxieties about trickery
and the use of deception to make sales.
Or does replica labor make replicants?

The workers of Jingdezhen have realized that one way to put worries about deceit at bay and further more
to have it stop at a local level, is to look back to the cultural foundations of their industry town’s past. By
keeping family closely involved in their practices, honesty is up held and re-enforced. In this sense the
larger community is starting to work together to keep deceitful practices out of their everyday lives.
Contrastingly, the residents say that in general they have no particular attachment to the industry. It is
just a job, not the westernized wonderfully mesmerizing artistic experience one might assume of working
with porcelain.
Who’s killing whose pig now?

In much the same manner as counterfeit wares are made profitable based on the ignorance of outsiders,
westerners too have marketed on the same business strategy of false provenance. Here deceitful use of
language adopted in market cultures that it was not intended for, is sought after just because the clothing
has English words printed on it. The customer Is duped into believing that the western franchise store
would only sell goods that are directly related to that specific geographic location.
What’s next?

The industry of Jingdezhen also produces what is referred to Art Style wares which have little to do with
imperial related wares of the past. The cobalt underglaze patterns and techniques can be seen on almost
anything now. In doing so, does this detract from there original meaning any more or less than
counterfeit work? There’s a fine line between being entrepreneurial and selling out. Entrepreneurial
endeavors are more inline with the creative process, where as, selling out is a means to an sure end.