It is often said the Jiangxi Porcelain Company of the early 20th century replaced the Imperial kilns, making porcelains for the court in the last years of the Qing Dynasty. Certainly, the company used the kilns on Zhushan (referred to as Pearl Mountain by westerners at the time) which had previously housed the Imperial Kilns. But what was really the case?
It is also often reported that the Jiangxi Porcelain Company was set up in 1910, but the story of its beginnings is much more complicated. Years ago, it was claimed that the Jiangxi Porcelain closed in 1934, then it was said to be 1949. What really happened?
The Jiangxi Porcelain Company (JPC) or Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi is the most well-known Chinese porcelain company of the first half of the 20th century. It is also one of the most prolific, most globally disseminated and, for the last 15 years or so, replicated. Knowledge about the origins of the company from bureaucratic archival sources has been written up by a few westerners and, more recently and more comprehensively, on Chinese museum and other websites. The Chinese websites are now translatable and understandable in English as software has improved. In addition, results of archaeological excavations carried out around 2003 on Zhushan in Jingdezhen are now available to the ‘public’ and have further elucidated or confirmed dates and chronologies regarding the company and its products.
In addition, some individuals have concentrated their collections on products from Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi and one such collection has been published, providing a large number of authentic examples:
- Late Qing Dynasty porcelain: Jiangxi Porcelain Company 2012 ISBN 978-7-5480-1549-9 233pp by Lai Dayi, Jiangxi Fine Arts Publishing House
This report will summarise this data and will also look at some of the earlier porcelains from this company, to show their links with dynastic wares and then (in later reports) to show how they moved away from those ‘old’ patterns and constraints into more innovative, experimental and daring works.
However, when looking at all the Jiangsi Ciye Gongsi porcelains over its 50 year existence, especially after these ‘early years’, the most remarkable observation about JPC porcelains is their diversity of pattern and shape, and their ubiquity, and in some instances even their surprising ordinariness.
THIS REPORT CAN BE ‘READ’ IN TWO WAYS – Either SCROLL THROUGH THE IMAGES of the marks and examples, reading the captions to get a general idea of what is what. Or, I’m sure that if you own a piece of ‘Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi’ porcelain or would like to, you will gain a lot from reading right through, even if just in sections.
THIS REPORT WILL ALSO COME IN TWO INSTALLMENTS, AS OUTLINED IN THE contents below
PART 1: THE EARLY YEARS – THIS REPORT
- Introduction (above)
- Base marks on Jiangxi Porcelain Company (Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi 江西瓷业公司) examples
- Origins of the Jiangxi Porcelain Company (Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi 江西瓷业公司)
3a. Before 1902
3b. 1902/03 – 1908
3c. 1908 – 1910/1911
3d. After 1910, Introduction only
- Jiangxi Porcelain Company – Examples from the Early Years, 1908- c.1911
PART 2: THE INNOVATIVE YEARS – 1910-Mid 1930S – NEXT REPORT TO COME
PART 3: THE POST WAR YEARS – 1945 onwards – NEXT REPORT TO COME
PART 4: RECENT COPIES & marks – NEXT REPORT TO COME
2. Basemarks on Jiangxi Porcelain Company pieces
There are a great many base marks on Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi porcelains, reflecting a dating and quality hierarchy, and also a shape and decoration type.
Some, if authentic, indicate an early dating – these are the handwritten underglaze blue in 2 columns (like a reign mark) or in 2 rows but with double underglaze blue circles – see 2a. below
Others indicate a later dating, towards the end of the Republic Period – these are the stamped overglaze blue marks – see 2g. below
Yet others, by themselves, do not appear to have a clear date range – underglaze blue without double circles, red handwritten, and red stamped.
Below is a list of all the ‘Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi’ mark types that I have been able to find. There may well be more to add in the future. Of course, these are broad types and do not take into consideration all the different forms of calligraphy or stamps. You will see all the different actual marks in the examples shown at the end of this part of the report, and at the end of all the other parts as well.
It should be noted that the most common mark is an underglaze blue with no double circle, followed very closely by the overglaze red stamped marks, (handwritten ones are a bit less common). A few of the marks are very rare, with only one or two examples found so far.
This first ‘early years’ part of this report will concentrate on examples with the first two marks below…….
2a. Underglaze Blue marks, all handwritten
- 2a.1 -Two columns, (6 characters, first three in right column ‘Jiang Xi Ci’, then last three in left column ‘Ye Gong Si’), much like how a reign mark is written. These marks are rare.
- 2a.2 -Three columns, (same 6 characters, right column ‘Jiang Xi’, middle column ‘Ci Ye’, left column ‘Gong Si’), much like how all 6 character company marks are written in the Republic Period. In addition, double underglaze blue circles surround the mark. Uncommon mark.
- 2a.3 – As above, but no double circle surround. Three columns, (same 6 characters, right column ‘Jiang Xi’, middle column ‘Ci Ye’, left column ‘Gong Si’), much like how all 6 character company marks are written in the Republic Period. Common mark, usually on good quality examples, distinctive forms of calligraphy on most pieces.
- 2a.4 -Ten character mark, two columns, ‘Zhong Hua Ming Guo Jiang’ in right column, ‘Xi Ci Ye Gong Si’ in left column. From Jiangxi Porcelain Company book, p64, see bibliography. Only these two examples are known so far.
- 2a.5 – This must be a ‘one of a kind’ – on a teabowl set or gaiwan, with ‘Jiang Xi Ci Ye’ on the base of the bowl , and ‘Gong Si’ in the top recess of the cover, p 209 JPC book
2b. Overglaze red marks, Handwritten
- 2b.1 – Two columns, (6 characters, first three in right column ‘Jiang Xi Ci’, then last three in left column ‘Ye Gong Si’), much like how a reign mark is written. Rare mark, only a couple seen.
- 2b.2 – Three columns, (same 6 characters, right column ‘Jiang Xi’, middle column ‘Ci Ye’, left column ‘Gong Si’), much like how all 6 character company marks are written in the Republic Period. Surprisingly uncommon mark.
- 2b.3 – Two rows, top row ‘Jiang Xi’ (characters left to right), bottom row ‘Ci Ye Gong Si’ (characters left to right). Very rare mark, dated to the 1930s but possibly mark added later ……
2c. Overglaze red marks, Stamped
- 2c.1 – Three columns, (same 6 characters, right column ‘Jiang Xi’, middle column ‘Ci Ye’, left column ‘Gong Si’), much like how all 6 character company marks are written in the Republic Period. Common mark.
- 2c.2 – Two columns ‘Jiang Xi Ci’ in right, ‘Yi Gong Si’ in left, within a double square , very rare, just these two so far.
- 2c.3 – Oval Outline ‘Changsha Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi ??? ‘ – only this one example, on a piece with a carved pattern of Guangxu dating.
- 2c.4 – Diamond outline ‘Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi Chu Pin’, rare, just this one so far.
- 2c.5 – Stamped circle mark ‘Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi Chu Pin’ in 3 sections, quite common on carmine enamelled, dragon graviata pieces, almost as if the factory/manufacturer was just making this pattern.
Late 1940s/early 1950s mark
- 2c.6 – Stamped circle mark ‘Jiangxi Jingdezhen Ciye Gongsi’, very rare, just this one, but could be much more common within China.
Post 1949 mark
2d. Overglaze Blue, teal blue, handwritten – this marks occurs quite rarely, mainly on pieces showing a ‘dynastic’ or old style pattern, i.e. early in C20th
2e. Overglaze Blue, bright blue, handwritten – not a very common mark
2f. Overglaze blue, teal, Stamped – Rare mark
2g. Overglaze Blue, bright blue, Stamped – very common mark, especially on 1940s- earliest 1950s pieces – the mark quality is often extremely poor
2h. Black, handwritten, within inscription, no basemark
3.Origins of the Jiangxi Porcelain Company (Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi 江西瓷业公司)
3a. Before 1902
The idea of a Jingdezhen or Jiangxi Porcelain Company had been around since the turn of the century. The idea of a porcelain manufacturer which would be technologically innovative and bring Jingdezhen porcelain back into viable competition with its more successful foreign porcelain producers had been around for even longer, back into the late 19th century. Jingdezhen was still recovering in part from the destruction of the Imperial kilns during the 1860s (Tongzhi) period but also it had suffered from:-
- the general lack of interest and infrastructure in the last decades of the Qing Dynasty;
- from flood damage (the Chang River flows right through the town and often destroyed markets and kilns);
- from a series of rebellions throughout Jiangxi;
- and, from the introduction of the ‘Likin’ tax on porcelain. The ‘Likin’ tax was originally introduced during the 1850s to provide the government with monies for their military operations in order to put down the rebellions. It was consumption based and was calculated at customs barriers such as the trading town of Jiujiang. It also increased over time such that it became a significant disincentive: for instance, trade from Jingdezhen to Canton dropped almost 50% from 1903 to 1904, as the traders went out of business . Foreign competitors were not taxed nearly so harshly (Michael Dillon PhD thesis 1976). Something needed to be done.
3b. 1902/03 – 1908
In 1902 the Governor of Jiangxi, Ke Fengshi, proposed to the Qing Court that a porcelain company be set up in Jingdezhen to produce fine porcelain to compete with foreign imports. Porcelain from Europe and Japan was eroding Jingdezhen global exports and even outdoing Jingdezhen manufacture and sales within China. Jingdezhen still had the best clays and labour costs but the foreign competitors had better kiln technology and distribution networks & costs. The proposed name was Jingdezhen Porcelain Company. Ke Fengshi outlined what funds would be required and how the company would work. In the end, a small sum of 50,000 yuan was apparently given but this was not sufficient to get the company into production. Several further attempts were made over the next few years, kilns and labour found in Jingdezhen, but finances could not be secured to make an ongoing enterprise.
3c. 1908 – 1910/1911
In 1907/1908 Li Jiade and Zeng Zhu also suggested to the government that ‘Jingdezhen Porcelain Company’ should be changed to ‘Jiangxi Porcelain Company’ and a joint government/private business model was put forward. This was approved and Sun Tinglin of Hubei was put in charge to re-establish the kilns on the north side of Zhushan. This first attempt used the old production methods and there was little difference between the pattern ornamentation and the Guangxu Guanyao, i.e patterns from previous centuries, except that the basemarks were different. However, a continuing lack of funds still hindered its progress. Nonetheless, it would appear that some porcelains were made. Although there is no paper trail or extant governmental evidence in the records, archaeological excavations carried out in 2002/2003 have provided some clues.
Archaeological Excavations and evidence
In 2002/2003 the Jingdezhen Ceramic Archaeological Institute and other associated government bodies did some excavations around the kilns on the northern side of Zhushan. Essentially the results prove that Jiangxi Porcelain Company production of porcelains occurred as early as the 34th year of Guangxu or 1908. There is, as yet, no definitive proof of Jiangxi Porcelain Company porcelain production before that time.
I quote from this report – Thoughts Aroused by Ke Fengshi’s “Development of Jiangxi Porcelain Company” – Analysis of Several Problems of Jiangxi Porcelain Company
2012-04-16 Xiang Kunpeng “National Museum of China”, No. 4, 2012
”….. it can be seen that from the 29th year of Guangxu(1903), Jiangxi Ceramic Co., Ltd. had a lot of twists and turns since its preparation, but by the time of Guangxu thirty-four years, during this period, Jiangxi porcelain company had have production” …” If the occurrence of production behavior is used as a standard, it can be said that Guangxu’s Jiangxi porcelain company was established before the 34th year of Guangxu (between 29 and 34 years of Guangxu).” – i.e between 1903 and 1908.
The author goes on to say that the paper evidence for this has not yet been established for these claims, only the actual porcelains on Zhushan.
3d. After 1910
In 1910 another attempt was more comprehensive and long lasting. Three businessmen, Zhang Jizhi, Yuan Qiuji and Rui Junhua, in collaboration with five provinces, Fujian, Hubei, Anhui, Jiangsu and Jiangxi, established the ‘Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi’ that we know of today.
After 1910, with the official, integrated and substantial establishment of the Jiangxi Porcelain Company, ‘new’ patterns, new technologies, new production plants at both Poyang (Raozhou) and Jingdezhen, and the establishment of teaching schools at Poyang (Raozhou), the innovative side of Jiangxi Porcelain Company could finally emerge. The dynastic porcelain prototypes were quite quickly thrown off and the hiring of master painters such as those from the Eight Friends of Zhushan led to the flourishing of experimental and ‘modern’ patterns and techniques. This period will be the subject of a forthcoming part of this report, stay tuned.
4.Jiangxi Porcelain Company – Some examples from the Early Years, 1908-1911
So, the question is, what was produced in these early years of the Jiangxi Porcelain Company? Was anything made in the period 1902-1908? If so, what and does any still exist? What was made in the first real known production of the JPC in the years 1908-1910? What does it look like?
Did the Jiangxi Porcelain Company make the porcelain for the Imperial Court in the last year of the Guangxu reign and the during the Xuantong reign until the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911?
Author Xiang Kunpeng, in the link above also addresses the relationship between the Jiangxi Porcelain Company and Qing court porcelain:
“During the thirty-three years from Guangxu to Xuantong, at least for a while, the imperial kiln factory was included in Jiangxi Porcelain Company, which means that at least part of the porcelain that the court entered during this period was Jiangxi Porcelain Company produced.”
“Jiangxi Porcelain Company exercised the functions of the Royal Kiln Factory for a period of time…”
The author concludes that the Jiangxi Porcelain Company functioned as the Royal Kiln from at least 1908 to the end of 1911, that is, until the end of the Xuantong emperor’s reign.
We do know that the early patterns were made using old systems of production and followed the taste of previous reigns. What about the basemarks? This is where a study of the actual porcelains themselves come into their own. I have been tracking Jiangxi Porcelain Company marks for about 20 years now and have a good set of images at hand. In addition, many Chinese writers have outlined the range of marks on Jiangxi Porcelain Company wares in books and on websites, and it is time to look at these now.
So, can we say that pieces with a particular mark are from the 1908-1911 period? Not with absolute certainty, but with a quiet assuredness we can say that examples with underglaze blue marks 2a.1 and2a.2 are from this period and/or in the first year or two afterwards. At this stage this is a working theory. Also, when I publish the second part of this report, it will show some of the same patterns seen below, but with underglaze blue marks without circles. So, the relationships are not clear cut, nor exclusive. There is still much we just do not know.
It would appear, by piecing together some of the reports and looking at some of the early porcelains themselves, that between 1908 and 1911 when the Jiangxi Porcelain Company acted as the ‘Imperial’ kiln, dynastic porcelain which correlated well with porcelain of the preceding decades, was made by the Jiangxi Porcelain Company and mainly held marks in underglaze blue and white with double circles. These ‘old’ patterns – dragon and phoenix, flowers, bird in branches, leaves & berries – were painted in underglaze blue and white alone or in conjunction with polychrome enamels, and were the same or similar to examples with the same patterns but which hold different, dynastic marks:- underglaze blue or red handpainted Guangxu 6 kaishu marks or underglaze blue handpainted Kangxi 4 or 6 kaishu marks (these latter being examples of Kangxi revival wares). These pieces are so similar and give a good indication that all (with Jiangxi Porcelain Company marks, Guangxu M&P and Kangxi marks) were made at the same manufacturers and kilns. Official imperial ‘kilndom’ ended in 1911– from 1907/1908 until that date, large numbers of porcelains were delivered to the Beijing imperial court.
In this section examples of Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi porcelains are shown with underglaze blue marks within double blue circles and underglaze blue marks written in 2 columns, like a reign mark – i.e.2a.1 and 2a.2 marks above.
4a. Underglaze blue marks with double circles
Most of these examples are underglaze blue (and underglaze red highlights) & white only, with several distinct patterns and then a range of miscellaneous leaf flower and/or insect patterns.
Then there are examples with some enamel additions (Dragon & Phoenix; Bats & Cloud).
A couple of very rare monochromes are next.
Finally, there are examples with enamels only (but with underglaze blue & white base marks).
These double circle marks are rare, despite the fact that appear to be a lot here – many of the examples below come from books, many from Chinese websites before 2009, only about a dozen have come from western auction houses. And I have been collecting these images for almost 20 years now!
Also, the patterns are very similar to many Guangxu M&P and Kangxi Revival pieces, especially the blue and white wares. The innovative period of Jiangxi Porcelain Company production is yet to come. These pieces can be considered as remnants from the previous decades. The only exceptions may be some of the enamelled examples at the end.
You will notice that there are at least three base mark calligraphers, one has more ‘flourish’, the others more regimented. The latter ones always give me feeling that calligrapher was left handed, although I am not sure how this idea relates in terms of Chinese calligraphy?
Only two examples are dated, one for 1910 and one for 1913. The latter is of a very unique shape and the pattern is an exception to the more conventional patterns seen in these ‘double circle’ pieces – perhaps an exception to the rule/theory.
The first pattern is of silkworms and mulberry leaves:
A pair of confronting tigers in a landscape, with and without inscription:
Grapes, leaves and tendrils (grapes in underglaze red):
Dragons, flames and pearl:
Foliage, flowers and berries (latter in underglaze red):
Foliage, insects and birds:
Ducks or geese and grasses:
Beaked bird and spikey leaved plant:
Lids with a range of patterns:
Lotus and Bao Xiang Hua scroll:
Foliage and vegetables, including bok choy, with inscription:
Foliage and bird with inscription:
Rare Figural scene in a garden:
Bird, rock and peony branch:
Chrysanthemum flowers and foliage – this example (marks shown below) can be seen at the following Victoria & Albert Museum link (note that example is a probable mismatch – Guangxu marked lid, JPC marked bowl):
Chrysanthemums, leaves and bird on rock (short inscription):
Three friends of winter – pine tree, prunus branch and bamboo:
Flowers and leaves (unidentified):
I-Ching and inscription pattern, scalloped and barbed edge:
Decorative symmetrical scroll with coloured enamel highlights:
Wheel and inscription:
Stylised cloud pattern, with and without iron red bats (and one example with a dragon):
Underglaze blue line borders with enamel flowers:
Rice Pattern with enamel highlights, a diaper border, and a dragon and phoenix chasing a pearl:
Flower sprigs in enamel:
Pomegranates, narcissi and vegetables:
Very unusual western export style pattern with barbed edge:
Basket of flowers pattern in leaf shaped cartouche, elaborate border, enamels:
Another basket of flowers with bi-colour border (C19th pattern):
Flowers, leaves and nandina in enamels:
Pine Tree and peony with crane pair on a rock, with inscription and dating to 1913 (Is this one spurious?):
Flowers or fruits in enamel:
Dated 1910 (above)
Flowers and leaves en grisaille, with enamel daisies and inscription:
Monochrome plate in pale blue with barbed edge:
4b. Underglaze blue marks in 2 columns
(above) Ren Xu date of 1922, this interesting bell shaped weight is in a category of its own
(above) Finally, this example has its own category, very unique ‘Zhong Hua Ming Guo Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi’ mark.
In the next installment of this report (Parts 2,3 & 4), the true character of Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi products will be shown. The examples and history of the company from 1910 until 1949 will be comprehensively covered. The porcelains of this 1910-1949 period show huge variation and reflect the blossoming and the eventual decline of this most interesting company.
Now to start on Parts 2, 3 & 4…….
Best wishes, Michaela
A: General Bibliography
A1. Late Qing Dynasty porcelain: Jiangxi Porcelain Company 2012 ISBN 978-7-5480-1549-9 233pp by Lai Dayi, Jiangxi Fine Arts Publishing House
A2. A History of the Porcelain Industry in Jingdezhen 1976 Michael Dillon PhD Thesis Department of Chinese Studies, University of Leeds, September 1976
A3. Chinese Porcelain of the Republic Period 2008 ISBN 978-988-98818-9-4 Simon Kwan, Muwen Tang Fine Arts Publication Ltd
B: Website Bibliography
B1. Bibliography from the website report – Reflections on Ke Fengshi’s “Distribution of Jiangxi Ceramics Co., Ltd.” – Analysis of Several Issues of Jiangxi Porcelain Company 2012-04-16 Xiang Kunpeng China National Museum of Art, Issue 4, 2012
- China’s No. 1 Historical Archives, ed., “The Criticism of Zhu Guangxu in the Guangxu Period”, Volume 101, pp. 561-563, Zhonghua Book Company, 1996.
- Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty Official Kiln Ruins in the North of Zhushan, Jingdezhen, edited by the National Bureau of Cultural Relics, “China’s Important Archaeological Discoveries in 2003”, Cultural Relics Publishing House, 2004, p. 160.
- Liu Jinzao: “The Qing Dynasty Continuing Documentary Exam” volume 383, “Industry VI. Public Works”, exam 11306.
- “The Complete Works of Qing Dynasty Porcelain Files”, “File Summary 2”, China Pictorial Publishing House, 2008, No. 857 page.
- Liu Jinzao: “The Qing Dynasty continued literature review” volume 366 “Industrial Nine. Kiln industry. New style kiln industry”, test 11833.
- Porcelain Stone: “China’s First Ceramic Industrial Company – Jiangxi Jingdezhen Company”, “Jingdezhen Ceramics” No. 3, 1984.
- Jiangxi Institute of Ceramics, Ministry of Light Industry, eds. Jingdezhen Ceramic History, Sanlian Bookstore, 1959, pp. 270-271.
- Xiang Xuan: “Jingdezhen Ceramic Industry Chronicle” Chapter 13 “The Status of Jiangxi Ceramic Company’s Business”, Jingdezhen Kaizhi Printing Bureau, photocopy, 1920.
- Wu Renjing, Xin Anchao: “The History of Chinese Ceramics,” Chapter Twelve, “The Qing Times,” Commercial Press, 1998, p. 108.
- “The Complete Works of Qing Dynasty Porcelain Files”, “File Summary 2”, China Pictorial Publishing House, 2008, pp. 870-879.
- Wang Guangzhen, “Establishment and Termination of Qing Dynasty Imperial Kiln Factory”, “Chinese Ancient Guan Kiln System”, Forbidden City Press, 2004, p. 172.
B2. Republic Jiangxi Porcelain Company Knowledge – Art Investment (Collection, auction, appraisal) – Everyone Forum 2011 (17/03) Liyang
Outlines the early history of the JPC and its relationship of the Eight Friends of Zhushan and associates.
B3. Development of Modern Ceramics of Jiangxi Porcelain Company and Jingdezhen – Xin Zhihua 2008