Some notes on Wan Shou Wu Jiang (万寿无疆) Porcelains since the Late Qing period

Introduction

These porcelains are recognised in China as a category on their own. In my recent explorations of Chinese porcelain websites, it would seem that Wan Shou Wu Jiang porcelains from the early years of the PROC, in particular the ‘Cultural Revolution’ examples, are now of interest to collectors! From what I can understand of the articles and news items, many of these porcelains were exported to the West, with comparatively few remaining in China. The name of Chairman Mao Zedong also comes up in association with Wan Shou Wu Jiang and porcelain, but I can’t find out what the association is. However, considering the ubiquity of these 1960s and 1970s porcelains worldwide, I thought it would be interesting to look at the group of porcelains with these characteristics.

Wan Shou Wu Jiang wares include all porcelains and patterns which have 4 equally spaced circles and which contain, in sequence, the Chinese characters ‘Wan’ 萬, Shou’ 壽, ‘Wu’ 無 and ‘Jiang’ 疆 or WanShouWuJiang_Characters – in simplified form 万寿无疆. ‘Wan Shou Wu Jiang’ translates as boundless longevity or everlasting long life, where Wan = 10,000, Shou = long life and Wu Jiang = without boundary. The intricate and intriguing use of rebuses and puns in Chinese art is evident in the decorations on these porcelains. I refer you to all the excellent literature on them.

The Wan Shou Wu Jiang quartet seems ubiquitous on Chinese ceramics but in reality there are only a select number of patterns which actually or consistently have these characters, at least since the late Qing period. These will be discussed in detail in the next section but to outline the main groups:

1. Tongzhi Wedding Pattern – only one of the several patterns from this group of porcelains, made for the Emperor Tongzhi’s wedding in 1872, contain the Wan Shou Wu Jiang medallions, as shown below.

WSWJ_TongzhiWedding 1 WSWJ_TongzhiWedding 1m
Wedding Pattern bowl from the Gugong Museum with its Tongzhi Nian Zhi mark

I believe that this pattern is the source and origin of the so-called ‘Birthday Pattern’ shown in Type (3) below.

2. Guangxu (Wedding?) Pattern – only this ‘Eternal Spring’ version of these porcelains contains the Wan Shou Wu Jiang medallions

WSWJ_Longsdorf_Guangxu1 WSWJ_Longsdorf_Guangxu2
‘Eternal Spring’ pattern on a teabowl and saucer and a zhadou, as described by Longsdorf (2004), both have ‘Chang Chun Tong Qing’ (Eternal Spring Everlasting togetherness) marks

The neck of the zhadou form above shows the first example of a gourd, flower, leaf and scroll decoration that I can find and which I believe is the original source of the gourd flower, leaf and scroll examples discussed in Type (4) below.

3. Yellow Ground ‘Birthday Pattern’, known from the Guangxu period. In this case, the Wan Shou Wu Jiang medallions are integral to the design – never without them. But its decoration shows its origins to be the Tongzhi Wedding pattern above.

Birthday Pattern 1

4. ‘Gua’, or melon, flower, gourd, leaf and scroll pattern, also originating in this form in the Guangxu period. Also in this case, the medallions are integral to the pattern. However, in some cases the Wan Shou Wu Jiang characters are replaced by dragon & phoenixes or bogu (100 Antiques plus others) elements within the medallions

Gua 1 Gua 2 Gua 3 Gua 4
Four examples of the ‘Gua’ flower, leaf and scroll pattern. Note the range of ground colours, the varying size and arrangements of the flowers, and the ubiquitous multicoloured key frets

5. Bao Xiang Hua pattern (Lotus scroll in the West), the central ‘flower’ motif of which has been used on porcelain for much of the Qing period and earlier. In this version the Wan Shou Wu Jiang medallions are present on many examples of the pattern, but it also exists in a myriad of forms without these or any medallions. Still being produced at Jingdezhen today.

Bao 1 Bao 2 Bao 3 Bao 4
Four examples of the Bao Xiang Hua Wan Shou Wu Jiang porcelains

6. Miscellaneous: (a) Millefleur – it would seem that only one company was making this version. The ‘Minan Gongsi’ (Minan company) produced millefleur teabowl sets (Gaiwan) with Wan Shou Wu Jiang medallions during the Republic period.

Minan 1 Minan 2

(b) Graviata – this is a rare example, similar to the dragon and pearl graviata wares on the same type of carmine ground, but here with a diaper hatching and then the four medallions with Wan Shou Wu Jiang characters. Other diaper hatched bowls like this which I have seen have iron red dragon and phoenixes within the medallions and the hatched ground is royal blue in colour, not carmine, Republic period.

Graviata 1 Graviata 2

(c) Private Company produced coral ground and gold porcelains, also made throughout the Qing period but some companies made them throughout the Republic period and a few were still produced in the People’s Republic period. These are strictly not Wan Shou Wu Jiang porcelains because the characters within the medallions are usually different. They are actually replaced with other characters such as ‘Chang Ming Fu Gui’ (long life riches and honour), ‘ji xiang jun yi’ (good omen and noble thoughts) or ‘ji xiang fu xi’ (prosperity and happiness). These were probably the forerunners of the similar mass produced coral ground, gold and medallion pattern of the PROC, which also hold the ‘Chang Ming Fu Gui’ characters. They are mentioned here because they look at first, to those who can’t read Chinese like me, to belong in this group.

Coral 1 Coral 2 Coral red and gold bowls from the Republic (left) and early People’s republic of China (right) each with ‘Chang Ming Fu Gui’ character medallions.

The Five Main Patterns

1. Tongzhi Wedding Pattern

As the name suggests these porcelains were made for the Tongzhi emperor’s wedding in October, 1872. This was the first Imperial wedding since the Kangxi emperor some 200 years earlier. Imperial archives indicate that they were ordered in 1868, and that 24 forms were made in two categories: basically ceremonial or decorative use and actual dining use. For the latter 6 sizes of bowl, wine cups, spoons, plates and saucers were made. For the former, tea bowls with lids, tea jars, refuse jars, powder & rouge boxes, brushpots, flowerpots and narcissus trays were produced. Records also indicate that 10 different patterns or ‘sets’ were made, with more than 672 pieces in each set, for a total of 7,294 pieces made in total. Longsdorf (1992, 2004) informs us that a very limited number of these still exist, but that one or more examples of every pattern (even if not the shape) still exist. The images shown here (above and below) are from the Gugong Museum (2007).

Only one of these 10 patterns has the Wan Shou Wu Jiang medallions, see the image below.

WSWJ_TongzhiWedding 2 WSWJ_TongzhiWedding 2m
Zhadou from the Gugong Museum with its Tongzhi Nian Zhi mark

The pattern has a yellow ground with enribboned swastikas evenly spaced between circular cartouches or medallions outlined in gold and red and containing the red-outlined gold-infilled Wan Shou Wu Jiang characters. The pale and royal blue coloured ribbons are tied in very structured 3 pointed bows around the swastikas. A swastika is a stylised ‘wan’, so this adds to the rebus. Stylised cloud patterns in royal and pale blue plus pink and red enamels, all outlined in gold, surround the other elements on the yellow ground. The basal border of stylised and mountains is very detailed and also heavily gold-outlined. The rims are outlined in gold and the interiors are plain white and undecorated. A four character iron red ‘Tong Zhi Nian Zhi’ mark in kaishu script is present on almost all examples. The only authentic examples of this pattern that I have seen are a bowl, a zhadou and a spoon, all from the Gugong Museum (2007).

2. Guangxu (Wedding?) Pattern

The Guangxu Emperor’s wedding was celebrated in 1889, and the records show that only 868 pieces of each of the two sets were made (comparable to each of the Tongzhi wedding sets). The patterns are busier, but are extremely finely potted and exhibit some new shapes which Longsdorf reveals “are not found in their precise form and size in… any other earlier Qing period wares” (2004, p28). Although little information about the designs can be found, many examples of these wedding porcelains “remain in virtually unused condition in the Palace Museum in Beijing, clearly establishing both orders as imperial ware” (2004, p30). However, none of these porcelains are reproduced in the Gugong (Palace) Museum book which covers the porcelains of the Tongzhi Wedding, and the Dayazhai and Tihedian marked wares. So there is definitely still some confusion about when and for what purpose these were made.

These porcelains are given a Tongzhi dating by many Chinese authorities, but Longsdorf’s 2004 article argues for the later Guangxu date and the later Guangxu wedding. I am sure that there has been some better conclusion to this controversy but I have not been able to determine it as yet. However, according to Longsdorf, there are two main patterns recorded. Only the second pattern, which he calls ‘Eternal Spring’, contains the Wan Shou Wu Jiang medallions. This pattern has a yellow ground, scattered with famille rose peaches and blossoms, bats – beribboned and bare, and beribboned endless knots. Four circular medallions are evenly placed around the pieces and on a white and gold diaper pattern ground these medallions each contain one of the four Wan Shou Wu Jiang characters. The medallion borders have a ring of tight ruyi in 3 colours, blue, turquoise and pink. Necks on the zhadou shape (and presumably other similar forms) have an extra pattern of a radial 5 petal ‘gua’ (gourd) blossom with a grapevine leaf-shaped ‘gua’ leaf, evenly spaced between interlinked scrolls and gourds. Multiple iron red key frets are present, on every change in angle. The insides of this second pattern are a white ground with evenly spaced and radiating blue butterflies and pink and white blossoms.

WSWJ_Longsdorf_Guangxu2 Guangxu Wedding Detail
‘Everlasting Spring’ pattern of the Guangxu Wedding Pattern (left), with a closeup of the neck on the right. This shows the gourd or ‘gua’ , flower and scroll part of the pattern. Images from Longsdorf’s article, 2004

The shapes of the Guangxu wedding porcelains include various sizes of bowls, teabowl sets, plates, cups and stands, zhadou, large and small covered boxes. I have not been able to determine the other ordered shapes. They are different from the Tongzhi wedding porcelains in body, potting, shape and quality of decoration. The ‘Guangxu’ pieces are apparently superior technically but the enamel painting and the design is more rigid, more intense, but overall slightly less well done.

All the so named Guangxu wedding porcelains have one of two base marks, handwritten in iron red four character kaishu ‘Chang Chun Tong Qing’ (Eternal Spring Everlasting togetherness) or more rarely, ‘Yan Xi Tong He’ (Celebration of Harmony in Marriage).

Guangxu Wedding mark 1 Guangxu Wedding mark 2
Examples of the base marks for the Guangxu wedding porcelains; ‘chang chun tong qing’, left and the less common ‘ yan xi tong he’ on the right.

It is quite amazing that there is no physical record that the two patterns were actually made for the Guangxu Emperor’s wedding and not some other event. The records do not describe the precise pattern and so it is only because other mementos from that wedding exist and have a similar red, gilt, dragon and phoenix theme that these porcelains can be linked to the 1889 wedding. *As an aside, I noted that the in the 1989 Chinese language movie “The Empress Dowager”, the Guangxu wedding porcelains were a feature of the film and were all yellow ground with dragon & phoenixes, not in roundels!

This ‘Eternal Spring’ pattern, however, is a completely new pattern or pattern combination, and not based on a pre-existing older decoration.

3. Tongzhi Wedding Pattern derivative (aka Yellow Ground ‘Birthday Pattern’)

This pattern is very distinct and recognisable. It comprises a yellow ground, usually with an iron red key fret border. On the yellow ground four evenly spaced red or red & gold swastikas are entwined with pink and blue ribbons. These are surrounded by stylised cloud decorations also in pink and blue but sometimes also in green. Four white ground circular medallions containing the Wan Shou Wu Jiang characters in red or red & gold are also present. In the centre of the plates and as a basal border on the bowls, a green and white stylised wave pattern radiates out, with a circular shou character in the centre of the plates and dishes. The undersides of the plates have two or three floral sprays evenly spaced around the rim, although iron red bats are also seen.

This pattern was thought to have been made in a similar form originally for the Empress Dowager’s 50th birthday in 1884 (from a Sotheby’s auction listing) and thus it is sometimes called the ‘Imperial Birthday Pattern’. It is certainly described as a ‘Birthday Pattern” when sold in the West. However, this pattern was apparently also made for the celebration of birthdays in the Chinese court during the Guangxu period. So there are some imperial examples of this pattern, but private companies also made this pattern in the Guangxu and Republic periods.

After some study and consideration, it is quite obvious to me that the source for this pattern is the Wan Shou Wu Jiang medallion example within the group of Tongzhi Wedding porcelains. The significant differences on this later ‘Birthday Pattern’ are the common presence of a red key fret, the much larger number of and concentration of stylised clouds, and most obviously, the completely different shape of the ribbons. In the original Tongzhi Wedding examples the ribbons are tied in a formal 3-pointed bow whereas in this derivative the ribbons are merely loosely entwined with the swastika. There is also a lot less gold outlining of all the features. These different features remain constant in the pattern throughout the Guangxu and Republic periods, even in the recent copies.

A very large number of this pattern was made, in the Imperial and private company kilns. Hence, there are considerable minor and acceptable variations in colour and style. It would also appear that this was a favourite pattern to be sent to friends and relatives overseas who were celebrating an important birthday or perhaps some other special occasion, as they crop up in auctions all over the world. Hence also, the western style tea sets which are often seen with this pattern.

Birthday pattern combo 1
Typical example of Yellow ground ‘Birthday’ dish, with a Da Qing Guangxu Nian Zhi handwritten iron red mark

Birthday pattern combo 2
Yellow ground ‘Birthday’ small lidded serving bowl, with a Da Qing Guangxu Nian Zhi handwritten iron red mark

In terms of shapes, plates are by far the most prolific, but there are also bowls, small lidded serving bowls, teabowl sets, complete western type tea sets with cups and saucers, sugar and milk pots, teapots, oval serving platters, large chargers and large lidded circular boxes. I have never seen a vase or pot in this pattern.

I have looked at over 75 examples of this pattern and more than 80% of the pieces have handwritten iron red 6 character Guangxu marks. This is a very large percentage of just one mark type, and especially of handwritten marks. Other marks are Qianlong, Yongzheng or underglaze blue Guangxu, but the numbers are insignificant. Two examples are interesting in that both were tea sets and both had mainly Guangxu iron red handwritten marks but the dishes and coffee cups & saucers had authentic underglaze blue Jiangxi Porcelain Company marks!

Birthday pattern combo 3
Birthday pattern combo 4
Two examples of dishes and cups & saucers bearing ‘Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi’ (Jiangxi Porcelain Company) underglaze blue mark, part of a tea service with overglaze iron red Guangxu marked pieces (see top right image)

There is no absolute proof, but the fact that so much of this pattern exhibits a handwritten Guangxu mark indicates to me that this is the era when it was first made. Echoes of the Tongzhi wedding pattern may be seen in the beribboned swastikas, the stylised clouds and the Wan Shou Wu Jiang medallions, but I consider an early Guangxu date to be the most likely. The Qianlong and Yongzheng marked examples are thus apocryphal.

This pattern has been produced from the last quarter of the 19th century, through the Republic period, and perhaps even into PROC times, although I have never seen an example of the latter. It has been made again in the Jingdezhen kilns for the last couple of decades. This pattern has stayed very true to the original. Versions from the Republic era, at least, do show several changes:

• Less or no gold in outline of wan shou wu jiang characters
• Less gold generally
• No key fret, just gold line. This could be said to be a reversion to its Tongzhi predescessor, unclear for the time being.
• Addition of a ruyi border inside the key fret one on larger platters (or may be fakes)
• Medallions not white ground but infilled with red and yellow fret diaper (fake?) or just that the chargers etc have this variation – the cloud pattern is smaller and further spaced too
• Different base mark, e.g, apocryphal Qianlong mark

Examples are below:
Birthday pattern combo 5
Birthday pattern combo 6

4. Gua flower, gourd, leaf and scroll pattern

The ‘Gua’ or melon/cucumber/gourd is a plant which has been employed in Chinese art for eons. It is from a large botanical genus which produces food in several forms, but which is also used as part of a rebus to bestow special meanings to the ‘onlooker/admirer’. Botanically, it is a tendrilled vine which produces distinctive flowers and leaves, but with different species producing different ‘fruit’, some of which may or not be familiar to us in the West. It is of the genus Momardia sp., members of the Family ‘Cucurbitae’. At this stage I am not exactly sure which species is depicted in this pattern or whether, in fact, the botanical elements are a mix of several species. Certainly, the shape of the gourds depicted in this pattern has more in common with pumpkin type gourds than those from this ‘prickly’ cucumber family. See end of this section for more on the botany and the meaning of these and other melon porcelains.

The radially spaced five petalled flower (or sometimes it is hard to say whether it is five gourds radially spaced or just the petals) of this plant, its grape vine shaped leaves and a series of single gourds, attached by long stems, constitute the distinctive elements of the pattern. The scrolls, the Wan Shou Wu Jiang medallions, the key fret are essential, but the colours and shape of the flower, the gourds and the ground vary considerably.

Now, as discussed above, ‘Wan’ means 10,000 and conveys the idea of multiples and, according Bjaaland-Welch (2008) a tendrilled vine is also known as ‘Wan’ and “ a tendrilled vine thus could be understood to intensify the symbolism of the flowers or fruit…”.. Gourds of this bottle shape are ‘hu lu’, homophone to words meaning, on the one hand ‘blessing’, on the other, ‘protect, shield or guard’. All gourds and melons have lots of seeds and grow on vines and thus all are associated with fertility, and so back to ‘wan’ as a tendrilled vine and the puns mount up!

Below are images and marks and closeups of the scrolls and petals and gourds of a series of this pattern. I have included all the examples I have in this report – about 65 – just to show all the ‘evidence’ for my conclusions. Keep an eye out for the following elements:
• Scrolls handdrawn or stamped (all but one example have handdrawn or mostly handdrawn scrolls)
• Wan Shou Wu Jiang characters handdrawn or stamped (>95% are handdrawn)
• Wan Shou Wu Jiang characters red only or red outline, infilled with gold (59% are red only)
• Key fret present or absent, red or multi-coloured (All examples except one have a key fret, 6 are red, the rest are multi-coloured)
• Base marks handwritten or stamped, look at the range of marks (it’s actually quite narrow – see list below)
• Ground colours: yellow, turquoise, carmine red, royal blue and pink. The colours of the flowers and the gourds changes with ground colour.
• The combinations of all of the variables above which lead to the most of these examples being quite individualistic.

gWSWJ_0055gWSWJ_0112 gWSWJ_0114 gWSWJ_0120 gWSWJ_0124 gWSWJ_0163 gWSWJ_0167 gWSWJ_0181WSWJ_0243gWSWJ_0187 WSWJ_0237 WSWJ_0195b WSWJ_0195 WSWJ_0190WSWJ_0248 WSWJ_0262 WSWJ_0267 WSWJ_0268WSWJ_0361WP WSWJ_0367 WSWJ_0381 WSWJ_0421 WSWJ_0457 WSWJ_0462 WSWJ_0468 WSWJ_0476 WSWJ_0484 WSWJ_0488 WSWJ_0497 WSWJ_0503 WSWJ_0508 WSWJ_0509 WSWJ_0525 WSWJ_0530 WSWJ_0536 WSWJ_0537 WSWJ_0556 WSWJ_0585WSWJ_0631WSWJ_0632 WSWJ_0717 WSWJ_0720WSWJ_0280 WSWJ_0334 WSWJ_0335 WSWJ_0352 WSWJ_0357 WSWJ_0361B WSWJ_0361D

There is a range of marks but most are Guangxu or Qianlong reign marks of some sort or another. There is only one private company mark and no factory marks. Almost all of the decoration is handdrawn ( most of the scrolls, the flowers, leaves, characters, even some of the key frets are individually outlined). All these aspects point to a late Guangxu and Republic period dating for most of these examples.

As mentioned in the Introduction, I believe that the source for this design is depicted on the ‘Everlasting Spring’ version of the Guangxu Wedding Porcelains. All the elements of gourd, flower, leaf and scroll are present. The key fret becomes multi-coloured in most cases, colours vary and the individual elements all change slightly depending on the maker or studio. Reign marks are used rather than private company marks, probably because this is a design based on an Imperial prototype (this certainly seems to be the case for many other patterns and their marks).

Shapes with this pattern are overwhelmingly utilitarian, plates, bowls, dishes, spoons, platters, serving dishes, tea sets and dinner sets. I have never seen an example of this Wan Shou Wu Jiang pattern on a vase.

(There are two main relevant melon species here: Momardia Balsamina and Momardia Charantia. The former has a fruit which is small, about the size and shape of a warty pecan nut, yellow/orange/red in color as it ripens. When ripe, the fruits burst apart, revealing numerous seeds covered with a brilliant scarlet, extremely sticky coating, see first two images below.

Momardia Balsamina 1 Momardia Balsamina 2

Momardia Balsamina 3Momardia Balsamina 4

This fruit is integral to a Daoguang to Guangxu Imperial porcelain pattern in which the bursting fruit, the flower, leaves and vines with tendrils are rendered on a white ground, with a single sprig of bamboo and a single butterfly, as shown above. The pattern is often mistakenly called ‘Pomegranate’ in the West, being confused with the pomegranates from the ‘Sanduo’ group of three fruits or more rarely just pomegranates on their own.

The latter, Momordia Charantia, is the bitter melon or ‘ku gua’ used in cooking in China and India for its health benefits. It is an acquired taste, but many people love it. The leaves and flowers are similar to M. Balsamina above, but the melons are longer, wartier and are picked green, see below. The naturalistic version of this ‘gua’ pattern is also shown below, on the right. This particular pattern originated in the early-mid Qing period, with most examples from the 19th century.  It is depicted with naturalistic bamboo and a butterfly –

Momardia Charantia 1 Momardia Charantia 2

Momardia Charantia 3 Momardia Charantia 4

According to Bjaaland Welch in her book on symbolism in Chinese Art, the addition of a vine to a design adds the understanding of ‘completely and continuously’ to the original symbol, be it gourds for fecundity or peaches for longevity.” “Hence, a gourd (or melons) [‘Wan’ also meaning 10,000] surrounded by its vine or foliage is all the more auspicious because the meaning has now been enhanced by the formulaic expression of ‘many’, as in wishing someone ‘many offspring’, if the gourd is to be understood as a fertility symbol” and, “Butterflies and gourds are another popular combination….when combined with melons (gua)… or any other seed bearing fruit, they express the desire for repeated generations of children”. “One of the most important roles bamboo (zhu) plays in art is that it has a homophone that means ‘wish, or to convey a wish, congratulate’ so its inclusion in a grouping of flowers or a landscape is used to strengthen the ‘wishing you’ component of an artist’s wordless message”.)

5. Bao Xiang Hua Pattern (‘Lotus Scroll’)

This pattern has many of the same elements as the previous ‘gua’ pattern – the variable ground colours, the scrolls and the multi-coloured key fret borders. At first it even looks a little like it. But, on closer inspection, the details make it quite different.  The crucial difference, decoratively, is that the flower in this pattern is an artifice, a combination of the peony, lotus and chrysanthemum. We in the West have erroneously called this flower a lotus or a peony. It is actually called ‘Bao Xiang Hua’ in China and has been used decoratively on many forms of art but also on much porcelain, including blue and white wares.  “Hua is flower in chinese and Bao Xiang is the respectful word used by Buddhist to address the portrait of Buddha. It is an imaginary flower which accompanies the spreading of the religion in Wei and Jin Dynasty.” (KhChan, Gotheborg Discussion Board).  See the image below.

BaoXiang Flower The Bao Xiang Hua, an imaginary flower with elements of the peony, lotus and chrysanthemum, with its acanthus-like leaflets emerging from its four ‘corners’. The term ‘Bao Xiang Hua’ also refers to the multitudinous blue and white versions of this ‘flower’ throughout Chinese history.

So the ‘Bao Xiang Hua’ flower is depicted between the Wan Shou Wu Jiang medallions, but it usually alternates with a red ‘Shou’ symbol, which may in turn be topped by a bat or, more rarely, a butterfly.  In a few instances, the Bao Xiang Hua is replaced by a sunflower, usually on pieces from around the 1970s.

Shou characterShou + bat

Shou + butterflySunflower

From top, left to right: Shou symbol; Shou plus Bat; Shou plus Butterfly; Sunflower replacing Bao Xiang Hua

As you will see after looking at the examples below more closely, the details of the scrolls, the Wan Shou Wu Jiang characters and the marks all show marked differences as well. So, whilst looking at the images below keep in mind the following elements:

Scrolls handdrawn or stamped (almost all except the reign marked examples have stamped scrolls)

  • Wan Shou Wu Jiang characters handdrawn or stamped (most are stamped, again excepting the reign-marked ones)
  • Wan Shou Wu Jiang characters red only or red outline, infilled with gold (only reign-marked and Minan Gongsi examples have gold outlining, the rest are red only)
  • Key fret present or absent, red or multi-coloured (All examples have multi-coloured key frets, except the ginger jars which seldom do anyway)
  • Base marks handwritten or stamped, look at the range of marks (all marks are stamped except for one of the Minan Gongsi, private company, marks)
  • Ground colours: yellow, turquoise, carmine red, royal blue and pink.
  • The combinations of all of the variables above which make most of these examples seem quite similar – i.e. factory produced. However, there is a definite increase in quality with increasing age. This can be seen in the number of different colour enamels used, the density of the scrolls, and the application and intensity of enamels.

bWSWJ_0008 bWSWJ_0018 bWSWJ_0023 bWSWJ_0025 bWSWJ_0042 bWSWJ_0042b bWSWJ_0042c bWSWJ_0043 bWSWJ_0047 bWSWJ_0048bWSWJ_0068 bWSWJ_0087 bWSWJ_0089 bWSWJ_0102 bWSWJ_0119 bWSWJ_0119b bWSWJ_0123 bWSWJ_0130 bWSWJ_0131 bWSWJ_0132 bWSWJ_0133b bWSWJ_0134 bWSWJ_0135 bWSWJ_0141 bWSWJ_0151 bWSWJ_0156 bWSWJ_0158 bWSWJ_0159 bWSWJ_0261 bWSWJ_0269 bWSWJ_0287a bWSWJ_0287b bWSWJ_0351 bWSWJ_0415 bWSWJ_0500 bWSWJ_0543 bWSWJ_0566 bWSWJ_0575 bWSWJ_0631a bWSWJ_0666 bWSWJ_0673

Before analysing the marks for this pattern, it is worth noting a few aspects of the design which are different from the preceding ‘Gua’ pattern:

  • The scrolls are all crudely stamped rather than handdrawn. However, in some of the older pieces small leaflets have been added by hand
  • Most Wan Shou Wu Jiang characters are stamped. Some of the older examples with Qianlong or private company marks are handdrawn, and only two have gold applied to the characters
  • All examples have multi-coloured key frets, except the ginger jars which have ruyi borders instead of key frets. Only the Qianlong and private company marked examples have iron red colour in the key frets.
  • All base marks are stamped except for the ‘Minan Gongsi’ marked tea bowl

Looking at the marks, it is apparent that there is little overlap between the marks of the two different patterns, the ‘gua’ flower & scroll vs ‘Bao Xiang Hua’. They seem to fall into two very different groups. It is apparent that the Bao Xiang Hua wares are predominantly from the People’s Republic of China period, post 1949. The exceptions would probably be the Qianlong and private company marks, which also exhibit more handdrawn elements, better quality enamels and are therefore dated to the Republic period.

Within this group it possible to further differentiate the marks, enamel application & quality with age. I therefore postulate that the ‘circle marks’ with numerals are 1950s-60s, the ‘Zhong Guo Jingdezhen =letter=’ marks are 1960s-1970s, and the ‘Zhong Guo Jingdezhen ‘MADE IN CHINA’ =numeral=’ marks  are 1980s to present.

bWSWJ_0008_mark Circle marks with numerals, 1950s-60s

bWSWJ_0023_mark2 ‘Zhong Guo Jingdezhen =letter=’ marks, 1960s- 70s

bWSWJ_0018_mark Zhong Guo Jingdezhen ‘MADE IN CHINA’ =numeral=’ marks, 1980s onwards

Summary

The Summary Table below outlines my present state of thinking on the genesis and evolution of Wan Shou Wu Jiang wares since the Late Qing period. The two wedding patterns gave rise to their respective derivatives, each of which was produced for a certain time period and then disappeared. The Bao Xiang Hua group seemingly replaced the ‘Gua’ flower, leaf & scroll pattern after 1949, perhaps because the latter was associated too much with the Qing Dynasty/Republic of China and its political disenchantment. I am not suggesting that the Bao Xiang Hua Wan Shou Wu Jiang pattern has any ‘genetic’ relationship with the previous patterns. It is actually remarkably absent on porcelains of the Republic era, with the exceptions of the 4 character red Qianlong-marked examples. The coral ground examples have been made intermittently since the Late Qing, at first by private companies and then mass produced from the 1970s onwards. The rest of the Miscellaneous group is included for completeness.

Summary Table

Summary Table: Conceptual Timeline for Wan Shou Wu Jiang porcelains since the Late Qing period.

Bibliography

Chinese Art, A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery 2008  ISBN-10: 0-8048-3864-X  ISBN13: 978-08048-3864-1  Patricia Bjaaland Welch, Tuttle Publishing

Porcelains Made for the Grand Imperial Wedding of the Guangxu Emperor  2004 By Ronald W. Longsdorf    Orientations Vol 35, No 5 June 2004 pp24-31

The Tongzhi Imperial Wedding Porcelain   1996  By Ronald W. Longsdorf    Orientations Vol 26 No 9 October 1996 pp69-78

Gugong Museum: GUANYANG YUCI: GUGONG BOWUYUAN CANG QINGDAI ZHI CI GUANYANG YU YUYAO CIQI. (Official Designs for Imperial Porcelains: Qing Dynasty Official Designs for the Manufacture of Porcelain and Imperial Ceramics in the Collection of the Gugong Museum). Beijing, 2007  ISBN 978-7-80047-638-9. The Forbidden City Publishing House, 335 pp.

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11 thoughts on “Some notes on Wan Shou Wu Jiang (万寿无疆) Porcelains since the Late Qing period

  1. Dear Keith, thank you for your comment. As you have now discovered, changing you browser will fix this problem. I know that Google Chrome works better for some, Internet explorer for others and not sure about Firefox, but it must be something in the settings and one may be able to fix it from ‘within’, i.e. within your current browser settings – I just don’t know how, I’m sorry.
    Thanks, Michaela

  2. Thank you for the education. its the most I have learned in 10 years since I have my bowls. I myself, have a pair of the Momardia Balsamina very large imperial china bowls in perfect condition. Mine are this exact pattern with the guangxu blue signature on the bottom…only difference.. mine are in brilliant cobalt blue-ground!!! they were gifted as a wedding present to an elderly couple I cared for years ago they both live to be over 98…and then gifted to me by the family on a garage sale day, so the meaning of well wishes and many generations makes all the sense to me as a wedding gift already as an antique! I wonder what they are worth!

  3. Thanks so much for the wonderful research and I do appreciated your great efforts. Now I have a much better understanding of Wan Shou Wu Jiang porcelain. I also noticed that all the porcelains that I collected (mainly plate, bowl, tea saucers and cups, and etc) in last few monthes can be dated PRC and later. I look forward to collecting some dated Qing or Republic.

    Have a wonderful day!

    Joshua

  4. Hi. After reading your very thorough article I’m thinking that my pieces might be much newer than originally thought. Could you take a look at this mark and these gold 9.75″d dinner plates & tea bowls. TIA

    • Hi, I’m sorry but I am unable to pass comment on this blog at this stage. There are plenty of online asian art forums on the net generally and facebook. I suggest that you upload your images there and see what response you get. Good Luck!!

  5. I have a platter and two serving bowls with the raised pattern plus lead on the serving side. I have a marvelous covered serving bowl with lid that is porcelain inside, so no worries about the lead in the pattern. I have determined it is Rose Mun Show….can you comment on that and also the lead concerns? I search for Wan Shou and Mun Shou and the same information comes up. I would like to know what I have, purchased in Indonesia but stamped made in China. Any information would be helpful. I am planning on selling it but can’t find enough info about it, or it’s value, or the history of Mun-Shou. Thanks!

    • Sorry Carol, I am not able to make comments at this stage, but I suggest that you post pictures onto one of the many online or facebook chinese art and ceramics websites. Somebody should be able to help you. Good Luck!

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