Deconstructing the ‘Rice Grain’ Pattern on Chinese Porcelain – Late Qing to PRC

This is an underglaze blue & white pattern which has been made in China for at least one hundred years. Probably the most common pattern ever made in China and exported to the West in their millions, at least over the last 50 years or so. I imagine that almost everyone has owned or eaten off or been exposed to this pattern. It is called the ‘Rice Grain’ pattern, a misnomer because it was thought for many years that the rice shaped translucent elements which characterise this pattern were made by inserting rice grains into the clay before glazing and firing. This is not the actual method of manufacture. The ‘rice’ shapes were made by carefully cutting out pieces from the porcelain and, when glazed, created this characteristic translucency.

Many people only know the most recent Late C20th or newer version of this pattern, all stamped, stencilled and/or transfer printed and still being manufactured in their millions today, served up under Chinese restaurant meals the world over. However, a closer look at the pattern shows that from the end of the C19th to the beginning of the People’s Republic of China (PRC – 1949), some interesting and beautiful forms were made. The best way to show these I believe is to deconstruct elements of the pattern in all its forms.

So, the constant element is the translucent ‘rice grain’ shapes which form the most recognisable part of any example. The layout of these ‘rice grain’ shaped translucent elements is mildly variable but they are usually set out in a radial pattern like flower petals. The examples with Qianlong seal marks have more tightly spaced and seried ‘rice grains’.

However, most other elements of this pattern can vary enormously and almost endlessly:

  • The base marks
  • The decoration within the cavetto
  • The border around the decoration within the cavetto
  • The upper rim border, internally
  • The upper rim border, externally
  • The basal rim border
  • The application of doucai and/or gold enamels to any of these elements
  • Inscriptions within the cavetto

This report will attempt to deconstruct this pattern by showing images of all the elements above, in all their variations. By doing so I hope to show you some interesting and well executed decoration in underglaze blue for this period, give some clues to dating,  and give everyone the tools to further our knowledge of these pieces. It should be remembered that there was a China wide shortage of cobalt for the underglaze blue during the Japanese war with China from about 1937, WWW II, and for some years after the war, so this may explain a relative dearth of blue & white wares during this period.

ORIGINS, AND DATING THE DECORATIONS

Although I can find Qianlong mark & period examples of this pattern without the ‘rice grain’ elements, I can find no early or even mid Qing examples with the rice grain elements. Interestingly, the only references to ‘rice grain’ porcelains are in Western publications, namely Rose  Kerr’s ‘Chinese Ceramics’ (Qianlong mark, but at least C19th) and  George Weishaupt’s  ‘The Great Fortune’ – Guangxu mark & period, see below.

Rice Grain A01 (640x390)Rice Grain A02Rice Grain A03

From Rose Kerr ‘Chinese Ceramics’ p 55, images were in black and white only. Note that the acquisition date (above) is 1883, so it was either quite new or could actually be mid-Qing in age.

“A visitor to Jingdezhen in 1920 noted the continuing popularity of the (rice- pattern) ware, and provides us with a clear description of its manufacture:

‘The wet clay is first formed into a crude cup or plate on the potter’s wheel. After the piece is dried for several hours or for a day, it is carefully scraped with a special kind of knife which conforms to the curvature of the vessel. The next step is to cut in the kernel-shaped holes. This is done by a skilled workman, who uses a small, flexible steel lancet.

I had always thought that the rice pattern was made by pressing kernels of rice into the damp clay. It was not until I saw the actual process that this erroneous impression was corrected.’

The piece was then dipped into or painted with up to thirty applications of clear glaze, until all the holes were filled.” (pp54-55)

Kerr is quoting above from Frank B Lenz’s ‘The World’s Ancient Porcelain Center’, National Geographic 38/5, November, 1920!

Rice Grain A04Rice Grain A05

from ‘The Great Fortune’ ed. G.Weishaupt

So, perhaps this is essentially an export pattern. Supporting this notion is the fact that I have also searched through every book I own on Republic period porcelains, including all the Chinese language ones, and none have images of this ‘rice grain’ pattern. The other possibility is that the pattern is considered so humble that it has not been studied in China as yet, and therefore doesn’t make its way into publications. Certainly in the last year or two, the pre-PRC versions of this pattern have been coming onto the market and fetching increasingly significant prices, so this consideration may be changing as this report is being written!

This means that this pattern has not to my knowledge been faked yet, I have not seen a single one, but with rising awareness and prices it is just a matter of time. Post PRC examples exhibit all the characteristics of the time – stamped, stencilled elements, a smaller number of pattern variations and marks. At this stage it is easy to differentiate PRC examples from Republic and Late Qing examples. This report should be seen as a baseline for authentic examples of this ‘rice grain’ pattern.

THE IMAGES

Most of the examples shown here and throughout this report are of Guangxu and Republic dating. A few are of PRC age and are noted as such. In general PRC examples are very standard in the combinations of their decoration, much of which is stamped or stencilled. The PRC pieces usually have leaf basal borders, chrysanthemum flower mounds or dragons (stamped) in the cavetto, bat and I-ching upper internal borders, diaper upper external borders. The exception is the koi carp example which was purchased in France.

The Late Qing and Republic examples show considerable variation in all aspects and are all hand painted, decorated, and enamelled.

THE SHAPES AND OVERALL PATTERNS

Rice Grain B01 01 Rice Grain B02 02

Rice Grain B03 03 Rice Grain B04 04

Rice Grain B05 05 Rice Grain B06 06

Rice Grain B07 07 Rice Grain B08 08

Rice Grain B09 09 Rice Grain B10 10                                                                                                               *PRC or just before

Rice Grain B11 11 *PRC Rice Grain B12 12 *PRC

Rice Grain B13 13 Rice Grain B14 14

Rice Grain B15 15 Rice Grain B16 16

Rice Grain B17 17 Rice Grain B18 18

Rice Grain B19 19 Rice Grain B20 20

Rice Grain B21 21 Rice Grain B22 22

Rice Grain B23 23 Rice Grain B24 24

Rice Grain B25 25 Rice Grain B26 26

THE BASE MARKS

Below are the base marks found on ‘Rice Grain’ pattern examples.  I am fairly confident that this is a reasonably comprehensive set for Late Qing and Republic period examples (and most come from the examples above), but there may be more base mark types from the PRC (People’s Republic of China) not shown here.

Rice Grain C01 (250x238) Qianlong UB (underglaze blue) 6 character kaishu mark (handwritten) – 1880-1920s

Rice Grain C02 (223x250) Guangxu UB (underglaze blue) 6 character kaishu mark (handwritten) – 1880-1920s

Rice Grain C03 (202x250) Guangxu UB (underglaze blue) 4 character kaishu mark (handwritten) – 1880-1920s

Rice Grain C04 (193x250) UB (underglaze blue) 4 character kaishu mark (handwritten)    Guang Sheng Yu Zao – 1900-1940s

Rice Grain C05 (225x250) Kangxi UB (underglaze blue) 4 character kaishu mark (handwritten) – 1900-1940s

Rice Grain C06 (225x250) UB (underglaze blue) 6 character stamped seal mark – Zhong Guo Jingdezhen Zhi – 1960s-1980s

Rice Grain C07 (233x250) UB (underglaze blue) ‘CHINA’ mark (handwritten) – 1900-1950

Rice Grain C08 (217x250) UB (underglaze blue) Wan Yu mark (handwritten) –  1920s-1970s, but not sure of exact dating

Rice Grain C09 (205x250) UB (underglaze blue) Wan Yu mark (handwritten), plus stamped red enamel Jiangxi Zhen Pin mark in a single red square –  1920s-1970s, but not sure of exact dating

Rice Grain C10 (218x250) UB (underglaze blue) Wan Yu mark (handwritten) –  1920s-1970s, but not sure of exact dating

Rice Grain C11 (193x250) UB (underglaze blue) 5 character stamped kaishu mark – Zhong Guo Jingdezhen plus ‘MADE IN CHINA’ – PRC, 1980s-present

Rice Grain C12 (196x250) UB (underglaze blue) 4 character kaishu mark – Zhong Hua Zhen Pin (handwritten) – 1912 -1950

Rice Grain C13 (193x250) Kangxi UB (underglaze blue) 4 character kaishu mark (handwritten) , in a double underglaze blue circle – 1880-1920s

Rice Grain C14 (213x250) UB 4 character kaishu mark, handwritten in a double underglaze blue circle, ‘ Xiang Rui Qi Zhen’, an aspirational saying – 1900-1930s

Rice Grain C15 (199x250) Qianlong UB 6 character seal mark, handwritten  – 1860s (?)-1920s

Rice Grain C16 (188x250) Red Guangxu 6 character kaishu mark, handwritten –  1880-1920s

Rice Grain C17 (250x248) Qianlong red 4 character kaishu mark, stamped, within a double red square – 1910-1950s

Rice Grain C18 (188x250) UB  4 character kaishu mark, handwritten, ‘ Min Nan Gongsi’  – Private Company mark, 1912-1950

Rice Grain C19 (250x233) UB  6 character kaishu mark, handwritten, ‘Jiangxi Cheng Yong Fa Zao’ –  Private Company mark, 1912-1950

Rice Grain C20 (224x250) UB  2 character kaishu mark, handwritten, ‘ Wan Yu’  – 1920s-1970s

Rice Grain C21 (190x250) UB  6 character kaishu mark, handwritten, ‘Jiangxi Ciye Gongsi’ = Jiangxi Porcelain Company , double underglaze blue circles, Private Company mark – 1912 – 1930s

Rice Grain C22 (231x250) UB Shou symbol circle in double underglaze blue circles, 1880-1920s

Rice Grain C23 (250x250) UB leaf symbol, 1880-1920s

THE DECORATION WITHIN THE CAVETTO

All the examples below are Late Qing and/or Republic unless noted otherwise.

Rice Grain D01 (250x215) Heron and Lotus pond, with inscription

Rice Grain D02 (250x231) Rice Grain D03 (250x250) Heron and Lotus pond

Rice Grain D04 (250x236) Rice Grain D05 (250x241) Five bats encircling a double ‘shou’ symbol circle

Rice Grain D06 (250x222) Rice Grain D07 (250x249)Landscape with sea, boats and mountains

Rice Grain D08 (250x213) Koi carp with seaweed (PRC, 1960s-70s)

Rice Grain D09 (250x231) Rice Grain D10 (244x250) Dragon with pearl and flames

Rice Grain D11 (250x236) Rice Grain D12 (245x250) Facing dragon with pearl and flames

Rice Grain D13 (250x245) Rice Grain D14 (250x234) Chrysanthemum and buds on a mound (2nd one probably PRC)

Rice Grain D15 (250x249) Rice Grain D16 (233x250) Crane in medallion format

Rice Grain D17 (244x250) Landscape with pavilions, sea and mountains

Rice Grain D18 (250x241) Double Shou symbol circle

Rice Grain D19 (250x244) Five bats encircling peaches

Rice Grain D20 (245x250) Duck and Lotus pond

Rice Grain D21 (226x250) Rice Grain D22 (243x250) Flower sprigs

Rice Grain D23 (247x250) Rice Grain D24 (247x250) Dragon & phoenix in overglaze enamels, pearl, flames and stylised clouds

THE BORDER AROUND THE DECORATION WITHIN THE CAVETTO

A complete range of decorations is shown below, although many examples do not have this border or it is simply an underglaze blue line. The range includes:

  1. Red enamel scrolls
  2. Red or gold enamel single ‘shou’ symbols or swastikas
  3. Red enamels floral scrolls with or without:-
  4. Underglaze blue bat and I-ching symbols
  5. Rare bamboo clumps and prunus branches
  6. Rare greenish netting pattern with red flowers

Rice Grain E01 (131x200)   Rice Grain E02 (116x200) *PRC Rice Grain E03 (121x200) *PRC Rice Grain E04 (109x200)    Rice Grain E05 (112x200)    Rice Grain E06 (101x200)    Rice Grain E08 (108x200)  Rice Grain E07 (120x200)    Rice Grain E09 (106x200)    Rice Grain E10 (106x200)    Rice Grain E11 (116x200)  Rice Grain E12 (117x200)    Rice Grain E14 (106x200)    Rice Grain E15 (105x200)    Rice Grain E13 (106x200)  Rice Grain E16 (107x200)    Rice Grain E17 (118x200)    Rice Grain E18 (107x200)

THE UPPER RIM BORDER, INTERNAL

By far the most common upper rim border is the bat and I-ching symbol fret, with four distinctly different examples shown below

Rice Grain F01 (250x221)  Rice Grain F02 (245x250) Rice Grain F03 (250x242)  Rice Grain F04 (245x250) *PRC stamped border (last one, bottom right)

Some of the diaper border variations are shown in the five examples below:

Rice Grain F05 (250x188)  Rice Grain F06 (244x250)  Rice Grain F07 (238x250)  Rice Grain F08 (241x250)  Rice Grain F09 (250x228)

Swastika (and bat) borders, below

Rice Grain F10 (250x236)  Rice Grain F11 (250x219)

This next example from the 1960s-70s carp decorated dish, showing a shell type border, handdrawn

Rice Grain F12 (250x219)

Just a plain ring border

Rice Grain F13 (250x226)

A rare crab and band border

Rice Grain F14 (250x225)

Two examples below of key fret borders

Rice Grain F15 (250x247)  Rice Grain F16 (250x247)

This ‘Buddhist emblems & squiggly line’ example is a one-off

Rice Grain F17 (250x245)

THE UPPER RIM BORDER, EXTERNAL

There is quite a bit more variation in this border.

The diaper border on the external upper rim is the most common:-

Rice Grain G01 (222x250)  Rice Grain G02 (250x234)  Rice Grain G04 (245x250)  Rice Grain G03 (234x250)  Rice Grain G05 (225x250)  Rice Grain G06 (222x250) *PRC                                                                                                                     stamped border

The ‘three friends of winter’ – bamboo, prunus and pine – or flowers of the four seasons are found on earlier examples, sometimes within a diaper border, as shown below, all handpainted.

Rice Grain G07 (250x208)  Rice Grain G08 (250x244)  Rice Grain G09 (232x250)  Rice Grain G10 (250x241)  Rice Grain G11 (231x250)

This hexagonal  border,  (called a turtle back pattern in Japan but I’m not sure of its Chinese name equivalent), is often filled in with doucai enamels

Rice Grain G12 (248x250)  Rice Grain G13 (250x234)  Rice Grain G16 (237x250)  Rice Grain G15 (236x250)  Rice Grain G14 (244x250)  Rice Grain G17 (229x250)

The three examples below show a swastika border with either a bat, shou symbol or a doucai floral scroll

Rice Grain G18 (248x250)  Rice Grain G19 (239x250)  Rice Grain G20 (206x250)

The two examples below show an underglaze blue simple key fret and a typical C20th multi-coloured key fret, the latter very rare on rice grain pattern, especially with the fine quality doucai enamelling

Rice Grain G21 (234x250)  Rice Grain G22 (250x250)

Found on the back of dishes and plates around the turn of the century are these floral scrolls with orange camellia (or peony?)

Rice Grain G23 (215x250)  Rice Grain G24 (216x250)  Rice Grain G25 (215x250)  Rice Grain G26 (218x250)

A mixed border of key fret and flower

Rice Grain G27 (250x243)

On two examples with Qianlong seal marks (but late Qing/early C20th) are these ruyi borders

Rice Grain G28 (229x250)  Rice Grain G29 (226x250)

This overlapping UB zig zag border with iron red enamel floral scroll is quite unique

Rice Grain G30 (216x250)

THE BASAL RIM BORDER

There are two main patterns:  firstly Buddhist emblems with a squiggly scroll, as shown below in a range of styles

Rice Grain H01 (250x177)  Rice Grain H02 (250x240)  Rice Grain H03 (250x205)  Rice Grain H04 (250x217)  Rice Grain H05 (250x236)  Rice Grain H06 (242x250)  Rice Grain H07 (250x224)  Rice Grain H08 (250x244)

And secondly, radial leaf patterns, also in a variety of styles

Rice Grain H09 (250x229)  Rice Grain H10 (250x199) Rice Grain H11 (250x227)  Rice Grain H12 (250x199)  Rice Grain H13 (250x226)  Rice Grain H14 (250x240) *PRC

Rice Grain H15 (250x240)  Rice Grain H16 (250x246)  Rice Grain H17 (250x222)

A couple of examples below show lotus petal lappets in underglaze blue and in multi-colour enamels

Rice Grain H18 (250x214)  Rice Grain H19 (250x213)

The two Qianlong seal mark examples also have unique radial spoke designs on their basal border

Rice Grain H20 (250x232)  Rice Grain H21 (250x235)

This is a singular example of a finger lime (‘Buddha’s Hand’) with a sprig of foliage

Rice Grain H22 (250x230)

Another singular example of an underglaze blue stylised wave basal border (usually seen in green enamel on fencai Dragon & Phoenix pieces)

Rice Grain H23 (250x206)

THE APPLICATION OF DOUCAI AND/OR GOLD ENAMELS TO ANY OF THESE ELEMENTS

There are three broad groups within this section:

Firstly, iron red enamels and gold outline the ‘rice grains’ and a range of doucai enamel colours are applied as floral scrolls. The colour and enamel consistency/texture range is enormous, as can be seen from the examples below,

Rice Grain J01 (250x199)  Rice Grain J02 (250x241)  Rice Grain J03 (250x248)  Rice Grain J04 (241x250)  Rice Grain J05 (250x218)  Rice Grain J06 (250x247)  Rice Grain J07 (250x226)  Rice Grain J08 (250x225)  Rice Grain J09 (250x248)  Rice Grain J10 (250x248)  Rice Grain J11 (250x245)  Rice Grain J12 (250x222)  Rice Grain J13 (250x243)

Secondly, just iron red enamels are used to outline the ‘grains’, the scrolls and flowers applied with  gold and occasionally green enamels. These are usually on mid-late Republic examples and even on PRC pieces.

Rice Grain J14 (250x247)  Rice Grain J15 (250x233)  Rice Grain J16 (250x248)  Rice Grain J17 (250x227) *PRC Rice Grain J18 (250x217) *PRC

Thirdly, and most rarely, the ‘grains’ are finely outlined in iron red enamel and dainty orchid sprigs are applied in between , below

Rice Grain J19 (250x223)  Rice Grain J20 (250x213)  Rice Grain J21 (250x207)

INSCRIPTIONS WITHIN THE CAVETTO

These pieces have a Guangxu, Qianlong or Kangxi UB mark. All have a heron and lotus pond decoration in the cavetto, and all have the ’three friends of winter’ motifs on the external upper rim.  Other elements vary. The inscription on all examples (above the lotus leaf in the cavetto) is the same:

Rice Grain J22 (250x239)  ‘Yi Lu Lian Sheng’ or ‘one road Lotus rise’, meaning continues rising high (an aspiration to or commendation for higher official posts – translation from S. Ng, Gotheborg)

SUMMARY

From here it is a bit of mix and match! This report should have opened your critical eye to all the possibilities, obvious and more subtle, of this interesting pattern. It is not completely exhaustive and there may be several more permutations of each element. I have, on purpose, not shown how all these deconstructed elements can be reconstructed into authentic examples. This would be an invaluable aid to those who wish to make copies. Suffice to say that as with so many other Late Qing and Republic period patterns, there is standard range of decoration parameters and combinations. Those examples which stay within these limits can easily be deemed authentic. Those which don’t, need harder questioning.

Best wishes as usual,

Michaela

  •  Chinese Ceramics, Porcelain of the Qing Dynasty 1644-1911 1986

ISBN 1-851772-642 by Rose Kerr  V & A Publications

  • The Great Fortune, Chinese & Japanese Porcelain of the 19th and 20th centuries & their forerunners, from the Weishaupt Collection 2002

ISBN 3-00-010306-6     Ed. George Weishaupt

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Deconstructing the ‘Rice Grain’ Pattern on Chinese Porcelain – Late Qing to PRC

  1. Thanks so much for the amazing works and much appreciated for what you have researched……..Impressive! I have learned a lot from this article. It seems that most of the staff I collected are very new and belong to PRC (1949 and after). A few things I can help out are listed below for your considerations. By the way I am a Chinese.

    ?? Yu Zao – 1900-1940s ………… It should be “Guang Sheng Yu Zao”

    ? Nan Gongsi’ – Private Company mark, 1912-1950……….It should be “Min Nan Gongsi”. The Chinese word “Min” refers to one of the China’s provinces located in the south part whose name is called “Fujian Province” today.

    ‘Jiangxi Li Yong Fa Zao’ – Private Company mark, 1912-1950………It should be “Jiangxi Chen Yong Fa Zao”

    I am very delighted to volunteer working as your assistant for Chinese translation if you happen to need a bit help. All the best to you and your family!

    Joshua

    • Hi there, I’m sorry I can’t help you on this site. I suggest you try the many Chinese porcelain forums online. There are many who should be able to help you if you upload photos etc of your items. Best wishes, Michaela

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