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Oriental China - The Tsing Dynasty

( Originally Published 1911 )

BEARING in mind the struggle between the Mings and the Tartars, which lasted, as we have seen, from 1616 to 1644, we may take Shun-che (1644–1661) as the first real Tsing Emperor. Properly, the title of the dynasty, which has existed to our own times, would be the Manchu, Manchoo, or Tae-tsing or Ta Tsing dynasty, which is the twenty-second Imperial dynasty. The most distinguished Emperor in connection with the manufacture of porcelain was the second, named Kang-he, who had a long and peaceful reign from 1661 to 1722; in fact, he is the only Emperor who reigned for a complete Chinese cycle of sixty years, and we shall find amongst our marks that the sixty-first year is distinguished by a cycle mark and not by the " nien-hao," or name mark.

Under Kang-he's guidance the porcelain manufacture received an immense impetus. Many improvements were adopted and new colours introduced, especially the enamel colours. Amongst the noted potters living long before his reign were two whose names have come down to us, although identification of their work is impossible. The famous Pung, as before noted, was an excellent potter, but he was only copyist of old forms. Chow was a later potter who, near the end of the Ming dynasty, also excelled in imitating ancient vases. The work of these two old potters were copied at first by potters of the Kang-he period. "Franks" says: " It is probably to this reign that we must refer most of the old specimens of Chinese porcelain that are to be seen in collections, even when they bear earlier dates."

What generally were the qualifications and characteristios of the productions of King-te-chin in this reign ? Our illustrations, which should be read carefully, will give guidance to the careful student regarding the Chinese porcelain that was then produced. There seems to have been little doubt that the three-coloured pieces, decorated with yellow, green, and aubergine, were direct copies of the Ming products. Aubergine is a puzzling word and requires explanation. It is a transparent enamel resembling the egg plant in the variation and gradation of its colours, from grey to purple or having various shades up to a rich brown. It will be found in the trees, stems, and branches, forming a principal part of the scheme of colour decoration. The black family—"farnille noire "—is of the same period. The black may be composed of other colours, but it is usually coated with a transparent green enamel. Notice that there is a dull black, a mirror black, and this black covered with green enamel. Kang-he black will receive due attention in the illustrations. It is rare and very valuable.

Perhaps the finest porcelain produced during the Kang-he period was the green family, sometimes used with blue under the glaze. Wan-leih, the Ming Emperor, is sometimes credited with introducing this green enamel. This, however, seems very improbable, for twice in his reign the Japanese invaded Korea, and the Tartars were always in rebellion. On the whole the balance of evidence points to the green family as being a genuine product of the Kang-he period. Another product of the same period was the green enamel used with blue enamel over the glaze, so that it is well to note that the fine greens which are classified as "famille verte" are usually ascribed to this period. The blue and white of the Kang-he period has been noted before. The most lovely quality of this decoration must be always referred to this period.

Whether we consider the cobalt blue as a colour, as in the celebrated ginger jar with prunus flowers sold at Christie's for 5,900 guineas, or such pieces as we show in our illustration from Mr. Duveen's collection, worth L2,000 each, from 1720 right down to our own times this ware has been copied and ever recopied, but there is something in the blue used for decoration, something, too, in the quality of the white porcelain itself, and again something in the glaze, an intense brilliancy. These furnish a combination which has never been rivalled.

The Kang-he period was noted for a very rare biscuit Celadon, in which the surface of the panels in relief is unglazed, though the remainder of the decoration is blue under the glaze. Another fine quality of porcelain was that with archaic decoration having conventional flowers and bands in black and green. The marks of the Kang-he period vary. In the earlier part of his reign the double blue circle and the Kang-he nien-hao are frequent, but collectors must note that many specimens of this period have no date mark at all. If the two blue rings are used there are no letters inside. The reason of this is rather curious. In 1677 the superintendent of the works gave an order to the factories at King-te-chin, in which he forbade the inscription of the Emperor's name or the characters which gave the history of their sacred great men. This order was given because it was thought that if the porcelain was broken it would be reflecting upon the honour of the Emperor or of these sanctified persons who were represented not alone by insoriptions, but by paintings used in the decoration. However, this law did not remain in force for a very long period. When a piece is found with empty rings or with the symbol marks of the fungus leaf, &c., it can be assigned to a few years later than 1677. The importation to Europe had reached considerable dimensions before this.

We read that in 1664 nearly 50,000 pieces of rare Japanese china were imported into Holland and about 17,000 more of various kinds from Batavia by the Dutch East India Company. In this connection the rivalry between the Dutch and the Portuguese must be noted, because it affected the Oriental trade in porcelain very considerably. Stirred up by the Dutch, the Japanese, in 1640, excited by their fears of the ultimate designs of the Portuguese and the Spaniards, who had later appeared upon the scene, banished them in favour of the Dutch. Some thousands of Christian converts were massacred, and the Dutch were fully established at Nagasaki, where they laid the foundation of that progress towards Western civilisation to which the world, and especially Japan, owes so much.

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