The town Jingdezhen in southern China is one of the biggest porcelain centers in the world. Historians claim that the city has been producing these beautiful wares since the 6th century CE and has continued production over the centuries. It is also known as the place where beautiful ceramics were made around 206 BC during the Han dynasty.
Because the city was located near the Chang River, it was known as Changnan. The clay for the porcelain was sourced from nearby Mount Gaoling, one of the few areas which provided pure kaolin, an essential ingredient of porcelain.
Pottery-making in the region continued into the Tang Dynasty and its most productive period was in the Song dynasty. It was during this time that the distinctive Qingbai ware was produced: porcelain with delicately carved decorations fired with a pale, transparent, bluish-white glaze.
The most important Qingbai piece was the Fonthill Vase, which is the first documented example of Chinese porcelain being brought to Europe. It was brought in the 14th century as Qingbai wares began to be replaced by the later blue-and-white style of porcelain.
The items, especially the decorative plates, were exported to other countries, including Japan, much of the Islamic World, and South-East Asia. The Europeans received these remarkable pieces of craftsmanship through trade with the Islamic World until the 17th century. In the Ming dynasty, twelve Imperial kilns existed in the city and ceramic production was monitored by a ministry in Jingdezhen.
Thousands of workers were employed in the process of creating porcelain. At that time, the items were made for notables and as gifts for wealthy people. Reign marks applied to these wares were introduced around 1402 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor. Various Jingdezhen items made for the court had red and white colors in addition to the basic blue and white. In the late Ming period, the massive production of porcelain ware seemed to lead to a loss of value and prestige of Jingdezhen pottery.
The mass-produced porcelain was of lower quality and more affordable. Only collectors bought the more expensive and unique porcelain pieces. After the fall of the Ming dynasty, many of the kilns were left unregulated by city officials. They had to find funds from other sources, and this situation persisted for nearly 50 years until the Qing dynasty.
This period saw the porcelain industry rise again. At the end of the 17th century, many kilns were reconstructed, and many workers were employed. Items made during this time are called Transitional and include the Tianqi porcelain style. Thanks to the wider production of printed books, many artists were inspired by story scenes and put them as decorations on the plates, teacups, and other pieces. During this time, famille rose porcelains were created for the luxury market.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the city’s porcelain production was greatly reduced because of its economical problems. In the 1950s, the pottery industry was rejuvenated and massive production began. Both porcelain and ceramic products were made. Today, Jingdeshen has augmented many of its traditional production methods and kilns with more modern equipment.
The remaining kilns are now part of a museum located just west of the city which tells the story of the region’s pottery and porcelain making. There are many workshops in China today that make replicas of these elegant wares, and one of the crafts that has persisted into present day is the making of thin eggshell porcelain for vases. Millions of replicated porcelain pieces are produced every year across the country.