Chinese Imari Porcelain

Chinese Imari - What is it?

This name is used for a pattern and/or colors given to a specific type of Chinese export porcelain.

During the early years of the Qing dynasty, in the 17th century, the imperial court imposed a sea prohibition, virtually banning all trade with foreign trading entities or countries. The purpose was to prevent the forces of Zheng Chenggong (鄭成功), a Ming loyalist now based in Formosa (Taiwan), to try restoring the Ming dynasty by attacking the Qing on the mainland.
This prohibition interrupted all activities on the sea, including trade.

Imari bowl
of Chinese origin



After losing the lucrative trade with China, European trading houses, especially the Dutch VOC, were quick to source the valuable porcelain in Japan.

These ceramics made by kilns on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu were exported via a port called Imari, hence the name given to the Japanese porcelain bought by the Europeans.

After the majority of the porcelain exports shifted from Ming China to Japan, the Japanese kilns first copied Chinese patterns and produced similar decorations as China, gradually changing them to more Japanese style  patterns.
However, after the sea prohibition (sea ban) was lifted, and aided by Japan's seclusion imposed by the Tokugawa shogunate at about this time, Chinese kilns didn't waste any time to grab much of the export business back.

In order to conform to the taste of these Imari patterns the Chinese kilns initially copied the Japanese Imari patterns to be able to re-enter the European export market. Therefore, some of the very early Imari patterns on Chinese porcelain look almost exactly like Japanese patterns.
Porcelain with these Japanese-influenced decoration patterns are found mainly in the colors red, blue and gilt.
In the west these patterns made in China are called Chinese Imari as opposed to the original Japanese Imari.

Due to the above reasons and time of its origin, this porcelain pattern is most abundant in export porcelain of the early Qing dynasty, especially the Kangxi reign (1662-1722), when the bulk of the porcelain trade shifted back to China.



Antique China Patterns