Chinese Export Porcelain & Decoration styles

The following are some of the major Chinese export porcelain types and decorations with foreign or religious motifs.
Ceramics were a major export item for China since the Sui (581-618) and Tang dynasties (618-907).

Eearly exports took one of the three following forms:
As a gift to ambassadors and rulersForeign trade, either over land or by seaTraders coming to China for purchasing ceramics
Chinese export porcelain according to destination:

  • European export
  • Straits export (for Malacca Straits area)
  • Bleu de Hué (for Vietnam)
  • Middle Eastern export
  • South East Asian and South Asian Export
  • Japan
  • Buddhist and Islamic decorations (for various destinations)

Go to Ancient China Trade

Chinese export porcelain for Europe

  • Original Chinese porcelain decoration exported to Europe
  • Custom western decoration commissioned via one of the East India Companies
  • Armorial porcelain, dinner sets, table wares, etc.
  • Decorations like Batavia ware, Grisaille, etc. made specifically for European market (not used in China)
  • Chinese porcelain body exported for painting in Europe
  • Chinese decoration painted on porcelain made in Europe

South East Asia and South Asia

Some ancient Kingdoms in South East Asia and South Asia (Sri Lanka) maintained contact with the Chinese court over extended period of times, resulting in the export of ceramics and other products from China to these.
One of these was the yet relatively little known kingdom of Tondo, in Luzon (Philippines) which was able to trade with China even during the Ming sea prohibition.

Straits export (Peranakan or Nyonya porcelain)
Peranakan porcelain was made exclusively for the Baba Nyonya on both sides of the Malacca straits. The Baba Nyonya were early immigrants who emigrated to the Malacca straits area during the 14th and 15th centuries. Influenced by Malay culture theiir descendants developed an unique local Chinese culture. This also resulted in an especially colorful style of porcelain. In the 19th century they began ordering Chinese porcelain custom-made according to their unique tastes for their festivities and ceremonies.

Bleu de Hu
Hué was the old capital of what is now Vietnam. The name Bleu de Hue means a type of underglaze blue porcelain with largely Chinese motifs, made for the court or nobility in old Vietnam.

Middle Eastern Export

Actually, the indirect export to the Middle East began very early, long before a direct trading routes on land or sea were established. Ceramics exports to the Persian gulf area by sea began during the Tang and Song dynasties when longer sea voyages became feasible.

Export to Japan
A less known export ware is the Chinese porcelain exported to Japan. The fact that Japan for a time completely replaced China as the main porcelain supplier to Europe seems to have obliterated the fact that it imported porcelain from Chinese kilns as early as the Ming dynasty.

Some items exported to Japan show Chinese character marks specifically for the Japanese market. For example:

  • "五良大甫吴祥瑞造" (eight character mark) - this is Minyao porcelain exported from Jingdezhen (Ming dynasty)
  • "吳須赤繪" (four character mark) - exported from the end of the Ming dynasty to the Qing dynasty from Yue Port in Zhangzhou . These wares (so-called "Swatow" wares) have a decoration with prominent red and green colors (Chinese: 紅綠彩瓷盤). They are often erroneously thought to be Japanese porcelain.

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Not all Chinese porcelain found in other countries was made to be sold there. Some were presents by China's imperial palace or government to foreign diginitaries.

Image from a presentation, Southern National Palace Museum, Taiwan

Writing in a non-Chinese language on a jar.

Decorations of Religious Motifs

Islamic Decorations

Islamic decorations were intended either for Central Asia or the Middle East. Some such decorations contain include characters or writings in a Middle Eastern language.

Buddhist Decorations
Buddhist decorations consist usually of Buddhist symbols or images, often contain lotus flowers, and may also contain characters or writings in Sanskrit, scriptures, etc.. Most of these were destined for Southeast Asia, although some went also to Tibet.

Christian Decorations
Such religious decorations were ordered by the clients in Europe. These decorations appear more often than not in black on white ground only.

Daoist Decorations
Daoist decoration consists mainly of Daoist symbols and trigrams. These items are not specifically made as Chinese export porcelain. They were produced mostly for the domestic market, although some such items have gone to overseas Chinese communities and Japan.

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