Chinese Marks
The use of marks and how we know about them

Existence or non-existence of marks in a certain period is best determined through examination of  large amounts of shards, found during excavation of kiln sites.

The heaps of shards found at any kiln site are usually the result of item damage developed during the firing process, or they are items that got stuck to the saggar, and needed to be discarded. It is estimated that generally only about 70% of all fired items were usable.

The shards can tell what decorations or marks were used during a certain period.

Chinese Marks on Decorated Porcelain
Before the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) none of the underglaze blue or decorated porcelain items from Jingdezhen had any marks.
Only during the Yongle reign (1403-1424), the reign of the third Ming emperor, white and blue porcelain made at the imperial kiln in Jingdezhen was marked for the first time.
The mark used was a reign mark having the meaning of "Made in the Yongle years". However, only limited numbers of porcelain was marked that way.

Today only 3.5 cups (three whole and one broken) made of blue and white porcelain are known to have this reign mark. They are in a museum, in Peking. Archaelogical excavations in Jingdezhen, in the strata of the Yongle reign, did not provide any further prove of Yongle marks among the numerous shards unearthed.

Also used in the Yongle reign were zodiac year marks, pictorial marks, auspicious mark, etc., but probably mainly by private kilns.

All these marks were usually written in underglaze blue on white porcelain, however, only few of these marked items or shards were found from the Yongle period.

The Ming dynasty reigns of Yongle, Xuande, Hongzhi, Wanli had marks with Zhuanti style characters, the others were mostly written in Kaiti style.

For Chinese speakers: the Chinese marks of the Ming dynasty are often characterized as follows:
永樂款少, 宣德款多, 成化款厚, 弘治款秀, 正德款恭, 嘉靖款雜

Marks on B/W Yuan porcelain - a controversy

No Chinese marks on blue and white porcelain are known from the Yuan dynasty (1206-1367). That is, up to now none of the underglaze blue porcelain pieces bearing the (Yuan) Zhizheng reign mark has been authenticated as genuine.
Researchers in China seem to be convinced that NO genuine marked blue and white porcelain items from the Yuan dynasty do exist. Archaeological excavations in the Jingdezhen area did not bring any shards or other proof for the existence of such marks to light either.
Whatever the current status of the controversy with Yuan marks is, we have to assume that no blue and white porcelain pieces bearing the Yuan dynasty mark "Zhizheng ...", circulating or being on offer on the market, are authentic Yuan dynasty porcelain.

From the above it is fairly safe to further conclude that both, (1) the absence of authentic blue and white Yuan dynasty porcelain with marks, and (2) the scarcity of marked porcelain from the Yongle reign (early Ming dynasty) are good reasons to assume that none of these two types of porcelain appearing on the antique market are authentic.
Anything that does appear on the market is therefore suspected of being a copy or fake made either later in the Ming dynasty or a modern fake. With many existing Yongle reign marks it is actually known that such marks were used later in the Ming dynasty - meaning they are not period items. Despite the fact that marking of porcelain really took off during the Yongle reign, the number of known authentic items from the Yongle period marked with a reign mark are very few.
It is therefore advised to be wary of Yongle items with that mark in the market. Such items are just too good to be true...

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