Explore / Articles

 

Chinese porcelain: Export ware

Chinese ceramics were first exported in large quantities during the Song dynasty (AD 960-1279). The government supported this as an important source of revenue. Early in the period, ports were established in Guangzhou (Canton), Quanzhou, Hangzhou and Ningbo to facilitate commercial activity.

The ceramics trade established in the Song dynasty was maintained throughout the succeeding Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) and with a few interruptions, the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties as well. The markets were concentrated in different regions at different times, but the global influence of China's porcelains has been sustained throughout. Within Asia, up until the fourteenth century, the potters of Korea imitated China's porcelain with considerable success, and Japan's potters did so for a still longer period. In the Middle East, the twelfth-century attempts to reproduce Chinese wares went on throughout the Ming period. In Europe however, porcelain was barely known before the seventeenth century. The English and Germans produced mass quantities of a similar hard-bodied ware in the eighteenth century.

Chinese porcelain influenced the ceramics of importing countries, and was in turn, influenced by them. For example, importers commissioned certain shapes and designs, and many more were developed specifically for foreign markets; these often found their way in to the repertory of Chinese domestic items. In this way, Chinese ceramics were a vehicle for the worldwide exchange of ornamental styles.

Shop Online

Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99

Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99