Chinese Late Ming Porcelain and Trade
The Interactions between Chinese Export Ceramics and Their Foreign ‘Markets’: The
Stories in Late Ming Dynasty
By Wang Guanyu, Peking University
I have been engaged in the research on Late Ming Porcelain Export Ceramics, China-Western Maritime Trade and Cultural Communication for 3 years, and writing the graduation thesis named The Chinese Ceramics and its Westward Maritime Trade in Late Ming Dynasty, therefore, I will focus on the Late Ming Dynasty to observe various cultural phenomena, trying to understand the interactions in the cultural communication between China and other countries and districts through the archaeological discovery of Chinese export ceramics.) Chinese Late Ming Porcelain and Trade is a fascinating area of study
Sino-Western maritime trade has a long history since the southeast coast of China opened its overseas routes at a very early time. According to Hanshu , at least in the Western Han
dynasty, envoys have sailed from the northern gulf of Xuwen , Hepu , China, to Sri Lanka and the surrounding area to undertake some simple tribute and trade activities .1 Due to the development of shipbuilding and marine technology since then, as well as the abandonment of land transport, China’s maritime trade developed at an amazing pace since the mid Tang dynasty. Then the ceramics began to be exported in large amounts and sold in overseas markets as a unique type of international goods. Correspondingly, the frequent contact and interaction promoted by the business affairs also accelerated the development and fusion of the local cultures of different countries and districts.
When time goes to the 16th century, the Western world had entered the Age of Discovery, and the Portuguese and Spanish were the first explorers to reach the southeast coast of China, which was the first time China and the West were directly connected. While the maritime trade led by the Portuguese and Spanish finally started the history of direct trade between China and West, the Indian and Pacific Oceans’ maritime transportation routes became unobstructed and the markets in Europe and the Americas opened up, all creating an unprecedented opportunity for Chinese export goods. This promoted the maritime trade of China to its peak time despite the negative policies of the government.
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As shown above, there 3 important maritime trade routes as follows : The western route conducted by the Portuguese is Macao-Malacca-Goa(India)-Africa-Lisbon, The Sino-Japan rout conducted by the Portuguese is from Macao to Nagasaki, and the eastern rout conducted by the Spanish is Macao/Guangzhou-Manila-Drake’s Bay-Acapulco-Madrid (Figure 1). During this time, the Chinese productions, such as silk and ceramic are the most important commodities to the West and many districts in the Sino-Western maritime trade as important participants and promoting factors of the trade, as well as crucial carriers of culture and technology. The ceramics, compared to other productions in the same period, is fragile but not perishable, retained in large amount till today and continues to be found. According to the existing materials, there are lots of Ming ceramics in Asia, Africa, America and Europe.
Late Ming Porcelain
It is visible that track the cultural communication and conflicts between maritime trade/ cultural circles during late Ming through the archeological discoveries is important way to understand the global cultural interaction. Therefore, we will first expound the traditional function and cultural connotation of the Chinese ceramics and then overview some important cultural/trade circles, the Chinese ceramics collected and found there to discuss the interactions between local market (, people) and ceramics, the representative of Chinese culture.
- The traditional function and cultural connotation of the Chinese ceramics
- Ceramic was first produced in China, some utensils of Shang and Zhou Dynasties unearthed by archaeologists has basically met the standard of a porcelain production. We can say that
protoporcelains were already widely produced during that time in China. After the consolidating and developing in Han and Three Kingdoms Dynasties, the rapid growth in Sui and Tang Dynasties and the enriching in Song and Yuan Dynasties, Chinese ceramic reached heyday in Ming. To the Late Ming, ceramics have 3 main functions: practical device, display device and the grave-goods. In addition, from early Ming to the middle and late period the Curt also used ceramics, which were copied from the ancient bronze rituals as shape origin, as sacrifice utensils.3
Ceramics used as practical devices are mainly dietary utensils饮食, stationeries and daily life utensils 起居. Among them, eating utensils consisted dish, bowl, cans, pot, bottle, cup and so on. This kind of artifacts is mainly tableware, tea and wine vessels, therefore they are often plain in shape and easy to use, and the surface are usually depicted with lots of patterns (sometimes with texts), including Religious Design with Taoist and Buddhist symbols such as the Eight Diagrams and Sanskrit, the implied meaning of auspicious Happiness 福 character, longevity 寿, Wanfutongyou 万福同攸, and Fuguijiaqifugui 富贵佳器, etc. In addition, there all kinds of characters, plants, horses, fish, butterfly…the decorative patterns which were popular in public.
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