Could you name another ceramic-producing region in China, other than JiangXi Province’s “Porcelain Capital” JingDeZhen (景德鎭)? I could not – until after I started researching.
JingDeZhen has shared its porcelain with the world and profited for centuries; the most recognizable works include the commonplace blue and white ware, or 青花瓷 in Chinese characters. According to 2006’s Trade Taste & Transformation exhibition at New York City’s China Institute, JingDeZhen exported tea wares to Japan during the last two decades of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), from 1620 to 1645. The exhibit catalogue showcases articles that appeared to have been crudely manufactured, or even damaged. Indeed the clay was occasionally low-grade, and craftsmen designed and painted some pieces in haste. In Japan, traits such as asymmetry and serendipitous imperfections are deemed aesthetic and highly desirable.
A good example is the set of dishes embellished with doodle-like drawing, used to serve kaiseki cuisine (懐石料理) prior to tea ceremony. Without reading the catalogue description I would not have deciphered the scene depicting a squirrel nibbling on two melons, on all five plates.
The Japanese tea ceremony essentials — or the three must-have items in any starter kit — are the bowl, spoon, and last but not least, whisk – which can never be ceramic. During this period, the Japanese market also procured heavy, brittle ewers and water jars capable of withstanding stovetop heat. Even more impractical is a porcelain ladle used to transfer hot water from the jar to the matcha bowl. The exhibit catalogue elucidates further – the ladle’s function is most likely ornamental.
Almost all of the pieces’ edges and rims exhibit the effect of mushikui (虫食い), literally “moth-eaten.” Mushikui is prized in Japan and not a sign of antiquity; in other words, these wares have been “moth-eaten” since day one. The catalogue describes the process as follows:
Mushikui occurs when the badly levigated clay of the body shrinks more rapidly than the glaze as the fired porcelain cools. The glaze on the edges, rims, and pointed surfaces flaked off easily, revealing the white, or more usually, grey body underneath.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Personally I do not like my porcelain to have any mushikui.
JingDeZhen’s ceramic producers must have been flustered when the World Crafts Council (WCC) in 2015 named FuJian Province’s DeHua County as “World Ceramics Capital.” The city ChaoZhou in GuangDong Province might be the runner-up?
If you are interested in studying these porcelain pieces in greater details, the exhibit catalogue is available on the China Institute’s website.
Images provided are of the catalog mentioned in the post and were taken by the author