As early as the sixth century CE, the city of Jingdezhen produced ceramics. It went on to specialize in making ceramics for the imperial courts.

The city of Jingdezhen, sometimes referred to as Fowliang, has long been known for its production of high-quality ceramics—specifically, porcelain. Jingdezhen is located in the northeastern part of Jiangxi Province, which is in southeast China, just south of the Yangzi (Chang) River.

During the period between 1004 and 1007 porcelain production in the area began to focus on serving the imperial court. The name Jingdezhen derives from a reference to this period as the Jingde reign period of Emperor Zhenzong of the Northern Song dynasty (960–1126). Before 1004, the city was called Chang-nan, which means “south of the Chang River,” on the banks of which Jingdezhen lies. The suffix “zhen” of “Jingden-zhen” refers to the administrative status of “market town” (zhen), a status conferred during the Jingde reign. The growth and development of Jingdezhen porcelain in large part mirrors the development of Chinese porcelain since the early tenth century.

Pottery production in Jingdezhen can be traced to the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), when the city was known as Xinping. In 583 CE the court of the Chen royal family who ruled during the last part of the North and South dynasties (220–589 CE) received pottery from the region, and during the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) on several occasions, Jingdezhen kilns supplied the emperor with objects. Then Jingdezhen’s relationship with the court underwent some starts and stops but began in earnest again during the mid-thirteenth century. Official imperial intervention and direct control by the court originated during the Yuan dynasty (1271–1279); specifically, in 1278 with the establishment of a porcelain bureau (ci ju), porcelain was sent to the imperial court only at the specific order of the court officials in the capital. A director dispatched from the court to Jingdezhen oversaw the making and firing of porcelain and took responsibility for the affairs of the porcelain bureau. In 1295 the bureau expanded, and its director gained higher rank. In 1324 the bureau was incorporated with the local tax bureau, and by 1328 the provincial governor of Jiangxi Province acted as the inspector of porcelain production. Between 1352 and 1354 the kilns ceased production with the pending fall of the Yuan dynasty. Jingdezhen’s status as a porcelain producer that functioned mainly for the imperial court began in earnest during the early years of the Song dynasty. At the start of the Ming dynasty in 1368, an imperial porcelain factory was built on Pearl Hill (Zhushan), located in the southern part of the city. Thereafter, the quantity of porcelain production increased dramatically; the Ming and Qing dynasties, spanning the fourteenth century through the early twentieth century, were the most active periods of production and diversification of Jingdezhen porcelain objects, as measured by court patronage and numbers of export wares.

During the Ming and Qing dynasties porcelain produced in Jingdezhen imitated and sometimes surpassed the brilliance of various styles from other kiln sites: Styles included celadon wares of the northern and southern kilns, which had reached their peak in the Song dynasty; the underglaze blue-and-white wares that attracted consumers worldwide; the blue-white wares (yingqing) with a shadowy blue tint popular during the Yuan dynasty; polychrome and monochrome glazes; and overglaze enamel. The availability of outstanding raw materials such as kaolin (a fine clay) and china stone (petuntse)—with superior durability, delicateness, high translucency, low porosity, and high firing temperatures (more than 1280° C)—contributed to the renown of Jingdezhen’s prolific history of porcelain production over the last one thousand years.

Today roughly half of Jingdezhen’s population actively participates in the porcelain industry. Over the last fifty years, since the late 1950s, the central government of the People’s Republic of China and the Jiangxi provincial government have invested in establishing ceramic research institutes, local museums, and ceramic vocational schools. While the modern status of Jingdezhen porcelain wares pales in comparison to the renown of its imperial past, Jingdezhen’s ceramic training institutes, research institutes, and porcelain industry continue to make it a destination for collectors, potters, and commercial buyers worldwide.

Further Reading

Brankston, A. D. (1970). Early Ming wares of Chingtechen. Hong Kong: Vtech and Lee. (Original work published in Beijing in 1939)

Scott, R. E., (Ed.). (1993). The porcelains of Jingdezhen. London: School of Oriental and African Studies.

Scott, R. E. (2004). Innovations and creations: A retrospect of 20th century porcelain from Jingdezhen. Hong Kong: Jingdezhen taoci guan, and Art Museum of CUHK.

Tichane, R. (1983). Ching-te-chen: Views of a porcelain city. Painted Post: New York State Institute for Glaze Research.

Sayer, G. (Trans.). (1951). Ching-te-chen t’ao-lu; or, the potteries of China, being a translation with notes and an introduction. London: Routledge.

Source: Huang, Ellen. (2009). Jingdezhen. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1216–1217. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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