There is nothing more remarkable in the history of the porcelain of
China, than the fact of the concentration in one spot, for so many
centuries, of an industry for the supply of almost the entire
population. So that as regards porcelain, as China stands to the rest of
the world, so the town of King-te-chen stands to the rest of China. In
fact, to parody a French saying,–‘_Qui dit porcelaine dit la Chine, qui
dit la Chine dit King-te-chen_.’

Let us then consider the position of this town, above all in relation to
the three principal outlets of its trade–I mean the supply of the court
at Pekin, the export at Canton, and the general demand of the country.
If the reader will consult a good map of China, one that shows the
rivers, for these are the real trunk-lines of the commerce of the
country, he will soon understand in what a commanding position
King-te-chen is placed. It is true that the distance from Pekin is not
far short of a thousand miles, following the winding course of the Grand
Canal, the Yang-tse river, and the waters of the Po-yang lake; but by
this route there is water communication without a break for the whole
way.[76] So again the whole journey to Canton may be made by boat, with
the exception of a short portage over the watershed on the borders of
the provinces of Kiang-si and Kuang-tung. This was the route taken by
Lord Amherst in 1816-17, when returning overland from Pekin to Canton.
The journey is well described by Sir John Davis in his _Sketches of
China_. As they approached the Po-yang lake, the porcelain shops and
depôts in the towns became more and more prominent. These were supplied
from the emporium at Jao-chau Fu, the great city near the spot where the
river descending from King-te-chen falls into the Po-yang lake. Davis
describes the beautiful scenery and the classical associations of the
mountainous country surrounding the lake. Proceeding southward they
ascended the Kia-kiang river, passing by Nan-chang Fu, a great centre
for the commerce of southern China. The river is very shallow in its
upper course, but along it passes a constant stream of traffic, by means
of a narrow passage scooped out in the shingly bed. The Meiling Pass is
crossed by a paved road, partly excavated in the rock and in places cut
into steps–a road made some twelve centuries ago by an emperor of the
Tang dynasty. After a journey of some thirty miles on horseback another
stream was reached, down which they floated to the great Western River
and the waters of Canton. It is by this route that nine-tenths of the
Chinese porcelain that has reached Europe must have passed. How this
porcelain is packed at King-te-chen and forwarded to Canton and to other
parts of China is well shown in a series of native drawings exhibited by
the side of the cases containing the porcelain in the British Museum.

King-te-chen stands on a small river that flows south-west to fall into
the Po-yang lake. At this point, close by the lake, lies, as already
mentioned, the city of Jao-chau, the capital of the whole district and
the residence of the prefect. King-te-chen, however, the town of the
potter, is not directly subordinate to Jao-chau; to the official mind it
is a mere dependency of the sub-prefecture of Fouliang, a small walled
town or _hsien_ in the immediate neighbourhood. It is in the annals of
this _hsien_ that the early history of King-te-chen is to be found. We
may compare the relative positions of these three Chinese towns with
those existing in the eighteenth century between the long straggling
villages of Burslem or Stoke and the adjacent town of Newcastle in the
first place, and then between the latter and the county town of
Stafford. The importance of King-te-chen may, however, be inferred from
the fact that the superintendent of the imperial potteries was often at
the same time controller of the local customs and viceroy of the
surrounding provinces.

King-te-chen, then, was built where the little river flowed out from the
barren mountain tract to the east–a region made still more barren by
the cutting down of all the wood to provide fuel for the kilns, and
whose inhabitants were reputed to be as rude and rugged as their
surroundings. It is from the gorges of this rough hilly country that the
precious kaolin and petuntse are excavated. These substances are formed
locally by the decomposition of the rock of which the hills are
composed, a variety of graphic granite with much soda-holding felspar.

In a narrow space, crowded for more than four miles along the river bank
between shops, temples, and guardhouses, were built the kilns and the
workshops. Towards the south rises a small hill where the tiled roofs of
the temples and pavilions are seen half hidden among the trees. This is
the Jewel or Guardian Hill which commands the adjacent imperial
manufactory. This factory was first established here in the fourteenth
century, but since then it has been more than once burned to the ground
in times of riot and rebellion. The works were last rebuilt in 1866.

Dr. Bushell has translated an official description of the series of
workshops, from the mixing-house to the muffle-furnaces of the
enamellers, the whole enclosed by a wall about a mile in circuit. The
kilns are no longer within the enclosure as they were in Ming times. The
imperial porcelain is now fired in private furnaces scattered through
the town.

The French Jesuit missionary to whom, above any one else, is due the
credit of first describing to the people of the West the nature of
porcelain and how it was made, was living, at the time when the earliest
of his famous letters was written (in 1712), at Jao-chau, the capital of
the district. The letter is addressed to the _procureur_ of the order in
Paris, and it would seem that it was before long made public.[77] It was
followed in 1722 by a second supplementary letter, dated this time from
King-te-chen itself. The Père D’Entrecolles had already been many years
in China, and had before this sent home important letters on other
branches of Chinese industry. The first letter on porcelain gives proof
of long acquaintance with the subject, and it is not impossible that he
may already have corresponded with some one in Europe on the same
subject. I make this suggestion in connection with the curious
coincidence of date between the residence of D’Entrecolles in this
district and the first manufacture of porcelain in Saxony.

These letters were naturally read with avidity at this time in Paris and
elsewhere. The seed fell on fertile ground, and but one thing was
wanting, and that was–some actual specimens of the materials described
by the Jesuit father. The indications on this head, given in the
letters, were indeed quite insufficient, and would rather tend to put
inquirers on a false scent. The writer, for example, had no notion of
the real nature of kaolin, a substance which in one place he compares
to chalk. On the other hand, the technical details so fully given were
at that time new. Since then this information has filtered down through
many books, so that much of it now appears quite trite.

I will confine myself to a few extracts bearing on points of interest
that I may have overlooked elsewhere. These letters are written in the
clear, flowing language of the time, and they are delightful reading.
After giving some account from the _Annals of Fouliang_ of the early
history of porcelain, and describing how the industry was gradually
concentrated at King-te-chen, the Père D’Entrecolles goes on to say:
‘Apart from the pottery that is made all over China, there are a few
other provinces, as those of Fukien and Canton, where porcelain is
made.’ By Canton, in this case, we must understand, I suppose, the
province of Kuang-tung, and this is a piece of information of some
interest. The attempts made to establish workmen from King-te-chen at
Pekin, and again in the neighbourhood of Amoy, from which port so large
a commerce was already carried on with Europe, had, he says, wholly

There then follows a description of King-te-chen, with its long streets
and its population of more than a million, ‘as is commonly reported.’ He
tells us of a rich Chinese merchant who, after making his fortune in the
Indies, had built a magnificent temple to the Queen of Heaven (Kwan-yin,
probably). The European piastres he had brought back were well known in
the district, although this was not the case in other parts of China. We
have a picture of the busy quay and of the three ranges of junks closely
packed along the side, and for a background the whirlwinds of flame
rising from the three thousand kilns of the city.[78] After praising
the admirable police arrangements, he comes to his main subject, the
manufacture of porcelain.

The small vessels that bring down the kaolin and the petuntse (in the
latter he notes the scattered shiny particles–the mica) from a distance
of twenty or thirty leagues are even more numerous than the big junks
that take the finished ware down to Jao-chau. The details of manufacture
that follow–and to quote them would be only to go once more over the
ground covered in a previous chapter–were learned by the Père
D’Entrecolles not only from the Christian workmen, but by frequent
visits to the works themselves. ‘These great laboratories,’ he tells us,
‘have been for me a kind of Areopagus where I have preached’ (I quote
the rest in French) ‘_celui qui a formé le premier homme de limon et des
mains duquel nous sortons pour devenir des vases de gloire ou

In describing the preparation of the paste much stress is laid upon the
care taken to exclude all extraneous matter, especially that which may
have been introduced into the kaolin or petuntse by way of adulteration.
The slip for the glaze–for the latter the Chinese term ‘oil’ is
retained–is said to be brought down from the mountains, where it is
prepared, in a liquid form. The division of labour in the manufacture is
carried so far that a piece of porcelain before completion may pass
through the hands of as many as seventy workmen, to each of whom a
separate task is assigned.

The important part played by moulding, both as a direct process and
subsidiary to throwing on the wheel, is well brought out in this
description. I will give a rendering of the passage in which the process
of moulding is described, as in an English translation in a recent work
there is some apparent confusion. ‘When the piece to be copied is of
such a nature that it cannot be imitated with the potter’s hands on the
wheel, a special kind of clay used only for moulds is impressed upon it
[_i.e._ upon the model]. In this way a mould is made of several pieces,
each of a considerable size. These pieces are now dried, and when they
are required for use they are held near the fire for some time, after
which they are filled with the paste to the thickness desirable in the
porcelain. The paste is pressed in with the hands and the mould is again
placed near the fire. The impressed figure becomes at once detached from
the mould by the heat that consumes the moisture that has made it
adhere. The different parts of a piece separately moulded are now joined
together with a somewhat liquid slip, made of the same material as the
porcelain.’ Great numbers of these moulds are kept in stock, so that an
order from Europe can be quickly executed.

The porcelain painters, he tells us, are just as ‘poor beggars’
(_gueux_) as the other workmen; and he has evidently a very mean opinion
of the art of painting as practised at that time in China: ‘_Ils
ignorent les belles règles de cet Art_.’ But such an estimate of
Oriental art was universal at that time, when everything was measured
from the standpoint of Versailles and the _roi soleil_. ‘The work of the
painter is divided in the same laboratory among a great number of
workmen. It is the sole business of one to trace the coloured circle
that we see near the edge of the vessel; another draws the outline of
the flowers, which a third fills in. One painter does the mountains and
the water, another the birds and the animals. It is the human figure
that is the most badly handled…. As for the colours on the porcelain,
we find all sorts. Little is seen in Europe except that with bright blue
on a white ground. I think, however, that our merchants have brought
over other kinds.’ (The implication is, no doubt, ‘since I have left
France.’ This helps us to fix the date of the introduction of coloured
porcelain into Europe.) ‘Some we find with a ground like that of our
burning mirrors.’ (This is doubtless the _Wu-chin_, or metallic black of
the Chinese. This ‘mirror-black’ is compared to a concave glass
blackened behind.) ‘Other kinds are wholly red, and among them some are
_d’un rouge à l’huile_ (_yu-li-hung_), and some of a _rouge soufflé_
(_chui-hung_), and covered with little points almost like a miniature.
When these two varieties are executed with perfect success–and to do
this is difficult enough–they are highly esteemed and are very dear.’
The _yu-li-hung_, literally ‘red inside the glaze,’ may be taken to
include the various shades of red derived from copper, of the _grand
feu_. The _rouge soufflé_ is explained below. The word ‘miniature’ is
used, I think, in the old sense of an illuminated manuscript. ‘Finally
there are kinds of porcelain with the landscapes on them painted with a
mixture of nearly every colour, heightened by a brilliant gilding. These
are very beautiful, if no expense is spared. Otherwise the ordinary
porcelain of this kind is not to be compared with that which is painted
with azure alone. The _Annals of King-te-chen_ say that formerly the
people used nothing but a white ware.’

The source of the cobalt blue is now discussed and its mode of
preparation. The raw material is thrown into the bed of the furnace and
there roasted for twenty-four hours. It is then reduced to an impalpable
powder in a mortar of biscuit porcelain. The red is made by roasting
copperas to a high temperature in a crucible. The white that is used as
an enamel in decorating porcelain is prepared from ‘_un caillou
transparent_,’ which is also roasted on the floor of the furnace.[79]
This _caillou_ is mixed with two parts of white lead, and this mixture
forms a flux–the basis for the colours. There then follows some account
of the other colours used, but here it is difficult to follow the good
father. He makes some strange statements, which are not all of them
cleared up in his supplementary letter of 1722. There are indeed so many
amplifications and corrections in the latter that it will be well to
combine in our summary the gleanings from the two sources. This second
letter is dated from King-te-chen after an interval of ten years, and
shows a greater acquaintance with practical details.

Passing over the account of the _flambé_ and of some other glazes–to
avoid repetition we will defer our remarks till we come to speak of
these wares in the next chapter–we hear in the second letter of a
valuable material lately discovered which may take the place of kaolin
in the composition of the paste. This is described as a chalky-looking
body which is largely used by Chinese doctors as a medicine and is
called _Hua-shi_.

We will here interrupt the Père D’Entrecolles’s account to mention that
the _hua-shi_ is strictly speaking soapstone or steatite, a silicate of
magnesia. But whether magnesia ever enters into the paste or glaze of
Chinese porcelain is as yet a disputed question.[80] As far as I know,
it has never been found by analysis. The Chinese nomenclature of rocks
is necessarily based on their physical aspect alone. Some specimens sent
from King-te-chen, which were described on the labels as _hua-shi_, were
found at Sèvres to consist of an impure kaolin containing a large
quantity of mica.

To return to the father’s letters:–In China this _hua-shi_ is five
times as dear as kaolin. Four parts of it are mixed with one part of
petuntse to make the paste. The porcelain made with this material is
rare, and much more expensive than any other. Compared to ordinary
porcelain, it is as vellum compared with paper; it is, besides, of a
lightness that is quite surprising. It is, however, very fragile, and
there are great difficulties connected with the firing. For this reason
it is sometimes only applied as a coating to the surface of ordinary
paste. The _hua-shi_ is also used to form an ivory-white slip, with
which designs are delicately painted on the surface of the vessel. (We
may probably identify this _hua-shi_ ware with the _sha t’ai_ or ‘soft
paste,’ so called, of Western collectors.)

What we are told by the Jesuit father about the revival of the
manufacture of celadon is of great interest. ‘I was shown this year,’ he
says, ‘for the first time, a new kind of porcelain which is now in
fashion. It is of a colour approaching olive, and is called
_Lung-chuan_.’ The colour of the glaze is given by the same yellow earth
that is used for the _or bruni_ glaze, and it is often highly crackled.
With this statement we may compare the account which he gives in another
part of his second letter of the revival of the manufacture of archaic
wares. ‘The Mandarin of King-te-chen, who honoured me with his
friendship, made presents to his protectors at the court of pieces of
old porcelain [_sic_] which he has the talent to make himself. I mean
that he has found the art of imitating the ancient ware, or at least
that of a considerable age, and he employs a number of workmen with this
object. The material of these false antiques (Chinese _Ku-tung_) is a
yellowish earth brought from the Ma-an mountains. They are very thick–a
plate which the Mandarin gave me was ten times the usual weight. The
peculiarity of this ware is the glaze made from a yellowish rock, which
becomes sea-green on firing.’ This change of colour, of course, was the
result of a reducing flame, but note the keen observation of the


narrator. ‘When completed the pieces are boiled in a very greasy soup,
and then left for a month or more in the most foul drain that can be
found. After this process they may claim to be three or four hundred
years old, and to date from the dynasty preceding the Ming. They
resemble the real antiques in not giving a ringing note when struck….
They have brought me from the _débris_ of a large shop a little plate
which I value more than the finest porcelain made a thousand years ago.
On it is painted a crucifix between the Holy Virgin and St. John. Such
pieces were made formerly for Japan, but they have not been in demand
for the last sixteen or seventeen years.’ These plates, he thinks, were
smuggled into that country mixed with other goods, for the use of the
native Christians. (_Cf._ the Japanese dish, PL. XIV.)

The account given by the Père D’Entrecolles of the firing of porcelain
is so detailed and accurate that it forms an interesting commentary on
what we have said in a former chapter on this subject.[81] We have first
a description of the man who carries the unbaked ware to the furnace,
ranged on two long narrow planks. Balancing these on his shoulders, he
threads his way through the narrow streets, for the furnaces, as we have
seen, may often be a long way from the factory. He goes on to say, ‘the
place where the furnaces are presents another scene. In a kind of
vestibule in front of the kilns are seen heaps of clay boxes destined to
contain the porcelain.’ These, of course, are the ‘seggars’ already
described. Each piece of porcelain of any size has its own case. The
smaller pieces are packed many together in one seggar. On the bottom of
each of these cases is a layer of sand covered with a little powdered
kaolin. Each seggar forms the cover to the one below it, and so the
whole furnace is filled with these great piles of cases each packed
with porcelain. ‘By favour of this thick veil the beauty, and if I may
so express myself, the complexion of the porcelain is not tanned by the
ardour of the fire.’ The workman, without touching the fragile raw
pieces, rapidly transfers them to the furnace by means of a flexible
wooden fork. There are six inches of coarse gravel in the bottom of the
furnace, and on this rest the piles of seggars. The middle range is at
least seven feet high, the two lowest seggars in each pile being left
empty, as is also the one on the top. The middle of the furnace is
reserved for the finest porcelain, while near the front are the pieces
made with a more fusible paste. The piles of seggars are strengthened by
being battened together with clay, but it is the first duty of the
fireman to see that there is a free passage of air. The seggars are made
in a large village a league from King-te-chen, with a mixture of three
kinds of clay.

The furnaces, he tells us, which are now of larger dimensions than
formerly, are built over a capacious arched vault, and the hearth or
fireplace extends across the whole width of the front of the furnace. It
would seem that the process of firing is carried on more rapidly than in
former days, and to economise fuel and time the smaller pieces at any
rate are taken out a few hours after the extinction of the fire.
Sometimes on opening the furnace the whole contents, both seggars and
porcelain, are found to be reduced to a half-melted mass as hard as a
rock. A change in the weather may alter in a moment the action of the
fire, so that a hundred workmen are ruined to one who succeeds and is
able to set up a crockery shop.

The ware made in European style finds no favour with the Chinese, and if
not accepted by the export merchants remains on the maker’s hands.

We are told of the marvellous _tours de force_ executed in porcelain,
some years ago, for the heir-apparent, especially of certain open-work
lanterns[82] and strange musical instruments. We see from this at how
early a date the future emperor (Yung-cheng) showed an interest in
porcelain. The Chinese, it is said, succeed above all in grotesques and
in figures of animals; the workmen make ducks and tortoises that float
on the water. They make, too, many statues of Kwan-yin,–she is
represented holding a child in her arms, and in this form is invoked by
sterile women who wish for children.

The mandarins, he continues, who appreciate the talents of Europeans for
ingenious novelties, have sometimes asked me to procure for them from
Europe new and curious designs, so that they may have something singular
to present to the emperor.[83] On the other hand, the Christian workmen
strongly urged me to do no such thing. For the mandarins do not yield so
easily as our merchants when told that a proposed work is impracticable.
Many are the _bastinados_ given to the men before the official will
abandon the design from which he hoped so much profit.

‘What becomes of the vast accumulation of potsherds, both from the
seggars and from the firings?’ the writer finally asks. Mixed with lime,
they are largely used to form a cement with which the walls of gardens
and roads are constructed. They also help to build up the new ground
which is reclaimed from the banks of the river. Carried down thence by
the floods, they form a glittering pavement for many miles below the

In the detailed account of King-te-chen given by the Jesuit father, we
find no mention of the imperial manufactory. Are we to understand that
he found no admittance to these workshops? His acquaintance with the
higher mandarins makes this unlikely. Nor can we think that these works
were closed during the long period of his stay in this district. Another
omission that has been pointed out is, I think, more easy of
explanation. The Père D’Entrecolles, while giving in great detail the
method of preparation of the various colours used in the enamels and
glazes, does not say a word about the famous crimson derived from gold,
so largely used in the _famille rose_ decoration. I cannot but think
that this omission is an almost conclusive proof that the _rouge d’or_
was not known at that time.[84] The ignorance of the Chinese of chemical
processes is dwelt upon, and it is especially mentioned that they are
acquainted with neither _aqua fortis_ nor _aqua regia_.