Late Qing/Republican Guangdong Chaozhou Fengxi (枫溪) Porcelain

 

Guangdong Chaozhou had a long tradition of ceramics production.  During the Tang Dynasty, it produced good celadon wares which were exported in some quantity to the Southeast Asia region. Some of such celadon wares were found in the Belitung shipwreck Tang cargo.  The first peak in the ceramics production in Chaozhou was attained during the Northern Song period.  The kilns were mainly located at Bi Jiashan (笔架山) on the east bank of the Han river.  It exported large quantity of good quality Qingbai/white and celadon wares.  The wares were transported to Guangzhou port which was the main point of exit during the Tang/Northern Song period.  During the Southern Song period, Fujian Quanzhou became the main port in Southern China.  Many kilns along the Fujian coast capitalised on its proximity to Quanzhou to produce cheap and good quality ceramics for export.  Guangdong lost out in the competition and many kilns ceased production by the Southern Song period. 

During the Qing Kangxi period, Guangzhou again was designated as the main port of exit.  Shiwan which was located near Guangzhou benefited from its proximity to Guangzhou and became an important export ceramics production centre.  Many workshops were also set up in Guangzhou to decorate Jingdezhen porcelain wares with overglaze enamels based on designs provided by European customers.   In contrast to the earlier period, the kilns in Chaozhou did not benefit much from the export ceramics trade.

 

Emergence of the Fengxi Porcelain Industry

The situation changed in 1856 A.D.  As a result of the 2nd Opium war, the Qing government was forced by the combined European/American imperialists to open up more coastal ports, including Shantou (Swatow) for overseas trade.  The kilns in Chaozhou, Dapu Gao pi (大埔高披) and Raoping Jiucun (饶平九村) benefited from its proximity to Shantou and increased production with Gao pi and Jiucun exporting mainly blue and white and Chaozhou Fengxi producing enameled , monochrome and blue and white wares.  The ceramics wares were exported from the port of Shantou.

 

 

According to the book entitled History of Fengxi Porcelain (枫溪陶瓷历史), Fengxi porcelain production accelerated from 1915 A.D as a result of First World War.   Prior to the war, European transfer print ceramics had eroded the demand for Chinese ceramics in Europe, America and Southeast Asia. Even in China, there was good demand for European ceramics.  The cost of production of European ceramics was low and the design attractive. The war disrupted the ceramics production in Europe and Fengxi capitalised on the opportunity to fill the local and overseas demand.  The period 1915 to 1939 A.D was the golden age for Fengxi Porcelain Industry. 

A major factor contributing to the success of Fengxi porcelain products is the extensive marketing network.  Many Chaozhou people including many from Fengxi migrated overseas to Southeast Asia countries including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.  They set up shops to market ceramics products from Chaozhou.  Some even operated kilns and produced ceramics products, the most noteworthy were cups for collecting latex from rubber trees and also plain flower pots.   The potters from Lai thieu located about 100 km north of Ho Chiminh were known to produce ceramics wares similar to those from Fengxi.  In 1923 A.D,  the Vietnamese Government introduced exorbitant import tax on imported ceramics wares.  According to his book on Chaozhou Fenxi kiln (枫溪潮州窑), Mr Li Bingyan (李炳炎)mentioned that as a result of the  tax rate hike, Chaozhou Fengxi ceased the export of such wares to Vietnam.  As such wares was in demand, the merchants in Vietnam arranged for some of the Fengxi potters to come to Vietnam to produce them locally.  Even the porcelain clays used in Fengxi were imported. 

 
Fengxi type inglaze wares produced in Vietnam
 

The period 1940 to 1945 was the dark age for Fengxi Porcelain Industry. It was ravaged by the war with Japan.  After the 2nd World war, the industry made significant recovery and its products continued to fill a demand in Southeast Asia. 

 

Characteristics and type of Fengxi Porcelain wares

Generally, Fengxi porcelain is slightly under-fired and the glaze tends to have a yellowish tone and have fine glaze crackles. 

An example showing the yellowish glaze which has faint fine crackles. The unglaze foot ring showed the paste to be less dense, slightly grainy and has a yellowish tone.

According to the History of Fengxi Porcelain (枫溪陶瓷历史) ,  during the Republican period Fengxi also imported enamels from overseas to produce overglaze enameled wares.  Like Fencai (famille rose), the enamels were used to decorate high-fired plain porcelain wares. The decorations were done in enameling workshops termed Cai Guan (彩馆).  At its peak, there were 17 Cai Guan in Fengxi which employed around 300 workers.  A second firing of about 800 degree is required to fix the enamels.  Such enamels are thin, even and appear water colour-like in appearance.  Such type of overglaze enameled wares were also produced in Jingdezhen, Dehua, Hebei, Tangshan and other provincial kilns.  

Two example of overglaze enamelled wares.  Compared with Fencai, the enamels do not have the powdery texture and appear smooth and thin . The first made by Rong li (荣利) and second Tao Zhen Yu (陶真玉) factory.  Both are famous makers of fengxi porcelain.

By the late 1910s, the potters in Fengxi introduced another form of enamels from Japan which is suitable for firing at high temperature.  Subsequently, the potters from Fengxi were able to produce such enamels locally and even introduced new new variants.  The enamels were applied on the glazed surface of unfired porcelain wares. Upon completion of the decoration, the wares were fired in dragon kiln at temperature ranging from 1200 go 1280 degree centigrade. During firing, the glaze flowed over and covered the decoration.  Hence, in essence it is a form of in-glaze decoration.  On close inspection, in many examples the decoration appears to be slightly protruding from the surface.  Such wares were termed Fengxi Da Yao Wucai (枫溪大窑五彩).  Locally dragon kiln were called Da Yao ie, big kiln to differentiate them from the small muffle kilns used to fire overglaze enameled wares (locally termed Xiao Yao, ie  small kiln).  As such enameling technique requires only one firing, it is economically cheaper and faster to produce as compare with tradition low fired overglaze enameled wares.  Hence, it subsequently replaced the latter as the preferred way to produce enameled wares.  This can be considered as the most distinctive Fengxi ceramics. 

Republican period Fengxi Da Yao Wucai (枫溪大窑五彩)

Two Republican period examples with interesting sprayed enamels

Besides those with traditional Chinese motifs, there were also those decorated with motifs copied from transfer print motifs found on European and Japanese ceramics.  Even the vessel forms of the table wares were copied faithfully.

Republican period cup with European floral motif.  Product of Ru He (如合) factory.

Republican period Fengxi vessels with  European  motif and vessel forms

Fengxi potters also produced very good vessels with open work. The most popular open work decorations consist of floral motifs, especially prunus.  The major producer of such wares is Jin He Hao (锦合号).  They are glazed white, milky white, yellow, blue, coral red and etc.

Republican period vases with open work decoration

Fengxi potters also produced milky white glaze figurines which are similar to those from Zhangzhou and Dehua.  Both of those produced in Fengxi and Zhangzhou tend to develop glaze crackles and could be hard to tell apart.

Republican period Fengxi Yuan Yin Figurine

The potters from Fengxi also produced distinctive figurines based on characters from Chaozhou operas. For those familiar with Chaozhou operas, they would note that in most of those works, the potters have aptly captured the posture and expression of the characters.

Figurine of Wang Zhao Jun dated to 40/50s

A set based on characters from the Chaozhou opera on the romantic tale of Ming painter Tang Bo Hu (唐伯虎) and Qiu Xiang (秋香). The original was made by master artist Chen Hong Xi (陈鸿禧) in the early 1950s.  This set modeled after the original was most likely dated to the 1960/70s.

Fengxi also produced substantial quantity of blue and white wares. They could be differentiated from those made in Da pu or Jingdezhen by the more yellowish tinge glaze which tends to develop fine glaze crackles.

Late Qing Fengxi blue and white wares

Republican Fengxi blue and white wares

Fengxi also produced a form of Yixing teapot which on casual look appears similar.  Those made in Fengxi is coated on the exterior with a red clay slip which looks similar to those from Yixing.  Hence, the interior revealed the original clay which is rough and of a lighter reddish tone.

Republican Fengxi Yixing-type tea pots

Comparison of Fengxi and Yixing clay pot.  Both examples are from the 70/80s.

 

Concluding Remarks

After the communist took over in 1949 A.D, the Fengxi Porcelain Industry were nationalised.  Porcelain wares continued to be produced till this day. In fact, Fengxi is widely acknowledged as the new Porcelain capital in China.

Fengxi Examples dating from 1950s/1970s

Contemporary Fengxi Figurines

 

 

Written by: NK Koh (New: 4 Apr 2014)

 

Reference:

枫溪潮州窑 - Written by Li Bingyan

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