The Chinese use two distinct kinds of marks on their porcelain : the one, the Chinese name of the reigning emperor, thus fixing the date of production between certain years ; the other, individual marks, such as the name of the producer or the factory, the destination of the object, or some figure or outline in color or enamel. When Tchin-tsong founded King-te-tching he ordered that every piece of porcelain should bear under its foot the words King-fe-nein-fchi, ” made in the years King-te.” This was continued for over six hundred years, when suddenly, in 1677, Tchang-tsi-tchong, the prefect of the district, forbade the custom, saying, in case an object were broken, the emperor whose name, or the saint whose likeness, was painted upon it, would have just cause to consider his memory profaned.
Under the Ming dynasty from 1368 to 1649, the manufacture of porcelain made great advances, the emperors of this dynasty being all patrons of art. Under this dynasty, in the reign of Siouen-te (1426-1435), the finest objects were made. Belonging to this period we find vases whose handles are decorated with a red fish. An extremely small flower painted in dull color in the centre of a cup is a mark of this period Combats of crickets were a favorite decoration; a young girl is especially mentioned who incised these combats beautifully in the paste. Enamelled vases were made to imitate the skin of the Kio (a kind of sweet orange). When this is found in the bottom of white cups it is of dull color. An extremely small phoenix and dragon in enamel are found on objects made in this period for the use of the Emperor, also some pieces on which are represented cock fights.
The reign ranking second among the Mings for its porcelain is that of Tching-hoa (1465-1487). To this period belong objects on which are painted a hen with her chicks, cock fights, a kind of grasshopper, also objects with grapes in enamel or with the fruit of the nelumbium speciosum, indicating vases for wine; and objects with the flower peony-moutan sheltering a hen with her chicks. This flower was also painted on porcelain of Ting-tcheou made in the first years of the Tsongs (960-1279).
The porcelain of the Mings ranking third was that of the period Yong-lo (1403-1424). To this period belong vases with two lions rolling a ball, painted in the centre. These pieces were of first quality. Paintings of two mandarin ducks in the centre of bowls or cups indicated pieces of second quality. A flower painted in the centre of cups marked pieces of third quality.
The reign ranking fourth is that of Kia-tsing (1522-1566). The word ” wine ” written in the centre of a little white cup indicated that it was used by the Emperor, and the words ” decoction of jujubes,” and ” decoction of ginger,” were a mark of the poorest quality used by the Emperor. The word ” tea ” in enamel on the centre of a white cup marked it for the Emperor’s use, and was of first quality.
To the reign of Long-khing (1567-1572), and to that of Wan-1i (1573-1619), belongs the porcelain decorated with paintings called Pi-hi, or jeux-secrets. Also vases of the fine red color tsi-honk- (red of the sky after rain, or of the sacrifice known as ” sang-de-boeuf “), in imitation of the beautiful tsi-hong color of the Siouen-te period (14 26-1435). These vases are called Long yao, because they were made at the imperial factory in the district of Long. This color has been much imitated recently. The words “leaves of the bamboo,” or ” bouquet of epidendrums ” were the mark of vases painted with blue flowers at Kingte-tching during this period ; the four characters signifying the “Monk living in retreat,” mark vases made during this reign. Other date marks of the Mings found on porcelain are Hong-wou (1368-1396), and Tching-te (1506-1521).