Pere d’Entrecolles, Missionary of the Society of Jesus, arrived in China in 1700, whence he wrote letters from Jao-tcheou, in the province of Feou-leam, and King-tetching, the imperial factory of porcelain. He writes under date of Sept. 1st, 1712, that while his curiosity would not have led him to study the subject of the production of porcelain, he feels that it may be of service to Europe, and therefore avails himself of his opportunities. He not only has converts among the merchants, but also among the workmen themselves, and collects all the information which they can give him, keeping them continually on the watch.
“The town of King-te-tching,” he writes, “is only three miles distant from, and a dependance of Feou-leam, which is a dependance of Jao-tcheou. A law exists in China that each city shall preserve in writing, the history of the province in which it lies. This history is to include the situation, extent, limits and nature of the country, together with the most remarkable places, manufactures, the manners and customs of the inhabitants,. the persons who are distinguished in arms, in letters, or for great probity. Remarkable women even are recorded ; for in-stance those who, through attachment for their deceased husbands, remain widows. The Mandarin frequently revises this history, and adds or eliminates as he thinks proper. A strict record is kept of all merchandise exported or imported.
The annals of Feou-leam record, that beginning with the Emperor Tang-ou-te, of the dynasty of the Tangs (A. D. 442), workmen in porcelain have furnished objects to the Emperors, and that one or two Mandarins were sent from the Court to overlook their work. A description is also given of the multitude and variety of the habitations of the workmen who make this Imperial porcelain, showing that its manufacture must have reached at this early date considerable perfection. The name of the inventor is not given, nor are the experiments or chance which led to its discovery. Originally, says the annals, porcelain was of an exquisite white, without defects. The objects produced, which were exported into other kingdoms, were known as ” The precious jewels of Jao-tcheou.” And further on we read : ” The beautiful porcelain which is of a brilliant white, and of a celestial blue, all comes from King-te-tching.” That from other factories is very different, both in color and quality.
Aside from the numerous works of pottery made everywhere in China, and which are never called porcelain, there are several provinces as Fou-Kien and Canton, where porcelain is made. But strangers cannot be deceived by these products. That of Fou-Kien is always of a snow white, without brilliancy, never decorated with other colors. All the materials used at this manufactory were transported by enterprising workmen from King-te-tching, under the idea that they would reap a rich harvest from the commerce with Europeans at Emouy ; but they were never successful.
The present Emperor also brought workmen and all the materials for the manufacture of porcelain to Pekin ; they neglected nothing to make a success under his orders, but all their endeavors were in vain. Possibly reasons of interest may have influenced them, but certain it is that now King-te-tching alone sends forth its porcelain to all parts of the world; even Japan sends there to purchase.
King-te-tching only needs to be surrounded by walls to receive the name of a city, and to be compared with the largest cities of China. Towns called tching are few in number, and are such places as have great frontage and large commerce. They are never surrounded with walls, perhaps in order not to limit their growth as well as to facilitate embarking and disembarking merchandise. It is estimated that the population numbers over one million, that each day are consumed over ten thousand ” charges” of rice and more than a thousand hogs. There are large merchants whose factories and houses occupy an immense space and contain a multitude of workmen.
The town extends more than three miles along the bank of a splendid river, and is not, as you might imagine, an indiscriminate mass of houses. The streets are laid out and cross each other at regular intervals ; every inch of ground is occupied, in fact the houses are too close and streets too narrow; in crossing them you think you are at a fair; on every side you hear the cries of the street porters making their way through the crowd. You see many temples with idols built at enormous expense.
Living is much more expensive at King-te-tching than at Jao-tcheou, because everything has to bear the expense of transportation, even to wood burnt in the furnaces. Nevertheless, King-te-tching is the asylum for numberless poor families, who cannot subsist in the neighboring towns, for here employment can be found for young and old, weak and strong; even the blind and maimed can make their living grinding colors. In ancient times, says the history of Feou-leam, there were only three hundred porcelain furnaces at King-te-tching; now there are at least three thousand. Frequently fires occur, and therefore the God of Fire has many temples, the present Mandarin having built one. Not long since eight hundred houses were burnt, but the large profit the owners had realized from renting them caused their speedy reconstruction.
The town is situated in a plain surrounded by high mountains; the one to the east, against which the town is built, is outwardly in form of a semicircle ; and from the two adjacent mountains issue two rivers which unite. One is small, the other very large, and their confluence forms a magnificent port over three miles in length, in a vast basin wherein the river loses much of its velocity. Frequently in this large basin are moored two or three rows of barks. In entering the port your sight is greeted with immense volumes of smoke and flames, which mark the outlines of the town against the crescent of mountains in the background, whose relative position may perhaps be the reason that King-te-tching has surpassed all other localities in the production of porcelain.
The policing of King-te-tching is admirable. It is governed by a Mandarin, who appoints .one or more chiefs in each street according to its length ; each chief appoints ten subordinates, each of whom is responsible for ten houses. The least disorder not immediately suppressed and reported condemns these subordinates to the bastinado, for which the Mandarin holds his chiefs strictly responsible. Each street has barricades which are closed at night, and guarded by a citizen who will admit no one without the password. The Mandarin of the town makes frequent rounds, and occasionally the Mandarin of Feoulearn accompanies him. Strangers are not allowed to sleep in the city, unless at the house of a resident friend, who is held accountable for their conduct..
Porcelain in China is generally called tseki. It is composed of two kinds of earth, the one called fie-tun-Ise (a quartzose feldspathic rock), and the other kao-lin (a hydrous silicate of alumina). These two materials are brought down the river in little flat-bottom boats, after having been made into bricks. The pe-tun-tse is trans-ported some eighty miles, and the best quality is of a greenish hue. It is pounded into a fine powder in immense mortars. The kao-lin is found in mines in lumps of about the consistence of damp clay.. The kaolin gives the element of strength, and in this connection one of my Chinese friends tells me the English or the Dutch (the Chinese name being the same for both) carried home some pe-tun-tse alone, thinking to make porcelain. Of course they failed, and my friend laughingly said, ” They tried to produce a body in which the flesh would stand without bones.”
Other barks also arrive at King-te-tching, laden with a white liquid called yeou (oil), although tsi (varnish) would better apply, which is made from a very hard stone. It can be produced from the same stone as the pe-tun-tse, selecting pieces having green spots. The history of Feou-leam says the best stone for the oil has spots the color of cyprus leaves, or is of a brown color, with reddish spots like toad-flax. To this, reduced into powder, is added one per cent. of a mineral resembling alum, called che-kao. Yeou is always mixed with ten per cent. of an oil made from the cinders of quicklime and ferns burned together. Formerly persimmon wood was also burnt with the lime, but this has become so scarce it is no longer used, which, perhaps, is one of the causes of the superiority of the ancient porcelain. Merchants who sell the yeou frequently cheat by making it from other substances, and some manufacturers use even thirty per cent. of oil made from cinders, but their products are very inferior.
They say a porcelain object when finished has passed through the hands of seventy workmen. Large objects are made in two pieces, joined with the same paste moistened, and the joint polished inside and out with a knife. In this way handles, ears, and other attachments are also made and put on. Pieces of very complicated forms, like animals, grotesques, idols and beasts, ordered by Europeans, are made in several pieces.
Flowers and ornaments not in relief, but which appear to be engraved, are generally made with stamps and moulds. Separate figures in relief are also pasted on. I have seen a complicated piece copied by covering it in sections with moulding clay, which was then withdrawn and dried before a fire. Into these moulds the porcelain paste was introduced and hardened by holding it before the fire. The different pieces were then joined, polished, finished with the engraver’s tools, and the mouldings in relief added. Then the varnish (sic) was applied and the piece baked, after which the object was painted, gilded, and finished by a second baking. To fill large European orders a number of moulds are made to expedite the work.
The Hoa-pei (porcelain painters), as a rule, are not above the common workmen. All the science of these painters, and in general of all Chinese painters, is not founded upon any principle, but consists merely in a certain routine, aided by a limited imagination. They totally ignore the beautiful laws of this art. And yet they paint flowers, animals, and even landscapes on porcelain, fans and lanterns which are much admired. The work of painting is divided in the laboratory between a large number of workmen. One has the duty of making the first circle in colors near the edge of the piece ; another traces the flowers; another paints them; a fourth paints mountains and water a fifth birds and other animals. Human figures are generally the worst treated. However, the reproduction of landscapes and colored plans of towns brought from Europe to China, will not permit us to sneer much at their execution.
In the matter of colors for porcelain they have a great number. In Europe we generally see only a bright blue on white ground (blue and white), whereas they have a great variety. I have seen some pieces where the ground resembled that of our burning mirrors. They make some of a solid red and of different shades and appearances, those of oily red and red souffle having the appearance of being stippled. When these pieces are successful, which is very seldom, they are highly prized and command a large price. There are also objects on which landscapes are painted in many colors and highly relieved with gilding ; these are made very beautiful if you are willing to pay a large price, but ordinary pieces of this kind are not to be compared with their blue and white. The annals of King-te-tching say that in ancient times the people only used white porcelain ; this was probably because at that time the stone was not yet found near Jaotcheou from which the blue is made. That now used for fine pieces comes from a great distance and is very costly. It is reported that a Chinese merchant was once wrecked on a desert coast, where he found more riches than he lost, his find being an azure stone ; he built a vessel, loaded it with these stones, brought them home, and never was such a color seen before or since at King-te-tching. He, however, was never able to find his desert coast again.
Whilst the body porcelain is naturally white, and the oil with which they cover it increases this whiteness, still on certain pieces they apply a surface white in combination with other color decorations. This white is made from a transparent stone, by calcination in the furnace, and azure blue is produced by the same process. Red is made from copperas. Green is made by adding to an ounce of white lead, and a half ounce of stone powder, three ounces of what I think to be the purest scales from hammered copper. Green thus prepared becomes the matrix of violet, which is produced by adding white. Yellow is made of seven parts of white and three of copperas. These colors do not appear upon their application, but only after the second baking.
The oil red is applied by mixing it with the ordinary glaze and a glaze made of a white stone. Perfect pieces of this color are very highly esteemed; when struck they do not ring. The red souffle is made by using a little tube, one end of which is covered with a very fine gauze. This end is gently dipped into the prepared color, the artist approaches it to the object, and blows through the other end ; this is repeated until the desired effect is produced. Such objects are very rare and highly esteemed. Black porcelain is also esteemed, and resembles our burning mirrors. Decoration in gold upon the black enriches the color. Objects are also made surrounded by a shell of open-work, forming one with the interior, which is solid.
I have also seen porcelain decorated with Chinese and Tartar female figures in the most exquisite manner, resembling enamels.
If no other glaze is used than that made from white stones, crackle ware is produced. The glaze gives a grayish white color by itself, but it will produce the same effect on pieces which have been colored. Gold is applied with a brush, after mixing it with white lead in gummy water. We also find pieces where the decoration is out-side the glaze, which is sometimes to hide defects.
Before applying the glaze the surface is smoothed to a polish with a very fine-haired brush which is passed and repassed over it. Great skill is required in glazing very thin porcelain. The interior is first sprinkled with the glaze and allowed to dry, after which the outside is dipped into it. The bottom is left solid during this operation ; it is then hollowed out on the wheel ; a colored circle, and sometimes a Chinese letter, is painted upon it, the glaze is applied and the piece is ready for the furnace.
Objects for export to Europe are mostly made upon new models, often whimsical and difficult to execute. If they are not a success the European agents will not receive them, and the factory has to make the loss, for the Chinese will not purchase objects so different from their taste. Some of those made for the Chinese are also very remarkable; the Heir Apparent ordered a large lantern made in one piece of openwork, so that when a lamp was placed inside it illuminated the whole room ; a little musical instrument like an organ, about a foot high, with four-teen pipes, was made for him, but it was not a success. They make flutes and flageolets successfully, and a musical instrument formed of little plaques of porcelain, giving different sounds when struck. They also make grotesque animals, turtles, ducks, etc. I saw a painted porcelain cat with eyes formed of holes through which shone the light from a lamp. Many statues of the goddess Kouan-in holding a child in her arms are made. Also objects of porcelain which are very delicate and thin, but nevertheless are moulded into most difficult shapes; to effect this, the interior is shaped on the wheel, glazed and baked ; the object is again placed on the wheel, and the exterior worn away by grinding until the desired thinness is obtained, when the exterior is also glazed, and the piece is painted, glazed and again baked. Attempts to make plaques larger than one foot square, for European orders, have always failed.
It is related that once upon a time an Emperor ordered objects of porcelain to be made of a design which he furnished; it was found impossible, but as the Emperors of China, during their life-time, are the most redoubtable of the Chinese divinities, and always believe their every wish must be satisfied, the Mandarins redoubled their bastinados, and the poor artists redoubled their efforts. But it was all in vain, until, finally, one of the poor wretches, despairing, threw himself into his furnace and fed the flames with his brain and body. The sacrifice was accepted, and when the furnace was opened, the porcelain had assumed the de-sired design, and the Emperor was satisfied. The poor wretch became a hero, and in the shape of an idol now presides over all the porcelain factories.
The Chinese are great antiquarians ; indeed, in this respect they surpass all other nations. The date-marks upon porcelain can scarcely be relied upon, and much of the finest antique porcelain bears no mark at all. Hence the antiquarian has to rely upon his taste, and select his gems by form and color. Of course tradition bears its value; thus the smallest object of pottery used by the Emperors Yao or Chun, who reigned several centuries before the Tangs, under whom the first porcelain was made for the Emperors, commands in China an enormous price. The annals of King-te-tching inform us that in ancient times, as at present, objects of various prices were produced ; thus certain urns are mentioned, each of which was sold for fifty-nine taels, that is eighty ecus.
The present Mandarin of King-te-tching, who is my friend, yearly presents to his protectors at the Court, beautiful specimens of old porcelain, for the making whereof he possesses great talent. I had recently presented to me a small plate, on which was a painting of a crucifix between the Virgin and Saint John, and I am told that such paintings were made to fill orders from Japan, but these orders had ceased since 1696.
Mending ‘porcelain is an important business in China; workmen use the diamond to drill little holes, and with a very thin brass wire they draw the pieces together so that the break is hardly noticeable.
One of the favorite colors of ancient times, now counterfeited, is the sea-green, made by mixing with the glaze an oil made from a yellow stone. Pieces so decorated are made very thick, and after baking they are thrown into a greasy bouillon made from capons and other meats, where they are again baked; after this, for a month or more, they are left in the filthiest sink that can be found, and then they come forth three or four hundred years old !
The Chinese renew the brilliancy of the gilding on porcelain which has become dull from the lapse of time, by moistening it with clear water and rubbing it with an agate, being careful always to rub in the same direction. To strengthen the edges of porcelain dishes the potter applies with a brush a coat of glaze in which is mixed a proportion of the pulverized charcoal of bamboo ; this preparation when applied has a grayish appearance, but after burning becomes perfectly white.
I have already spoken of the Red Souffle, but neglected to mention the Blue Souffle, which is much easier to produce. Nor is there any reason why gold and silver should not be treated in the same manner except the expense. Not long since the Emperor ordered some pieces so thin and delicate that they could not be dipped into the glaze; they were handled with cotton for fear of breaking, and the glaze was blown upon them after the manner of the Souffle.
Quite recently a new material has been found which can be substituted for the kaolin; it is called hoa-che, and is a kind of stone, or rather chalk, of about the consistence of hard soap. Porcelain made of this material is very expensive; it is very brittle and difficult to bake, but offers the most desirable surface for the artist to paint, and retains the colors perfectly. For this reason frequently the body of the piece is made of common material, and a surface of this hoa-che is obtained by dipping the piece into a liquid preparation of it. It is also much lighter than the ordinary porcelain. Where the kaolin costs but twenty sous the hoa-che costs an ecu. Another use of this hoa-che is very beautiful in effect,; after it is prepared in little grains it is diluted with water to the consistence of paste, and by means of a brush, tracings are made on the surface of objects before they are glazed; after glazing and baking these tracings appear of a different whiteness from the body of the porcelain. This whiteness of the hoa-che is called siam ya-pe, or white of ivory. The chekao (a mineral resembling alum) is used in the same way for white tracings, but it cannot, like the hoa-che, be substituted for kaolin in the body of the porcelain.
I have not yet spoken of a glaze called tse-kinveou (brownish gold) : it would be better named the color of bronze, or of coffee, or of dead leaves ; this glaze is a new invention.
Sometimes cups are made with the ordinary clear glaze inside and the tse-kin (color of dead leaves) outside; also vases and cups where the principal glaze is the tse-kin ; but medallions are left to be otherwise decorated by applying pieces of wet paper to the object, dipping the object in the tse-kin, and, when nearly dry, removing the paper ; this leaves white medallions, which are decorated to suit the fancy, then the object is glazed and baked. I have seen this year porcelain of an olive color which is quite a-la-mode. It is is called tong–tsivem.
A kind of glaze called tsoui yeou produces immeasurable little cracks over the surface when applied alone ; it renders the object very brittle and destroys its ringing tone when struck, but when mixed with other glazes it does not. The mixture used to produce the peculiar black resembling our burning mirrors carries its own glaze and requires the most careful baking ; pieces of this color must be placed in the very centre of the furnace where the heat is most uniform.
It seems to be the general belief that the production of the violet color and the art of gilding date back to 1700 only.
In the present year (1722) on account of orders from Europe, vases have been made more than three feet in height. This had been considered impossible ; they were made, however, in three pieces, which were so nicely united that you could not discover the joints. Of eighty vases of this description placed in the kiln only eight succeeded, the others proving a total loss.
I have been presented with a piece called yao pien (transmutation) which is the result of either a defect in preparation or an excess of heat. Whilst this piece is a rejected one it is to me very beautiful, resembling agate, and no doubt at some future day what was this time produced by chance will be made by design.
On some few pieces, generally common ones, colors are applied without glaze, or over the glaze. Indeed, some colors are always applied thus (as vermilion) which can-not be baked, because they disappear when subjected to heat. When it is desired to cover the entire surface of a vase with color, it is simply dipped into a solution of the proper preparation. Some artists, after the color is applied, trace figures with a long needle on the dried surface, and, after being glazed, these , figures seem to have been painted.
There is not as much work as you would imagine in producing reliefs of flowers, dragons, or other figures ; it is done by tracing on the flat surface with a graver, the desired figures, then the intermediate clay is removed, the object is glazed and the figures appear in relief. Attempts have been made to use the black Chinese ink in painting, but without success, for after baking, the objects were found perfectly white.”