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Porcelain exhibition shines light on trade

Date:Through January 4

Time:9am- 5pm, closed on Monday

Add:Shanghai Museum, 201 People’s Avenue


By Wang Jie

An exhibition highlighting the historic commercial linksbetween China and the West isnow on display at the Shanghai Museum.

Entitled “Ming-Qing Export Porcelain from the Palace Museum and the Shanghai Museum,” the show featuresof 160 objects which illustratethe evolution of China’s overseas ceramic trade during the late imperial period.

“Ming-Qing export porcelain are unique among Chinese ceramics. They were made for foreign countries instead of the local market. They are now found in collections all around the world and quite a number of wareshave been salvaged from shipwrecks along sea routes,” saidLu Minghua, an expert at the Shanghai Museum.

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“Ming-Qing export porcelain were among the most important and interesting commodities shipped along these routes, reflecting the economic, cultural, religious, aesthetic and social links between China and foreign countries,” he added.

The exhibition is divided into two sections, one for each dynasty.

The Ming section includes wares shipped to markets in Southeast Asia, West Asia, Japan and Europe during the mid-to-late Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

These objects highlight the popularity and wide circula- tion of Ming porcelain. They also show the diversity of local tastes which existed in these markets.

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In the beginning of theMing, the government banned maritime trade and the exportof Chinese porcelain was restricted to the official tribute system.

By the mid-Ming period though, private trade started to flourish. Large quantities of Chinese wares were smuggled to East and Southeast Asia, and then sent on to South Asia and the Middle East.

Following the reign of Zhengde and the Western age of discovery, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch traders began to establish direct trading links with China. These links helped Chinese porcelain expand into Europe and the new World.

Exhibits in Ming section include heirloom objects from the Philippines, Syria and Europe; made-to-order vessels for Japanese clients; as well as salvaged cargos from the Wanli shipwreck.

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The exhibition’s Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) section illustrates the dominance of the East India Company and the rise of markets in the Americas and Europe.

Many of the wares on display — including made-to-order pieces for Dutch, British and Swedish buyers — reflect a consideration for Western tastes and design conventions.

One highlight of this section is a blue-and-white platter with birds and flowers made at the famed kilns of Jingdezhen. The item may look Western in terms of its general shape, but its blue-and-white decorative design reveals its Oriental origins. 

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