Chinese Pottery and Porcelain Trade

With the progress of China in the pottery and porcelain the European nations started their hunt to imitate or copy the Chinese styles and designs. The Chinese made drinking-vessels, cups and saucers and teapots popular in their own styles. The Chinese trade with the European in the potteries and porcelain wares grew quite high.

In the reverse direction, Europeans of all the nations then established in trade with China, were sending to their agents in the East pieces of silver, pottery and other articles to have them imitated in the wonder material; at the same time, they sent engravings and drawings to be copied as decoration. These tasks were performed by the Chinese with great skill, and resulted in a constant flood of goods in both directions throughout the eighteenth century.

A further stimulus to the trade was public interest in tea drinking, and the sending of increasing amounts of the leaf from China. The beverage being new to the West, no drinking-vessels entirely suitable were available, and the Orientals obligingly sent porcelain cups and saucers and teapots. Many of these traveled packed in the holds of East Indiamen with the tea above, so that the bilge water would not ruin the latter.

The first teapots sent from the East were made of hard red stoneware; known as Yi-hsing pottery, and the legend quickly grew that tea could only be enjoyed if poured from a red pot. It will be found that many of the first teapots made in Europe (other than those of silver) were of red stoneware in imitation of the imported ones.

With the discoveries of Bdttger and the making of porcelain in Europe, the Chinese monopoly was broken, but the novelty of having something from far Cathay was sufficient to ensure a market. In addition, the Chinese wares, in spite of the expenses of packing and transport, were cheaper than European-made ones. One early effect of European research was that just as the Chinese had copied the cobalt blue of the Persians, so they imitated the pink colour used successfully at Dresden. In the reign of Yung Cheng this was employed extensively and completely changed the prevailing tone of decorated porcelain. The opaque pink gave its name to the type of coloring: famille rose, which lasted for the rest of the eighteenth century through the reign of Ch’ien Lung.

The transmission of designs continued, and one popular feature was the ordering of complete dinner services painted with the coat-of-arms, crest or initials of the European owner. Punchbowls, mugs, tea sets, and innumerable other articles were ornamented in a similar manner and are sought eagerly today. About 1800, America was also importing from China, and there remain in the United States many examples of old porcelain with the insignia of their former owners. An outstanding punchbowl given to the City of New York in 1802 bears a view of the city, and is inscribed with the date of presentation as well as the name of the Chinese artist who painted it.

By many people on both sides of the Atlantic much of this eighteenth-century porcelain exported from China is called ‘Lowestoff. It was given this name mistakenly a century ago, and although the error was corrected soon afterwards the name has stayed.

European tried to copy the Chinese styles and designs through their missionaries and embassies officials. With the coming of porcelain in Europe the Chinese monopoly was broken but the name of Chinese porcelain still generates enough interest among the people because the people trusted the product of China in its original forms.

Mitch Johnson is a regular writer for His articles have also appeared on and

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