Examples of some of the low-temperature on-glaze enamels available in Jingdezhen. To generalize, each of the main types of on-glaze—gucai (or wucai, famille verte), fencai (famille rose), and xincai (“new” or “Western” colors)—are representative of different historical periods in Chinese ceramics (respectively: late Ming/transitional, Qing, and Republican). And although each of these types might traditionally only use a limited color palette (for instance wucai means “five colors” but initially included only red, green and yellow enamels), there exist a tremendous amount of variation in color throughout history and in the shops of Jingdezhen.
Another example of Jingdezhen ingenuity. A motorized bicycle made by a local craftsman. Two separate chains attached to the rear wheel allow for pedaling or motoring.
Repairing the rim of a large porcelain pot. The damaged area is first wetted, and then successive layers of porcelain slip are brushed on. The hair-blower dries the slip in order to prevent cracking.
Below this you can see the line from where the thrown upper and bottom halves of this pot have been joined.
Craftspeople in Jingdezhen often work from photographs and illustrations. Here it appears as if a nice large vase was spotted in a Jingdezhen shop and is now being copied in another studio. Throughout history, Chinese ceramics has been based on an interplay of imitation and innovation. In modern Jingdezhen imitations are the norm, unfortunately the level of craftsmanship rarely matches that of the ancient originals.
A “double happiness” paper cutting taped onto a door in the old city center of Jingdezhen. In these old houses many examples of folk craft, from handmade stools and baskets to adornments such as this one, can still be found.
A pile of porcelain hands in an abandoned workshop in the Sculpture Factory. Most of these hands were for likenesses of Mao Zedong and other revolutionary-themed sculptures.
A pile of discarded porcelain seconds outside a workshop in Jingdezhen. The sign on the door advertises straw packaging for ceramics shipping.
A typical scene in the Jingdezhen Sculpture Factory. Porcelain figures of this scale and complexity are especially difficult to produce. In the foreground is a wheeled cart used to transport sculptures between workshops during production.
After the subject is modeled in clay, the model is broken apart into pieces from which plaster molds are made (e.g. arm, hand, finger). Once the plaster molds are dry, slabs of specially formulated porcelain are pressed into the molds. These clay parts are then joined together with slip, a delicate operation in which timing is essential. Often the joins crack during drying and must be carefully repaired with a mixture of dry porcelain powder, water, and slip. Once the final porcelain figure is completely dried it can then be sprayed with glaze, usually a transparent-white glaze that will make the porcelain appear whiter than it actually is. The porcelain sculpture is then fired in one of the Sculpture Factory’s large public kilns in reduction atmosphere at a temperature of around 1310-1330 degrees Celsius. Sometimes sculptures will not survive the firing, and very often those that do will have cracks along the join lines. After high-firing the sculpture must still be painted in brightly-colored overglaze enamels and fired in a large enamel kiln (these days, electric) to red heat, approximately 800 degrees Celsius. Finally, any remaining cracks or other faults are hidden by fillers and pigments to match the color.
Each step of the above process, from modeling to firing, is carried out by one or more specialist craftspeople. A single sculpture passes through dozens of hands before completion, even including professional carriers who transport the object from workshop to workshop. The Sculpture Factory itself is a highly specialized ecosystem that has evolved its own techniques and materials (including specially-mixed porcelains) specifically for the large-scale production of porcelain sculpture.
A typical ceramics workshop overlooking graves in the mountains surrounding Jingdezhen. Although some techniques have changed (these jars have all been slip-casted rather than thrown on a wheel), these craftspeople are carrying on a Jingdezhen tradition hundreds of years old.
Porcelain jars in a typical Jingdezhen workshop. The juxtaposition of centuries old porcelain-making techniques with modern China often has interesting results.
Discarded porcelain glove molds produced in Jingdezhen. Although there is a large population of craftspeople skilled in traditional Chinese porcelain techniques, Jingdezhen has difficulty competing economically with other ceramics centers in China (such as Chaozhou) that have more successfully modernized and automated ceramics production.
One of the old ceramics factories in Jingdezhen. Once the government started privatization, most of the large state-sponsored factories could no longer survive. Some factories were completely abandoned while others were parceled out to private craftspeople who started their own smaller workshops.