Missionary of the Society of JESUS:

To Father Orry of the same Society,
Procurator of the Missions of China & India

At Jaozhou, this September 1, 1712.


Peace be with you. The time I occasionally spend in Jingdezhen [King te Tching][1] for the spiritual needs of my neophytes has given me the opportunity to learn about the way in which this beautiful porcelain, so esteemed and transported to all parts of the world, is made. Although my curiosity had never led me to such research, I thought that a somewhat detailed description of everything concerning these kinds of works would be useful in Europe. Besides what I have seen myself, I have learned many details from Christians, among whom several work in porcelain, and others who conduct significant trade in it. I have also verified the truth of the answers they gave to my questions by reading Chinese books that deal with this matter; and by this means, I believe I have acquired fairly accurate knowledge of all aspects of this beautiful art, to speak about it with some confidence.

The Annals of Fou-liang

Among these books, I had in hand the 'History or Annals of Fuliang[2] [Fou-liang]', and I carefully read in the fourth volume the article regarding porcelain. Jingdezhen, which is under Fuliang's jurisdiction, is only a good league (three miles) away; and Fuliang is a city dependent on Raozhou[3] [Jao-zhou]. It is a custom in China for each city to print the history of its district: this history includes the situation, the extent, the boundaries, and the nature of the country, with the most remarkable places, the customs of its inhabitants, the people who have distinguished themselves in arms and in letters, or those who have been of exceptional integrity.

Even women have their place in these; for instance, those who, out of devotion to their deceased husbands, have maintained their widowhood. Frequently, the honor of being mentioned in these annals is purchased. That's why the mandarin, along with his advisors, revises them every forty years or so, omitting or adding what he deems appropriate.

This History also reports extraordinary events, prodigies that occur, and monsters that are born at certain times: for example, what happened just two years ago in Fuzhou, where a woman gave birth to a serpent that suckled from her; similarly, in Jingdezhen, where a sow gave birth to a small elephant with a well-formed trunk, although there are no elephants in the country; these facts will probably be reported in the Annals of these two cities. Perhaps even in the Annals of Fuliang, it will be mentioned that one of our Christian women gave birth to a son in the sixteenth month of her pregnancy.

Origin of Porcelain

Above all, these histories mark the goods and other commodities that come from the country or that are sold there. If China in general, or the city of Fuliang in particular, had not been subject to so many different revolutions, I would undoubtedly have found in its history what I was looking for regarding the origin of porcelain: although, to tell the truth, these Compilations are made for the Chinese, and not for Europeans; and the Chinese are not very concerned with such knowledge.

The Annals of Fuliang report that since the second year of the reign of Emperor Tam Wu [Tam-ou-te] of the Tam Dynasty, that is to say, according to us since the year 442 A.D., porcelain workers have always supplied the Emperors; one or two Mandarins sent from the Court presided over this work: it then describes at length the multitude and variety of accommodations designated from those early times for workers who worked on imperial porcelain: that's all I found about the antiquity of its origin. However, it is plausible that before the year 442, porcelain was already in use, and that gradually it was brought to a level of perfection capable of inducing the richest Europeans to use it. The inventor is not mentioned, nor is it stated to what trial or chance we owe this invention.

Precious jewels of Jaozhou

Formerly, the Annals say, the porcelain was of exquisite whiteness and had no flaws: the works made from it and transported to other Kingdoms were called nothing else but the precious jewels of Jaozhou. And further on it adds: the beautiful porcelain, which is of a bright and shining white, and a beautiful sky blue, all comes from Jingdezhen. It is made in other places, but it is quite different in color as well as quality.

Fujian and Guangdong wares

Indeed, without speaking of the pottery works made throughout China, to which the name porcelain is never given, there are some Provinces, like those of Fujian and Guangdong, where porcelain is made: but foreigners cannot be mistaken: that of Fujian is of a snow-white[4] color that has no shine, and is not mixed with colors. Workers from Jingdezhen once brought all their materials there, hoping to make a considerable profit, due to the extensive trade Europeans conduct at Xiamen; [Amoy] but it was in vain, were unable to succeed.

Porcelain workers to Beijing

The reigning Emperor (Kangxi (1662-1722)), who wants to know everything, had porcelain workers and all that is used for this work brought to Beijing; they spared nothing to succeed under his eyes: however, it is said that their work was lacking. It may be that reasons of interest or policy played a part in this little success: whatever the case may be, it is solely Jingdezhen that has the honor of providing porcelain to all parts of the world. Even the Japanese come to China to buy porcelain.

A Description of Jingdezhen

My Reverend Father, I cannot refrain from giving you here a description of Jingdezhen. It only lacks a surrounding wall to be called a City, and to be comparable to even the most vast and populous Cities of China. These places called 'tchim' ["Zhen" (meaning mart)], which are few in number but of great access and trade, are not customarily enclosed, perhaps so they can be extended and enlarged as much as one wants; perhaps also to make it easier to load and unload goods.

There are reportedly eighteen thousand families in Jingdezhen. There are large Merchants whose accommodations occupy a vast space and contain a prodigious multitude of workers; it is commonly said that there are more than a million souls, that more than ten thousand loads of rice and more than a thousand pigs[5] are consumed there each day. Besides, Jingdezhen extends a great league in length along the bank of a beautiful river (The Chang). It is not just a mass of houses, as one might imagine: the streets are straight, they intersect and cross at certain distances, all the land there is occupied, the houses are even too crowded, and the streets too narrow: crossing them, one feels as though in the middle of a fair: cries of Porters trying to make their way can be heard everywhere. There are a large number of Idol Temples which have been built at great expense. For example, a rich merchant, after crossing vast seas for his trade, believed he had escaped shipwreck through the protection of the Queen of Heaven, who, he says, appeared to him at the height of the storm. To fulfill the vow he made then, he has just spent all his wealth to build her a Temple, which surpasses all others in magnificence.

May God grant that what I have told my Christians comes true one day, and that this Temple actually becomes a Basilica dedicated to the true Queen of Heaven. This new Temple was built with piastres accumulated in the Indies; for this European currency is very well known here, and to employ it in trade, it is not necessary to melt it down as is done elsewhere. (Evidently the Chinese normally transacted business with bar silver which was frequently adulterated with base metals and had to be re-refined to verify the silver content.)

The costs of living is much greater in Jingdezhen than in Jaozhou, because everything consumed there must be brought in from elsewhere, even the wood needed to keep the kiln fires burning. However, despite the high cost of living, Jingdezhen is a refuge for countless poor families who have nothing to subsist on in the surrounding towns: young people and the less robust find employment there. Even the blind and the crippled earn their living by grinding colors.

3000 porcelain furnaces

The History of Fuliang states that formerly there were only 300 porcelain kilns[6] in Jingdezhen, but now there are about three thousand. It's not surprising that fires often occur: that's why the Fire God has several Temples there. The current Mandarin has erected one dedicated to him, and it was in consideration of me that he exempted Christians from certain labor duties, to which the common people are obliged when such buildings are constructed. The worship and honors rendered to this God do not make the fires less frequent: not long ago, eight hundred houses burned down: they must have been quickly rebuilt, judging by the multitude of Carpenters and Masons working in that quarter. The profit derived from renting shops makes these people extremely active in repairing such losses.

Jingdezhen is located in a plain surrounded by high mountains: the one to the East, against which the town it is backed, forms an outer semi-circle; the mountains on the side give way to two rivers that unite: one is quite small, but the other is very large, and forms a beautiful Port of nearly a league in a vast basin, where it loses much of its rapidity. Sometimes in this vast space, one sees up to two or three rows of boats one behind the other. Such is the spectacular view that presents itself when entering through one of the gorges into the Port: whirlwinds of flame and smoke rising in different places at first highlight the extent, depth, and contours of Jingdezhen: at the entrance of the night, it seems to be a vast City all ablaze, or a large furnace with several vents. Perhaps this enclosure of mountains forms a location suitable for porcelain works.

Gouvernment and safety at night

It is astonishing that a spot so populated, where there is so much wealth, where a multitude of boats abound all day long and which is not surrounded by a wall, can be governed by a single mandarin without having the least disorder. The city of Jingdezhen is only three miles from Fuliang and 54 miles from Raozhou, but one must admit that the method of policing is admirable. Each street has a chief appointed by the mandarin, and if the street is long there are several. Each chief has ten subalterns who are each responsible for ten houses. They are responsible for good order and must run out at the first disturbance, to make peace and to give a report to the mandarin under threat of the bastinado, which is applied very liberally. Although the chief of the quarter may do this best to avert trouble before it has started, and make all possible efforts to calm it, one is always disposed to judge that he is in the wrong and it is difficult for him to escape punishment. Each street has its barricades that are closed during the night and the large streets have several. One man watches at each barricade and he only opens the gate at the barrier at a certain signal. In addition to that, the mandarins of Fuliang make rounds. Moreover, strangers are not permitted to sleep in Jingdezhen. It is necessary for them to spend the night at their boats or else they can spend the night at the home of a friend who is then responsible for their conduct. This policing maintains order and establishes complete safety in a place whose riches would arouse the greed of countless thieves.

The Porcelain

After this brief detail on the situation and current state of Jingdezhen, let's move on to the porcelain which that has created all these riches.

What I have to tell you, my Reverend Father, is reduced to what goes into its composition, and to the preparations brought to the different types of porcelain, and to the way of forming them: to the oil that gives it shine, and to its qualities: to the colors that adorn it, and to the art of applying them to cooking, and to the measures taken to give it the degree of heat that suits.

Finally, I will end with some reflections on ancient and modern porcelain, and on certain things that make it impracticable for the Chinese to produce works of which designs have been sent, and could be sent. These works, which are impossible to achieve in China might easily be done in Europe if the same materials were found.

Before starting, would it not be appropriate to disabuse those who might think that the name Porcelain comes from the Chinese word? In truth, there are words, though few in number, that are both French and Chinese. What we call 'Tea,' for example, is also called 'Thé' in the Province of Fujian, although it is called 'cha' in the Mandarin language. 'Papa' and 'Mama' are also names that in certain Provinces of China, and in Jingdezhen particularly, are in the mouths of children to signify father, mother, and grandmother. But for the name of the material, which is called porcelain, it is so little a Chinese word that none of the syllables that compose it can be pronounced or written by the Chinese, as these sounds are not found in the Chinese language. It seems that we have taken this name from the Portuguese; although among them 'porcellana' specifically means a cup or bowl, and 'loça' is the general name they give to all the works we call porcelain. Usage is the master of languages and it is up to each individual national to give us the idea that they attach to their words. Porcelain is generally called tzu [Tseki] in Chinese.

Petuntse [pe-tun-tse] and kaolin

The material of porcelain consists of two types of earth, one called 'pe-tun-tse', and the other named 'kao-lin'.[7] The latter is sprinkled with particles that glitter (mica). The other is simply white and very fine to the touch. At the same time as a large number of large boats go up the river from Jaozhou to Jingdezhen to load porcelain, almost as many small ones come down from Kimuen (Chi-men) [Ki-men] loaded with 'pe-tun-tse' and 'kao-lin' reduced to the form of bricks: for Jingdezhen produces none of the materials necessary for porcelain. The 'pe-tun-tse', whose grain is so fine, are nothing but chunks of rock quarried from the mountains, and shaped into this form. Not every stone is suitable, otherwise it would be unnecessary to go looking twenty or thirty leagues away in the neighboring Province. The good stone, say the Chinese, should be slightly greenish.

Making of Petuntse

Here's the first preparation. A iron mallet is used to break these chunks of stone, after which the broken pieces are put into mortars, and with the help of certain levers with a stone head armed with iron, they are further reduced to a very fine powder. These levers moves up and down incessantly, either by the work of men or by means of water; in the same way as hammers work in paper mills. Then this powder is taken, thrown into a large urn filled with water, and vigorously stirred with an iron pestle. After letting it rest for a few moments, there will form a kind of thick cream on the top with a depth of 4-5 fingers, it is removed and poured into another vessel full of water. The water in the first urn is thus agitated again several times, collecting the sediment that has formed each time, until finally only the large grains remain at the bottom of the first tank. Then this coarse sediment is removed and ground again.

With regard to the fine slurry in the second tank, one merely waits until a kind of paste forms at the bottom: When the water above appears very clear, it is poured off by tilting to avoid disturbing the sediment, and this paste is thrown into large molds suitable for drying it. Before it is completely hardened, it is divided into small tiles that are sold by the hundreds. This shape and its color have given it the name 'pe-tun-tse' (white small bricks).

The molds into which this paste is poured are long, wide, wooden boxes. The bottom is filled with bricks placed according to their height, so that the surface is even. On this bed of bricks thus arranged, a thick cloth is spread that fills the capacity of the box: then the material is poured in, and soon after covered with another cloth, on which a layer of bricks laid flat next to each other is placed: all this serves to more quickly express the water, without any loss of the porcelain material, which hardens easily taking the shape of the bricks. Nothing would be added to this work if the Chinese were not accustomed to altering their goods: but people who roll small grains of dough in pepper dust to cover them, and mix them with real pepper, are careful not to sell 'pe-tun-tse' without mixing in some waste material: that is why it is necessary to purify them again in Jingdezhen before using them.

Mining of Kaolin

The 'kao-lin' that enters into the composition of porcelain requires a little less work than the 'pe-tun-tse': since nature has done the greatest part of the work. Mines of it are found in the heart of certain mountains, which are covered on the outside with reddish earth. These mines are quite deep; there one finds in lumps the material in question, from which sections in the form of tiles are made, observing the same method that I have marked in relation to 'pe tun tse'. I would not hesitate to believe that the white earth of Malta, called the earth of Saint Paul, has much in common with the 'kao lin' I am speaking of, although the small silver particles scattered in the 'kao lin' are not noticed in it.

It is from 'kao lin' that fine porcelain derives all its firmness: it is like the tendons. Thus, it is the mixture of a soft earth that gives strength to the 'pe tun tse', which are extracted from the hardest rocks. A rich Merchant told me that the English or the Dutch (for the Chinese name is common to both nations) bought some 'pe tun tse' a few years ago, which they took to their country, to make porcelain; but having not taken 'kao lin', their endeavor failed, as they admitted later. Whereupon the Chinese Merchant told me laughing: they wanted to have a body whose flesh would hold up without bones.[8]

Glaze boats at the banks of Jingdezhen

Besides the boats loaded with 'pe tun tse' and 'kao lin' of which the shore of Jingdezhen is bordered, others are found filled with a whitish and liquid substance. I have known for a long time that this substance is the oil that gives porcelain its whiteness and brilliance; but I was ignorant of its composition that I finally learned. It seems to me that the Chinese name 'yeou', which is given to different kinds of oil, suits less the liquid of which I speak, than that of 'tsi', which means varnish (glaze), and I believe that is how it would be called in Europe.

Composition of porcelain glaze

This stone oil is never used alone; another is mixed in with it, which is like its soul. Here is its composition: large chunks of quicklime are taken, on which a little water is thrown by hand to dissolve them and reduce them to powder. Then a layer of dry fern is made, on which another layer of extinguished lime is placed. Several layers are put alternately on top of each other, after which the fern is set on fire. When everything is consumed, these ashes are divided over new layers of dry fern: this is done at least five or six times in succession, it can be done more often, and the oil is better. Formerly, says the History of Fuliang, besides the fern, the wood of a tree whose fruit is called 'se tse' was used: judging by the acridity of the fruit when it is not ripe, and by its small crown, I believe it is a kind of medlar: it is no longer used now, as my Neophytes have told me, apparently because it has become very rare in this country. Perhaps it is due to the lack of this wood that the porcelain now made is not as beautiful as that of earlier times. The nature of the lime and the fern also contributes to the quality of the oil, and I have noticed that the one that comes from certain places is much more esteemed than that from elsewhere.

When there are enough lime and fern ashes to a certain quantity, they are thrown into an urn full of water. For a hundred pounds, a pound of 'che kao' is dissolved in it, the mixture is well stirred, then left to rest until a cloud or crust appears on the surface, which is collected and thrown into a second urn, and this is repeated several times. When a kind of paste has formed at the bottom of the second urn, its water is poured off by tilting, this liquid sediment is preserved, and it is the second oil that must be mixed with the previous one. For a proper mix, these two kinds of purée should be equally thick: to judge, small tiles of 'pe-tun-tse' are dipped alternately in each, and upon withdrawal, their surfaces show if the thickness is equal on both sides. This concerns the quality of these two kinds of oil. As for the quantity, the best that can be done is to mix ten measures of stone oil with one measure of oil made from lime and fern ash: those who skimp never use less than three measures. Merchants who sell this oil, if they are at all inclined to cheat, are not very embarrassed to increase its volume: they only have to add water to this oil, and to cover their fraud, add 'che kao' in proportion, which prevents the material from being too liquid.

Although the type of stone from which 'pe-tun-tse' is made can be used indifferently to extract oil, the choice is made of the whitest one, with the greenest spots. The History of Fuliang, although it does not go into detail, says that the good stone for oil is the one that has spots similar to the color of the cypress leaf, 'pe chu ye pan', or has reddish marks on a slightly brown background, almost like the flower 'ju tchi ma tam'. First, this stone must be well washed, after which the same preparations are applied as for 'pe-tun-tse': when the purest part has been extracted in the second urn, after all the usual processes, for about a hundred pounds or so of this cream, a pound of stone or a mineral similar to alum, named 'che kao', is added. It must be heated until red and then ground: it is like the pressing that gives it consistency, although care is taken to keep it always liquid.

How porcelain is made

Before explaining the way this oil or rather this varnish is applied, it is appropriate to describe how porcelain is made. I begin with the work done in the less frequented areas of Jingdezhen. There, within an enclosure of walls, large sheds are built, where a large number of earthen urns are seen stacked on top of each other. It is in this enclosure that countless workers reside and work, each with their appointed task. A piece of porcelain, before leaving to be taken to the kiln, passes through the hands of more than twenty people, and this without confusion. It has undoubtedly been found that work is done much faster this way.

The first task is to further purify the 'pe-tun-tse' and 'kao-lin' of the from the trash that it acquired during its sale. The 'pe-tun-tse' are broken and thrown into an urn full of water; then, with a wide spatula, they are dissolved by stirring: they are left to rest for a few moments, after which the floating matter is collected, and so on, in the manner explained above.

As for the chunks of 'kao-lin', it is not necessary to break them: they are simply placed in a light, strong basket, which is submerged in a water-filled urn: the 'kao-lin' easily dissolves by itself. There usually remains a residue that must be discarded. After a year, these rejects accumulate and form large heaps of a white, spongy sand that must be cleared from the work area. Of these two materials; 'pe-tun-tse' and 'kao-lin' thus prepared, it is necessary to make a proper mix: equal amounts of 'kao-lin' and 'pe-tun-tse' are used for fine porcelains; for medium quality, four parts of 'kao-lin' are used to six of 'pe-tun-tse'. The least that is used is one part 'kao-lin' to three of 'pe-tun-tse'.

After this first task, this mass is thrown into a large well-paved and cemented pit; then it is trodden and kneaded until it stiffens; this work is very hard: those of the Christians who are employed there, have difficulty going to Church: they can only get permission by substituting someone else in their place, because as soon as this work stops, all the other workers are halted.

From this mass thus prepared, different pieces are extracted and spread out on large slates. There they are kneaded and rolled in all directions, carefully ensuring that there are no voids, or that no foreign bodies are mixed in. A hair, a grain of sand would ruin the whole work. If this mass is not well shaped, the porcelain cracks, bursts, melts, and warps. It is from these initial elements that so many beautiful porcelain works come out, some made on the wheel, others exclusively in molds, and then perfected with a chisel.

Small round wares

All uniform works are made in the first way. A cup, for example, when it comes off the wheel, is just an imperfect cap, almost like the top of a hat that has not yet been applied to the form. The worker gives it immediately the diameter and height desired, and it leaves his hands almost as soon as he begins it: for he only earns three deniers (cash) per board, and each board takes 26 pieces. The foot of the cup is then just a piece of clay the size of the diameter it should have, and which is hollowed out with a chisel when the cup is dry and has consistency, that is, after it has received all the ornaments it is to have. Indeed, this cup, upon leaving the wheel, is first received by a second worker who seats it on its base. Soon after, it is delivered to a third who puts it on its mold, and give it its shape. This mold is on a kind of lathe. A fourth worker polishes the cup with a chisel, especially around the edges, and thins it as much as necessary to give it transparency: he scrapes it several times, moistening it each time if it is too dry, for fear that it breaks. When the cup is removed from the mold, it must be gently rolled on the same mold without pressing more on one side than the other, otherwise cavities are formed, or it warps. It is surprising to see with what speed these vessels pass through so many different hands. It is said that a finished piece of porcelain has passed through the hands of seventy workers. I have no trouble believing it after what I have seen myself: for these large workshops have often been for me like a kind of Areopagus, where I have announced He who formed the first man from clay, and from whose hands we emerge to become vessels of glory or ignominy (splendor or disgrace).

Large pieces made in two parts

The large pieces of porcelain are made in two parts: The bottom half is raised on the wheel by three or four men who each support it on their side to give it shape; the other half, almost dry, is applied to it: they are joined together with the same porcelain material diluted in water, which serves as mortar or glue. When these pieces thus glued are completely dry, the joint is polished inside and outside with a knife, which, by means of the varnish with which it is covered, becomes equal with the rest. This is how handles, ears, and other attached parts are applied to vases.

Pieces made in moulds

This mainly concerns porcelain formed in molds or by hand, such as fluted pieces, or those of a bizarre shape, like animals, grotesques, idols, busts ordered by Europeans, and others. These kinds of molded works are made in three or four pieces that are added to each other, and then perfected with tools suitable for carving, polishing, and detailing different features that escape the mold. As for flowers and other ornaments that are not in relief, but are as if engraved, they are applied to the porcelain with stamps and molds: reliefs already prepared are also applied in much the same way as gold braids are applied to a garment.

Here is what I have recently seen concerning these kinds of molds. When the model of the porcelain piece desired, which cannot be imitated on the wheel in the potter's hands, is available, a special clay for molds is applied to this model: this clay takes the imprint, and the mold is made of several pieces, each of a fairly large volume: it is left to harden when the figure is imprinted. When it is to be used, it is put in front of the fire for some time, after which it is filled with porcelain material to the thickness desired: it is pressed by hand in all places, then the mold is briefly presented to the fire. As soon as the imprinted figure detaches from the mold by the action of the fire, which consumes a little of the moisture that glued this material to the mold. The different pieces of a whole, extracted separately, are then joined together with a little liquid porcelain material. I have seen animal figures made in this way that were quite massive: The assembled figure then has to be hardened, shaped and trimmed with a chisel before adding additional parts.

These kinds of works are made with great care, everything is refined. When the work is finished, it is varnished, and baked: it is then painted, if desired, with various colors, and gold is applied, then it is baked a second time. Pieces of porcelain thus worked are extremely expensive. All these works must be kept away from the cold: their humidity causes them to burst if they do not dry evenly. To counter this inconvenience, fires are sometimes made in these workshops.

Making of moulds

These molds are made of a yellow, greasy clay that is somewhat lumpy: I believe it is quite common, it is extracted from a place not far from Jingdezhen. This clay is kneaded, and when it is well bound and a little hardened, the necessary amount for a mold is taken and beaten vigorously. When it has been given the desired shape, it is left to dry; afterwards, it is shaped on the lathe. This work pays very well. To expedite a commissioned work, a large number of molds are made, so that several groups of workers can work at the same time. With care, these molds last a very long time. A merchant who has ready molds for the porcelain works requested by a European, can deliver his merchandise much sooner, more cheaply, and make a more considerable profit than another who would have to make these molds. If it happens that these molds get chipped or even the slightest crack, they are no longer usable, unless for porcelains of the same shape but a smaller size. They are then placed on the lathe, and planed down, so they can be used a second time.

Porcelain painting

It's time to embellish the porcelain by passing it through the hands of the Painters. These 'Hoa pei' or Porcelain Painters are not less poor than the other workers: there is no reason to be surprised, since, except for a few of them, they could only pass for apprentices of a few months in Europe. The whole skill of these Painters, and generally of all Chinese Painters, is not based on any principle and consists only in a certain routine aided by a rather limited imagination. They are ignorant of all the beautiful rules of this art. However, it must be admitted that they paint flowers, animals, and landscapes that are admired on porcelain, as well as on fans, and on lanterns of a very fine gauze.

Labor division in porcelain painting

The painting work is divided in any given workshop among a large number of workers. One is solely responsible for forming the first colored circle seen near the edges of the porcelain, another outlines flowers that a third one paints; this one is for water and mountains, that one for birds and other animals. Human figures are usually the worst treated; However, certain landscapes and certain illuminated city plans that are brought from Europe to China, hardly allow us to criticize the Chinese for the manner in which they portray themselves in their paintings.

Colored porcelain

As for the colors of porcelain, there are all kinds. In Europe, we mostly see the kind that is a bright blue on a white background. I believe, however, that our merchants have brought others there. There are some whose background is similar to that of our burning mirrors (jet black): there are entirely red ones, and among them, some are oil-red, 'yeou li hum'; others are blown red, 'tchoui hum', and are dotted with small points almost like our miniatures. When these two kinds of works succeed in their perfection, which is quite difficult, they are infinitely esteemed and extremely expensive.

Colored landscape porcelain painting

Finally, there are porcelains where the landscapes painted on them are formed from the mixture of almost all colors highlighted by the brilliance of gold. They are very beautiful, if one spends on them: otherwise, the ordinary porcelain of this kind is not comparable to that which is painted with only azure. The Annals of Jingdezhen say that formerly the people only used white porcelain: apparently, because they had not found near Jaozhou an azure less precious than the one used for fine porcelain, which comes from afar and is quite expensive.

Chance discovery of early blue

It is told that a porcelain merchant who was shipwrecked on a deserted coast found much more riches than he had lost. As he wandered along the coast, while the crew was making a small boat from the wreckage of the ship, he noticed that the stones suitable for making the most beautiful azure were very common: he brought a large load with him; and never, it is said, was such beautiful azure seen in Jingdezhen. The Chinese Merchant vainly endeavored afterwards to find this coast again, where chance had led him.

Preparation of Cobalt

This is how the azure is prepared: it is buried in the gravel at a height of a half foot in the furnace: it is roasted there for 24 hours, then it is reduced to an fine powder. Unlike other colors, this is not done on a marble slab, but in a large unglazed porcelain mortar using an unglazed porcelain pestle.

Preparation of Iron red enamel

The red is made with copperas (iron sulfate) tsao-fan. (Ed: overglaze red): perhaps the Chinese have something particular in this, so I will report their method. A pound of copperas is put in a crucible which is well sealed with a second crucible: on top of this one is a small opening, which is covered in such a way that it can be easily uncovered if necessary. The whole is surrounded by charcoal at a high fire, and to have a stronger reverberation, a circuit of bricks. While the smoke rises very black, the material is not yet ready; but as soon as a fine, delicate cloud appears, it is. Then a bit of this material is taken, diluted in water, and tested on pine wood. If a beautiful red color appears, the fire surrounding and partially covering the crucible is removed. When everything has cooled, a small cake of this red is found at the bottom of the crucible. The finest red is attached to the upper crucible. A pound of copperas yields four ounces of the red used for painting porcelain.

White and Green enamel

Although porcelain is naturally white, and the oil applied to it further increases its whiteness, there are certain figures for which a special white is applied to porcelain painted in different colors.

This white is made from a powder of transparent stones, which is calcined in the furnace like the azure. For half an ounce of this powder, an ounce of pulverized white lead is added: this is also what is mixed into the colors, for example, to make green, to an ounce of white lead and half an ounce of stone powder, three ounces of what is called 'tom hoa pien' are added. I believe, based on the indications I have, that these are the purest slag of beaten copper.

Violet, yellow and red enamels

The prepared green becomes the matrix of violet, which is made by adding a dose of white. More prepared green is added proportionally as a darker violet is desired. Yellow is made by taking seven drams of the prepared white as I have said, to which three drams of copperas red are added. All these colors applied to porcelain already baked after being oiled, only appear green, violet, yellow, or red after the second baking they undergo. These various colors are applied, says the Chinese Book, with white lead, saltpeter, and copperas. The Christians who are in the trade only talked to me about white lead, which is mixed with the color when it is dissolved in gum water.

In-glaze red

The oil-red (in-glaze red) applied is prepared by mixing 'tom lou hum' red, or even the red I just mentioned, with the ordinary porcelain glaze, and with another oil made from white stones prepared like the first type of oil: they did not know the quantity of each, nor how much red was diluted in this mixture of oils: various trials can discover the secret. Then the porcelain is left to dry, and baked in the ordinary furnace. If after baking the red comes out pure and bright, without the slightest stain, then the perfection of the art has been reached. These porcelains do not resonate when struck.

Powder red

The other type of blown red is made as follows: prepared red is taken, a tube is used whose one end is covered with a very tight gauze, the bottom of the tube is gently applied to the color which the gauze picks up, then it is blown through the tube against the porcelain, which is then dotted with small red points. This type of porcelain is even more expensive and rarer than the previous one, because its execution is more difficult, if one wants to maintain all the required proportions.

Mirror black

Black porcelain also has its price and beauty: it is called 'ou mien': this black is leaded and similar to that of our burning mirrors. The gold applied to it gives it a new charm. The black color is given to the porcelain when it is dry, and for this, three ounces of azure are mixed with seven ounces of ordinary stone oil. Trials teach exactly what this mixture should be, according to the more or less dark color one wants to give it. When this color is dry, the porcelain is baked; afterwards, gold is applied, and it is baked again in a special furnace.

Pieced openwork porelain

There is another kind of porcelain made here that I had not yet seen: it is entirely pierced in the form of cutouts: in the middle is a cup suitable for containing liquid. The cup is one body with the cutout. I have seen other porcelains where Chinese and Tartar ladies are painted naturally. The drapery, complexion, and facial features, everything is refined. From a distance, these works could be mistaken for enamel.

Ge type Gray crackled wares

It is noteworthy that when no other oil is given to the porcelain than that made from white stones, this porcelain becomes a particular type, called here 'tsoui ki'. It is all marbled, and cut in all directions by an infinity of veins: from a distance, it could be mistaken for broken porcelain, whose pieces remain in place; it is like a mosaic work. The color given by this oil is a slightly ash-white. If the porcelain is all azure and given this oil, it will appear equally cut and marbled when the color is dry.


when gold is to be applied, it is ground, and dissolved at the bottom of a porcelain until a small gold sky is seen below the water. It is left to dry, and when it is to be used, it is dissolved in a sufficient amount of gummed water: with thirty parts of gold, three parts of white lead are incorporated, and it is applied to the porcelain in the same way as the colors.

Enameled wares, with reserves

Finally, there is a kind of porcelain made as follows: it is given the ordinary varnish, baked, then painted in various colors, and baked again. Sometimes painting is reserved after the first baking, sometimes it is used to cover the defects of the porcelain by applying colors to the defective areas. This colored porcelain is still to the taste of many people. It usually happens that one feels irregularities on these types of porcelain, whether due to the lack of skill of the worker, or whether it was necessary to supplement the shadows of the painting, or perhaps to cover the defects in the body of the porcelain. When the painting and gilding, if any, are dry, the porcelains are stacked, with the smaller pieces inside the larger ones, and arranged in the kiln.

Firing of enamel decorations

These types of kilns can be made of iron when they are small, but usually they are made of clay. The one I saw was as high as a man and almost as wide as our largest wine barrels: it was made of several pieces of the same material as the porcelain boxes: these were thick chunks about the thickness of a finger, a foot high, and a foot and a half long. Before being baked, they had been given a shape suitable for rounding: they were placed one on top of the other and well cemented: the bottom of the kiln was raised a half foot from the ground; it was placed on two or three rows of thick but narrow bricks: around the kiln was a well-masoned brick enclosure, which had three or four vents at the bottom that are like the bellows of the hearth. This enclosure left a half-foot void up to the kiln, except in three or four places that were filled, making the spurs of the kiln. I believe that both the kiln and the enclosure are built at the same time, otherwise the kiln would not be able to support itself. The kiln is filled with the porcelain to be baked a second time, stacking the smaller pieces inside the larger ones, as I said. When all this is done, the top of the kiln is covered with pieces of pottery similar to those on the side of the kiln: these pieces, overlapping each other, are tightly joined with mortar or soaked earth. Only an opening is left in the middle to observe when the porcelain is baked. Then a lot of charcoal is lit under the kiln, and similarly on the cover, from which piles are thrown into the space between the brick enclosure and the kiln. The opening at the top of the kiln is covered with a piece of broken pottery. When the fire is intense, one looks from time to time through this opening, and when the porcelain appears bright and painted with vivid and lively colors, the fire is removed, and then the porcelain.

A thought about painting on glass

I have a thought about these colors that are incorporated into an already baked and glazed porcelain through the use of white lead, to which, according to the Annals of Fuliang, saltpeter and copperas were formerly added: if white lead were also used in the colors with which glass panels are painted, and then they were given a kind of second baking, could this white lead not reveal the secret once had for painting glass without taking away its transparency? This can be judged by trial.

A lost secret - decoration inside the porcelain itself

This secret that we have lost reminds me of another secret that the Chinese lament no longer having: they had the art of painting on the sides of a porcelain, fish or other animals, that were only visible when the porcelain was filled with some liquid. They call this kind of porcelain 'kia tsim', meaning 'pressed azure', because of the way the azure is placed. Here is what is retained of this secret, perhaps in Europe one can imagine what the Chinese do not know. The porcelain to be painted in this way must be very thin: when it is dry, the slightly strong color is applied, not on the outside as usual, but inside on the sides: fish are commonly painted, as if they were more likely to appear when the cup is filled with water. Once the color is dry, a light layer of a very fine glue made of the same porcelain clay is applied. This layer tightens the azure between these two kinds of clay layers. When the layer is dry, oil is poured inside the porcelain: some time later it is placed on the mold and on the lathe. As it has gained body on the inside, it is made as thin as possible on the outside, without piercing to the color: then the outside of the porcelain is dipped in oil. When everything is dry, it is baked in the ordinary kiln. This work is extremely delicate, and requires a skill that the Chinese apparently no longer have. They nevertheless try from time to time to rediscover the art of this magical painting, but in vain. One of them recently assured me that he had made a new attempt, and that it had almost succeeded.

Applying glaze to porcelain

Be that as it may, it can be said that even today the beautiful azure reappears on the porcelain after having disappeared. When it is applied, its color is a pale black: when it is dry, and when it has been oiled, it completely vanishes, and the porcelain appears all white: the colors are then buried under the varnish: the fire makes them bloom with all their beauty, somewhat like natural heat makes the most beautiful butterflies emerge from their cocoons with all their nuances. I will add a detail not to be omitted, that is, before applying the oil to the porcelain, it is finished by polishing, and the smallest irregularities are removed. This is done with a brush made of very fine small feathers, the brush is moistened with a little water, and passed lightly over everything.

Sprinkling and immersing

There is a lot of skill in the way the oil is applied to the porcelain, either to avoid using more than necessary or to spread it evenly on all sides. For porcelain that is very thin and delicate, two light layers of oil are applied twice: if the layers were too thick, the fragile walls of the cup could not bear them and would immediately bend. These two layers are equivalent to an ordinary layer of oil, such as is given to finer, more robust porcelain. They are applied one by spraying and the other by immersion. First, the cup is held from the outside, and while tilting it over the urn where the varnish is, the other hand throws in as much varnish as needed to wet it all around. This is done in succession for a large number of cups: the first ones being dry inside, they are then given oil on the outside in the following manner: one hand holds the cup, and supporting it with a small stick under the middle of its foot, it is dipped into the vat full of varnish, from where it is quickly removed.

Shaping of the foot rim, glazing and marking

I mentioned earlier that the foot of the porcelain remained solid: indeed, it is only after it has received the oil and is dry, that it is placed on the lathe to hollow out the foot, after which a small circle is painted on it, and often a Chinese character. When this paint is dry, the hollow just made under the cup is varnished, and this is the final touch given, because immediately after it is taken from the workshop to the kiln to be baked.

Carrying of porcelain boards

I was surprised to see a man balance on his shoulders two long, narrow boards on which the porcelains are arranged, and he passes through several crowded streets without breaking his merchandise. Indeed, care is taken not to bump into him at all, as one would be obliged to compensate for any damage caused: but it is astonishing that the carrier himself regulates his steps and all movements of his body so well that he loses nothing of his balance.

Stacking in saggars

The place where the kilns are, presents another scene. In a kind of vestibule preceding the kiln, there are piles of boxes and cases made of clay, intended to enclose the porcelain. Each piece of porcelain, however small, has its case, both those with lids and those without. These lids, which are only loosely attached to the lower part during baking, are easily detached with a small tap. As for small porcelains, such as tea or chocolate cups, they have a common box for several. The worker here imitates nature, which to bake fruits and bring them to perfect maturity, encloses them under an envelope, so that the heat of the sun penetrates them only gradually, and its action inside is not too interrupted by the air coming from outside during the coolness of the night.

A bed of kaolin and sand

These cases have inside a kind of small down of sand; it is covered with kao-lin dust, so that the sand does not stick too much to the bottom of the cup which is placed on this bed of sand, after having pressed it giving the shape of the bottom of the porcelain which does not touch the walls of its case. The top of this case has no lid: a second case of the same shape, also filled with its porcelain, fits inside in such a way that it completely covers it without touching the porcelain below: and thus the kiln is filled with large piles of clay boxes all filled with porcelain. Thanks to these thick veils, the beauty, and if I may say so, the complexion of the porcelain is not scorched by the heat of the fire.

Placing on a saucer of clay

As for the small pieces of porcelain enclosed in large round boxes, each is placed on an earthen saucer about the thickness of two crowns, and as wide as its foot: these bases are also sprinkled with kao-lin dust.

Use of unfired saggars

When these boxes are a bit large, no porcelain is placed in the middle, because it would be too far from the sides, which could lack strength, open, and collapse, causing damage throughout the column. It is good to know that these boxes are a third of a foot high, and partly they are not baked any more than the porcelain. Nevertheless, those that have already been baked and can still serve are completely filled.

Lifting with a cord

It should not be forgotten how the porcelain is placed in these boxes: the worker does not touch it directly with his hand; he could either break it, as nothing is more fragile, or tarnish it, or cause irregularities. It is by means of a small cord that he pulls it off the board. This cord is attached on one side to two slightly curved branches of a wooden fork which he holds in one hand, while with the other he holds the two crossed and open ends of the cord according to the width of the porcelain: thus he surrounds it, lifts it gently, and places it in the box on the small saucer. All this is done with incredible speed.

Inside the furnace

I said that the bottom of the kiln has a half foot of coarse gravel: this gravel serves to more securely seat the columns of porcelain, whose rows in the middle of the kiln are at least seven feet high. The two boxes at the bottom of each column are empty, because the fire does not act enough at the bottom, and the gravel partly covers them. It is for the same reason that the box placed at the top of the pile remains empty. The kiln is thus filled, leaving empty only the area directly under the vent.

Different places inside the furnace

Care is taken to place in the middle of the kiln the piles of the finest porcelain: in the back, those that are less so; and at the entrance, those that are a bit strong in color, which are made of a material containing as much 'pe-tun-tse' as 'kao-lin', and to which an oil made from stone with slightly black or reddish spots is given, because this oil has more body than the other. All these piles are placed very close to each other, and tied at the top, bottom, and middle with some pieces of clay applied in such a way, however, that the flame has a free passage to insinuate equally on all sides: and perhaps this is where the eye and skill of the worker serve the most to succeed in his enterprise, in order to avoid certain accidents somewhat similar to those caused by obstructions in the body of an animal.


Not all clay is suitable for constructing the boxes that enclose the porcelain; there are three kinds used: one that is yellow and quite common; it dominates by quantity and forms the base. Another is called 'lao tou', a strong clay. The third, an oily clay, is called 'yeou tou'. These two types of clay are extracted in winter from very deep mines, where it is not possible to work during the summer. If they were mixed in equal parts, which would cost a little more, the boxes would last a long time. They are brought all prepared from a large village at the bottom of the river a league from Jingdezhen. Before being baked they are yellowish: when they are baked, they are a very dark red. As economy is practised, the yellow clay dominates, and this is why the boxes hardly last more than two or three firings, after which they completely shatter. If they are only slightly cracked or split, they are wrapped in a wicker circle, the circle burns and the box serves again this time, without the porcelain suffering. It is important not to fill a kiln with new boxes that have not yet been used: half of those that have already been baked must be included. These are placed at the top and bottom, in the middle of the piles are placed those that are newly made. Formerly, according to the History of Fuliang, all the boxes were baked separately in a kiln before being used to bake the porcelain: undoubtedly because then less attention was paid to expense than to the perfection of the work. This is not quite the case at present, and this is apparently because the number of porcelain workers has increased infinitely.

The furnaces, wood consumption, emptying and water

Now let's talk about the construction of the kilns. They are placed at the back of a rather long vestibule which serves as bellows and is its outlet. It has the same use as the arch of glassworks. The kilns are now larger than they used to be. Then, according to the Chinese Book, they were only six feet high and wide: now they are two fathoms high and about four fathoms deep. The vault as well as the body of the kiln is thick enough to walk on without being inconvenienced by the fire: this vault is neither flat nor pointed on the inside: it lengthens and narrows as it approaches the large vent at the end, where the whirlwinds of flame and smoke come out.[9] In addition to this throat, the kiln has five small openings on top, which are like its eyes: they are covered with some broken pots, in such a way, however, that they relieve the air and the fire in the kiln. It is through these eyes that one judges if the porcelain is baked: the eye a little in front of the large vent is uncovered, and with iron tongs, one of the boxes is opened. The porcelain is ready when a clear fire is seen in the kiln, when all the boxes are glowing, and especially when the colors stand out with all their brilliance. Then the fire is discontinued, and the door of the kiln is sealed for some time. This kiln has a hearth the full width of it, deep and wide by one or two feet, it is crossed on a plank to enter the kiln and arrange the porcelain. When the fire in the hearth is lit, the door is also immediately walled up, leaving only the necessary opening to throw in pieces of large wood a foot long but quite narrow. The kiln is heated for a day and a night, then two men who relieve each other keep throwing wood in: commonly up to one hundred and eighty loads are burnt for a firing.

Judging by what the Chinese Book says, this quantity should not be sufficient: it asserts that in the past two hundred and forty loads of wood were burnt, and twenty more if the weather was rainy, even though the kilns were then half the size of these. A small fire was first maintained for seven days and nights; on the eighth day, a very intense fire was made; and it is noteworthy that the boxes of the small porcelain were already baked separately before entering the kiln: it must be admitted that the old porcelain had much more body than modern. Another thing that is neglected today was also observed: when there was no more fire in the kiln, the door was not unsealed until ten days for large porcelains, and after five days for small ones: nowadays one waits indeed a few days to open the kiln, and to remove the large pieces of porcelain, because without this precaution they would burst: but for the small ones, if the fire was extinguished at nightfall, they are removed the next day. The aim apparently is to save wood for a second firing. As the porcelain is burning hot, the worker who removes it uses long scarves hung around his neck to handle it. I was surprised to learn that after burning up to one hundred and eighty loads of wood, the next day no ashes were found in the hearth. Those who serve these kilns must be well accustomed to the heat: it is said that they put salt in their tea, so that they can drink as much as they want without being bothered by it; I find it hard to understand how this salty liquid can quench their thirst.

Porcelain trade

After what I have just reported, one should not be surprised that porcelain is so expensive in Europe: one will be even less surprised when one knows that, in addition to the large profits made by European merchants, and those made by their Chinese commissioners, it is rare for a firing to be entirely successful, often it is entirely lost, and when opening the kiln one finds the porcelains and boxes reduced to a mass as hard as a rock, that too much fire or poorly conditioned boxes can ruin everything, that it is not easy to regulate the fire they should receive, that the nature of the weather changes in an instant the action of the fire, the quality of the subject on which it acts, and that of the wood that maintains it. Thus for one worker who becomes rich, there are a hundred others who ruin themselves, and who do not cease to try their fortune, in the hope that they can gather enough to open a merchant's shop.

Moreover, the porcelain that is transported to Europe is almost always made on new, often bizarre models, and where it is difficult to succeed: if it has the slightest defect, it is rejected by Europeans who want nothing but perfection, and from there it remains in the hands of the workers, who cannot sell it to the Chinese because it is not to their taste. Consequently, the pieces that are taken must bear the costs of those that are rejected.

Profits and presents to protectors at the Court

According to the History of Jingdezhen, the profit made in the past was much more considerable than what is made now; it is hard to believe, for it is far from the case that such a large quantity of porcelain was traded in Europe at that time. I believe that this is because food is now much more expensive, because wood, no longer being taken from the nearby mountains that have been exhausted, must be brought from far away and at great expense; because the profit is now shared among too many people; and finally because the workers are less skilled than they were in those distant times, and therefore less sure of success. This may also be due to the greed of the Mandarins, who, employing many workers for these kinds of works, which they present as gifts to their protectors at the Court, pay the workers poorly, causing the increase in the price of goods and the poverty of the merchants.

Western, rare and unusual shapes

I mentioned that the difficulty of executing certain models from Europe is one of the things that increases the price of porcelain: because one must not believe that the workers can work on all the models that come to them from foreign countries. There are some that are impractical in China, just as there are works that surprise foreigners and that they do not believe possible.

Here are some examples. I have seen here a lantern or a large porcelain lantern that was made of a single piece, through which a candle illuminated an entire room: this work was commissioned seven or eight years ago by the Crown Prince. This same Prince also commissioned various musical instruments, among others a kind of small organ called 'tsem', which is about a foot high, and composed of fourteen pipes, whose harmony is quite pleasant: but the work on it was in vain. They had more success with soft flutes, flageolets, and another instrument called 'yun lo', which consists of various small, slightly concave round plates, each producing a particular sound: nine are hung in a frame at different levels and plays with mallets like a dulcimer; a small carillon is produced which harmonizes with the sound of the other instruments and with the voices of the musicians. It was said that many trials were needed to find the thickness and the degree of baking suitable for having all the tones necessary for an accord. I imagined that they had the secret of inserting a little metal into the body of these porcelains, to vary the sounds: but I was corrected; metal is so incapable of combining with porcelain that if a copper penny were placed at the top of a pile of porcelain in the kiln, this penny, melting, would pierce all the boxes and all the porcelains in the column, which would then all have a hole in the middle. Nothing shows better what movement the fire gives to everything enclosed in the kiln: it is also asserted that everything is as if fluid and floating.

Representations of animals and Guanyin

To return to the somewhat rare works of the Chinese, they are especially successful with grotesques and representations of animals: the workers make ducks and turtles that float on water. I saw a cat painted naturally, a small lamp was put in its head whose flame formed the two eyes, and I was assured that during the night the rats were frightened by it. Many statues of Guanyin (a famous goddess throughout China) are also made here; she is represented holding a child in her arms, and is invoked by sterile women who want to have children. She can be compared to the ancient statues we have of Venus and Diana, with the difference that the statues of Guanyin are very modest.

Eggshell porcelain with an-hua decoration

There is another kind of porcelain whose execution is very difficult, and therefore very rare. The body of this porcelain is extremely delicate, and the surface is very smooth both inside and out: however, there are engraved moldings, a row of flowers, for example, and other similar ornaments. This is how it is worked: after coming off the wheel, it is applied to a mold with engravings that imprint on the inside; on the outside, it is made as thin and delicate as possible by working it on the lathe with a chisel; then it is given oil and baked in the ordinary kiln.

Making of plaques

European merchants sometimes ask Chinese workers for porcelain plaques, with one piece serving as the top of a table or chair, or as picture frames: these works are impossible. The largest and longest plaques are about a foot or so: if one goes beyond that, no matter how thick they are, they warp. The thickness itself would not make the execution of these kinds of works easier, and that's why instead of making these plaques thick, they are made of two surfaces joined together leaving the inside empty: only a crossbar is placed, and two openings are made on the sides to fit them into woodworking pieces, or into the back of a chair; this has its charm.

Struggles in vain

The History of Jingdezhen speaks of various works ordered by emperors that were vainly attempted to be executed. The father of the reigning emperor ordered urns roughly in the shape of the boxes we use for oranges: this was apparently to keep small red, gold, and silver fish, which are a decorative element in houses; perhaps he also wanted to use them for bathing, as they were to have a diameter of three and a half feet, and a height of two and a half feet: the bottom was to be half a foot thick, and the walls a third of a foot. Three years were spent on these works, and up to two hundred urns were made without a single one succeeding. The same emperor ordered plates for the fronts of open galleries; each plate was to be three feet high, two and a half feet wide, and half a foot thick: all this, say the Annals of Jingdezhen, could not be executed, and the Mandarins of this Province presented a Petition to the Emperor, begging him to stop this work.

European designs for presents

However, the Mandarins, knowing the genius of Europeans in terms of invention, have sometimes asked me to bring new and curious designs from Europe, in order to present something unique to the Emperor. On the other hand, the Christians strongly urged me not to provide such models, for the Mandarins are not quite as easy to convince as our merchants, when the workers tell them that a work is impractical, and there have often been many beatings given before the Mandarin abandons a design from which he expected great advantages.

The God of Porcelain

As every profession has its particular idol, and divinity is as easily communicated here as the title of Count or Marquis is given in certain countries of Europe, it is not surprising that there is a God of Porcelain. The 'Pou sa' (this is the name of this idol) owes its origin to these kinds of designs that are impossible for workers to execute. It is said that once an Emperor absolutely wanted porcelain made according to a model he provided: it was repeatedly represented to him that the thing was impossible; but all these remonstrances only served to excite his desire more and more. Emperors are the most feared deities in China during their lives, and they often believe that nothing should oppose their desires. The officers redoubled their efforts, and used all kinds of severity towards the workers. These unfortunate people spent their money, worked hard, and only received blows. One of them, in a moment of despair, threw himself into the lit kiln, and was instantly consumed. The porcelain that was baking there came out, it is said, perfectly beautiful and to the Emperor's liking, who did not ask for more. Since then, this unfortunate man was considered a hero and later became the idol presiding over porcelain works. I do not know that his elevation has led other Chinese to take the same path in view of a similar honor.

The ageing of ancient porcelain

Since porcelain has been held in such high esteem for so many centuries, one might wish to know how the porcelain of the earliest times differs from that of our days, and what is the doubt about the judgment that the Chinese make of it. There is no lack of antiquarians in China who are prejudiced in favor of ancient works. The Chinese themselves are naturally inclined to respect antiquity: there are still defenders of modern work; but it is not the same as with ancient medals, which give knowledge of bygone times.

Old porcelain may be adorned with some Chinese characters, but which do not mark any point in history: thus connoisseurs can only find a taste and colors that make them prefer it to that of our days. I believe I heard when I was in Europe that porcelain, to be perfect, had to have been buried in the ground for a long time: this is a false opinion that the Chinese mock. The History of Jingdezhen, speaking of the most beautiful porcelain of ancient times, says that it was so sought after that hardly was the kiln opened, the merchants were disputing over who would be the first to be shared. This does not imply that it had to be buried.

It is true that when digging in the ruins of old buildings, and especially when cleaning old abandoned wells, one sometimes finds beautiful pieces of porcelain that have been hidden there in times of revolution: this porcelain is beautiful, because at that time, only the precious ones were buried, in order to retrieve them after the end of the troubles. If it is esteemed, it is not because it has acquired in the bosom of the earth some new degree of beauty, but because its old beauty has been preserved, and this alone has its price in China, where large sums are given for the smallest utensils of simple pottery used by Emperors Yao and Shun, who reigned several centuries before the Tang Dynasty, when porcelain began to be used by Emperors. All that porcelain acquires by aging in the earth is some change in its coloration, or if you will, in its complexion, which shows that it is old. The same thing happens to marble and ivory, but more quickly, because the varnish prevents moisture from so easily penetrating the porcelain. What I can say is that I have found in old ruins pieces of porcelain that were probably very old, and I noticed nothing special: if it is true that they have been perfected by aging, then they must not have equaled the porcelain that is made now. But, what I believe, is that then, as now, there was porcelain of all prices. According to the Annals of Jingdezhen, there were once urns sold for up to 58 and 59 taels, that is, more than 80 crowns. How much would they have sold for in Europe? Also, the book says, there was a kiln made expressly for each urn of this value, and the expense was not spared.

Gifts in 'old-style porcelain'

The Mandarin of Jingdezhen, who honors me with his friendship, makes gifts of old porcelain to his protectors at the Court, which he has the talent to make himself. I mean that he has found the art of imitating old porcelain, or at least that of the lower/recent antiquity: he employs a large number of workers for this purpose. The material of these fake 'Kou tom', that is, these counterfeit antiques, is a yellowish clay mined from a place quite close to Jingdezhen called 'Maanshan [Ma-gnan-chan] (Saddleback Hill)'. They are very thick. The Mandarin gave me a plate of his own making which weighs as much as ten ordinary ones. There is nothing special in the work of these kinds of porcelains, except that they are given an oil made of yellow stone mixed with ordinary oil, so that the latter dominates: this mixture gives the porcelain the color of sea green.[10] After it has been baked, it is thrown into a very fatty broth made of capons and other meat: it is cooked a second time in it, after which it is put in the muddiest drain that can be found, where it is left for a month or more. When it comes out of this drain, it is considered to be three or four hundred years old, or at least from the previous Ming Dynasty, where porcelains of this color and thickness were esteemed at Court. These fake antiques are also similar to the real ones, in that when struck, they do not resonate, and if applied near the ear, there is no buzzing.

A crucifix between the Virgin and St. John

I was brought from the debris of a large store a small plate, which I esteem more than the finest porcelains made for a thousand years. Painted at the bottom of the plate is a Crucifix between the Virgin Mary and Saint John: I was told that such porcelains were once taken to Japan, but they have not been made for sixteen to seventeen years. Apparently, the Christians of Japan used this industry during the persecution, to have images of our Mysteries: these porcelains, mixed in boxes with others, escaped the search of the enemies of Religion: this pious trick was later discovered, and made useless by more exact searches; and that is undoubtedly why these kinds of works were discontinued at Jingdezhen.

Glass and repairing porcelain

There is almost as much curiosity in China for glass and crystal that come from Europe as there is in Europe for Chinese porcelain: however much the Chinese esteem them, they have not yet come to crossing the seas to seek glass in Europe, they find that their porcelain is more useful: it withstands hot liquids; one can hold a cup of boiling tea without burning oneself, if one knows how to hold it the Chinese way (i.e. by the sides), which cannot be done, even with a silver cup of the same thickness and shape. Porcelain has its brilliance like glass; and if it is less transparent, it is also less fragile: what happens to newly made glass also happens to porcelain; Many properties of glass are also shared by porcelain; good porcelain has a clear sound like glass: if glass is cut with a diamond, a diamond is also used to join together and in a way sew up broken pieces of porcelain: it is even a trade in China, there are workers solely occupied in putting back in place broken pieces: they use the diamond like a needle to make small holes in the body of the porcelain, through which they thread a very thin leton (old french name on mix of copper and zink) wire; and thereby they put the porcelain in a state to be used, without almost noticing where it has been broken.

Where is all the debris

I must, before ending this Letter which may seem perhaps too long, clarify a doubt that I have undoubtedly raised. I said that boats loaded with 'pe-tun-tse' and 'kao-lin' continuously come to Jingdezhen, and that after being purified, the residue that remains accumulates over time and forms very large heaps. I added that there are three thousand kilns in Jingdezhen, that these kilns are filled with boxes and porcelains, that these boxes can be used at most three or four firings, and that often an entire furnace-full is completely lost. One might naturally ask, after all this, where is the abyss into which, for nearly thirteen hundred years, all these remnants of porcelain and kilns have been thrown, without it yet being filled.

Chinese walls

The very location of Jingdezhen and the way it was built provide the clarification sought. Jingdezhen, which was not very extensive in its beginnings, has grown enormously due to the large number of buildings that have been and continue to be built every day: each building is surrounded by walls. The bricks of these walls are not laid flat on top of each other, nor cemented as in European masonry: the walls of China have more grace and less solidity.

Long and wide bricks embed, so to speak, the wall: each of these bricks has one at its sides, only the end appears flush with the middle brick, and the two others are like two buttresses for that brick. A small bed of lime placed around the middle brick binds all these bricks together: the bricks are arranged in the same way on the back side of the wall: these walls narrow as they rise, so that they are hardly wider than the length and width of a brick at the top: the buttresses or cross bricks do not correspond to those on the opposite side. Thus, the body of the wall is like an empty box. After two or three rows of bricks placed on shallow foundations, the body of the wall is filled with broken pots, over which diluted earth in the form of slightly liquid mortar is poured. This mortar binds everything together and forms a single mass that tightens the cross bricks all around; and these in turn tighten the middle bricks, which only bear on the thickness of the bricks below. From a distance, these walls first appeared to me as if made of beautiful gray stones squared and polished with a chisel: what is surprising is that if the top is well covered with good tiles, they last up to a hundred years: in truth, they do not bear the weight of the frame which is supported by large wooden columns, they only serve to enclose the buildings and gardens. If one tried in Europe to make these kinds of Chinese walls, one could still save a lot, [alt: one would not save very much] especially in certain places.

Broken porcelain and furnace debris

It is already clear what happens to part of the debris of porcelain and kilns. It should be added that they are usually thrown on the banks of the river that passes at the bottom of Jingdezhen: over time, land is gained on the river: these moistened debris, beaten by passers-by, first become places suitable for holding the market, then streets are made. In addition, during great floods, the river carries away many of these broken porcelains: it is said that its bed is all paved with them, which is not without delighting the eye. From all that I have just said, it is easy to judge what is the abyss into which, for so many centuries, all these remnants of kilns and porcelain have been thrown.

Sepulchery hill and the Church

But for a missionary with even a little zeal, a very distressing thought presents itself to the mind: what is the abyss, I often ask myself, into which so many millions of men have fallen, who, during this long succession of centuries, have populated Jingdezhen: all the surrounding mountains are covered with graves: at the bottom of one of these mountains is a very large pit surrounded by high walls: this is where the bodies of the poor who cannot afford a coffin are thrown, which is considered here as the greatest of all misfortunes: this place is called 'ouan min kem', that is, the pit to infinity, the pit for a whole world. In times of plague, which almost every year causes great havoc in such a populous place, this large pit swallows many bodies, over which quicklime is thrown to consume the flesh. Towards the end of the year, in winter, the monks, in a very interested act of charity, for it is preceded by a good collection, come to remove the bones to make room for others, and they burn them during a kind of service they perform for these unfortunate deceased.

Thus, the mountains surrounding Jingdezhen present to the eye the earth where the bodies of so many millions of men who have suffered the fate of all mortals have returned; but what is the abyss into which their souls have fallen, and what could be more capable of animating the zeal of a missionary to work for the salvation of these Infidels, than the irreparable loss of so many souls during such a long succession of centuries: Jingdezhen owes to the liberality of Mr. the Marquis of Broissia a Church with a numerous flock, which is considerably increasing each year. May the Lord pour out more and more blessings on these new Faithful! I commend them to your prayers: if they were supported by some aid to increase the number of Catechists, one would be edified in China to see that it is not only the luxury and greed of Europeans that send their riches to Jingdezhen; but that there are zealous people who have much nobler designs than those who bring such fragile jewels from there.

I am with great respect,
Your very humble and obedient servant in N. S. D'ENTRECOLLES,
Missionary of the Society of Jesus.

Notes to the current text, by Jan-Erik Nilsson, 2007, revised 2023

[1] When this could be safely done all names on places and minerals etc., all spelling is modernized. The first time a name occurs the original spelling is put within [ square brackets ] next to its replaced term. From then on, the replaced term is used in place of the original term. Please refer to the original source text for full certainty.

[2] Fuliang is a former Tang dynasty district in which Jingdezhen is situated. (He Li (1996), p. 138)

[3] Raozhou, an area within Jiangxi province that includes Jingdezhen etc. "In Jiangxi province, kilns were dispersed over an area that included R." (He Li (1996), p. 138)

[4]For an on-line account that details wares from the Fujian Province; see Yuan Bingling, Dehua White Ceramics and their Cultural Significance, 2002

[5] If we for the sake of calculation assume that one pig translates into 40 kg (80 lbs) of pork, shared equally over 1 million person, each will have (40,000 kg/ 1,000,000 persons) = 40 gram.

[6] Throughout the entire letter of 1712 the word porcelain furnaces is used. Not before the second letter, of 1722, d'Entrecolles have found the name for kiln.

[7] Petuntse and kaolin being the two recognized names for the fundamental ingridiences that makes up the Chinese porcelain paste has been explained and perpetually misunderstood why, now I am going to give it my best shot. First, originally Kaolin is a place. It is actually Gao Ling and means High Ridge and is a name of a place slightly north east of Jingdezhen from which a special clay with very high melting (refractory) point, was mined. So high, that in fact it does not melt at all at the temperatures where porcelain is fired. Thus it stays a stiff part inside the porcelain paste, when it is mixed with the crushed local Chinese porcelain stone, which when shaped into bricks, was called bai-tun-tze = "small white brick". Kaolin is thus called "the bones inside the porcelain body". Imagine the confusion this has created, especially since both Kaolin and other crushed stones used for glaze, also was shaped into "small white bricks" for transportation purposes.

[8] In N. J. G. Pounds article in The Economic History Review, NS V1, N1 (1948), pp 20-33 an incident is mentioned, while referring to G Vogt, La Porcelain (Paris 1835), pp 12-14, that in 1682 over a hundred tons of 'terre de porcelain' were brought from Rome where they had probably been delivered by traders with Egypt and the Far East. "We do not know what was made from this material, but may be sure that it was not true porcelain".

[9] From this description it does not sounds like the kiln has a chimney. This actually fits with information I got at the Shiwan kiln in Foshan outside Canton, that the kiln chimney was a late invention and just added to improve living and working conditions in the 1940s.

[10] This has usually been assumed to be referring to Celadon while the crackling mentioned is not typical for "celadon" but could as well be (Chenghua) Ge or (Song dynasty) Guan yao. It might be worthwhile to keep this question open.

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